Wake up the "Magic"!
The hiring of Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State was a great hire for one basic reason. Hope! That's right....HOPE! For the first time in years Cyclone fans can sit back and have "hope" their basketball program has a chance to compete in the Big 12 Conference. Not since Johnny Orr was plucked from Ann Arbor, Michigan has a hire brought such initial "hope" to Cyclone fans.
The Fred Hoiberg hiring came out of left field and reminds me when, in 1980, Lou McCullough snagged Johnny Orr out of left field from the University of Michigan. I was working at a clothing store in Forest City, Iowa when I got a call from someone telling me Iowa State just hired Johnny Orr from Michigan. I laughed and said "nice try". You see, it was simply unbelievable at that time that Johnny Orr, from the basketball power conference Big 10, would come to Iowa State. It was double sweet though because Johnny Orr had made it clear in the past that he hated the University of Iowa, Iowa State's #1 rival. His Michigan teams had beaten the Hawks like a drum. In fact, he called it a "picnic" to play the Hawks! There is nothing Iowa State fans wanted more than for Johnny to continue with those picnics! He did. Who can forget Lafester Rhodes 55 points!
I was very fortunate to get to know Coach Orr personally and through business. I once played golf with him, as many did, because the man simply loved the game. I invited him to come and speak at a high school booster club banquet in Forest City, Iowa the first summer of his hire. He called me back and said in his raspy voice, "I'll come and speak. Hey, if you have a golf course I will come early and we can play. Imagine my excitement! We did and he did. That was my first exposure to Coach Johnny Orr "language". Johnny and I were playing partners that day. On the first tee my boss, Bob Fowser, a slightly build guy, hit his drive long, hard and straight as Orr yells, "Who the **** is this little guy!" I about fell out of the golf cart both in shock and in laughter. Did he really yell that? That afternoon Johnny shot even or one over par on a course he saw for the first time. I, on the other hand, as his playing partner, missed a three foot putt for "all the money" towards the end of the match. From that point forward each and every time he saw me he would yell in his gravely voice, "there's that ****** who missed the three footer that cost me money!"
At the banquet that night they served fried chicken. When Johnny and I went through the line and after we sat down he looked at me and said, "did you see that little **** in front of us?" I said yes that I saw what appeared to be a little six year old boy. Orr says, "he took all the ****** legs!" He was really mad! Imagine if you missed a screen.
There is and will only be one Johnny Orr. Iowa State had not been to a NCAA Tournament game since 1944, 36 years before Johnny Orr arrived. It only took him four years to get them there and three to get them into the NIT. I remember him saying, as only Johnny could, during those first two years, "I love this place! If we just didn't have to play those **** games! Whoooooeeeee man...those are dingers!"
We lucky Cyclone fans who lived through the Ronnie Harris, Barry Stevens, Sammy Hill, Victor Alexander, Fred Hoiberg, Julius Michalik, Elmer Robinson, Sam Mack, Tom Schafer, Hurl Beechum, Ron Fallenchek, Jeff Grayer, Jeff Hornacek, Lefty Moore, Gary Thompkins and Lafester Rhodes era's with Johnny can never thank him enough. Think of the excitement, pride, tears and laughter he allowed us to enjoy while he coached our teams. During those times Kemper Arena, during the Big 8 Basketball Tournament, became known as "Hilton South"! Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma fans would say every year, "How do all these Iowa State people get tickets". No Big 8 school had a bigger pre-game party across from Kemper Arena than Iowa State. It truly was a "magical" time.
As all Cyclone fans know, when Iowa State was playing at Hilton you had to make sure you were there early so you could see Johnny would walk out to the Johnny Carson theme song.....Heeeeere's Johnny! There was and is not anything like it at any other school. Johnny would stroll out, walk in front of the Iowa State bench and suddenly raise his right arm in the air bringing the packed house to a thunderous roar! For really big games, Johnny would stop in front of the scorer's bench and lower his arms below his waist and pumped them into the air with a little jump, for emphasis, letting the fans know THIS was a BIG GAME and he was ready! It's was time for "Hilton Magic" to kick in! How did those big games turn out? Larry Brown never won with his Kansas teams at Hilton. Danny Manning never won a game at Hilton. Billy Tubbs got so mad he flipped off the crowd as he walked off! Who can forget "Sit down Norm! Sit down Norm!" as we beat Missouri. Oklahoma State guard, Corey Williams said that while he was shooting his potential game winning free throws with seconds left in 1992, "I felt the floor move!" He missed. Enough said.
Now, it comes full circle. Fred Hoiberg, one of Johnny's favorite players, will walk for the first time, sometime in early November, onto that same Hilton floor with "his" team. It's time for Hilton Magic to wake up. The "magic" never left the old building it was simply resting and waiting for a little nudge. I would think a mayor would have enough power to do get that done.
The only change in that Hilton floor should be that when Coach Hoiberg walks out he should be walking across a large bright and bold red script in front of the Iowa State bench with the words, "Johnny Orr ‘Hilton Magic' Court!" There should be a picture of Johnny thrusting his fist in the air with that big old smile of his. It's the least we can do for a man who took a chance and turned our basketball program around.
Submitted by Jerry Poduska, Special to Big 12 Hoops