My father became a Hoosier in 1939 when he enrolled at Indiana University.
I never knew what drove him to Hoosier land. Coming from an Italian enclave on the East Coast, it had to be massive cultural shock for him.
After two years as a Hoosier, World War II “pulled” him out of Indiana and into an army uniform. After serving in Panama, he joined the medical corp as one of a small army who escorted and treated wounded soldiers on trains as they were transported to hospitals around the country.
He had come a long way from his days as a Hoosier. I believe my father thought of his time in Indiana as the culmination of his childhood. So he never returned to Indiana. After the war he finished his degree at night at Seton Hall University.
But he always remained loyal to the Hoosiers.
I remember watching Indiana basketball with him for many years. But after he suffered a heart attack in his forties, he would walk away from the television because of the stress.
Then in 1975 (I was in my twenties), we watched as Indiana, undefeated and ranked first in the nation, won in the regional semi-finals. It was a Sunday and they were scheduled to play Kentucky on the following Thursday.
On Monday, March 17, I went to class and when I returned, I found my father slumped over on the chair he always sat on. His head was supported by a stand up ashtray.
My father was buried on Thursday. Reading his obituary in the newspaper the next day, I saw that Indiana had been upset by Kentucky, 92-90. It was a double loss, as the two events became interconnected in my mind. In reality, it was such a trivial thing, a game, while my father was gone forever. But Indiana basketball was something we shared for years.
A year later, Indiana won the national championship against Michigan. I remember thinking how he would have loved the moment.
Over the years, my connection with Indiana basketball has remained strong because of my father. And so on the 37th anniversary of his death, I imagine my father and I watching the Hoosiers in their second round game in the tournament tonight.
And ironically, if the Hoosiers and Kentucky win in this round, they will play each other in the regional semifinals.