This time of year, I always feel like watching Hoosiers.
I’m from Indiana, and, as such, I grew up watching Indiana basketball. These days, with both NCAA and IHSAA tournaments running concurrently, it’s hard to avoid hoops. For me, it’s hard to avoid thinking about Hoosiers.
Sure, sometimes I get bothered because the film is about a fictional high school and a fictional game, based only loosely on historical events. I wish this were really a play-by-play re-enactment of the Muncie Central vs. Milan game on which this film is loosely based, because that’s real Indiana basketball history.
But that’s not this film.
Instead, this is a film that doesn’t delve too far into specifics — a fictional team from a fictional town with fictional players probably leaves more room for vicarious viewing, and as such, this is a tribute to anybody who played or dreamed of playing Indiana basketball. I’d say basketball in general, but this film is called Hoosiers for a reason. They get that part right.
The music really bothers me, though. Jerry Goldsmith‘s score might be the worst I’ve ever heard by someone other than James Horner. Here’s a film set in the 1950s, but instead of music that fits the period, we get ’80s synth music throughout.
(Side Note: I’ve long been a fan of stripping bad scores from ’80s films and replacing them with music that doesn’t sound so horribly dated and awful. Hoosiers tops my list of films that need new scores. I love the film, anyway.)
Is the Indiana countryside beautiful? You bet. Even the overcast autumn days are pretty, because they look like home. Even the shot of Barbara Hershey attempting to hoe her garden is a pretty one, because it looks like a billion back yards around here (even if Hershey appears to be hoeing in the dead of winter, and keeps banging the hoe up and down in the same spot, essentially just digging a hole in the mud — I’m no gardener, but what is she doing?).
A lot of people I know, including my wife, don’t understand why I prefer the Big Open Nothing of Indiana so much, with all the quiet, remote towns where you actually can hear yourself think, and people know who you are, and they don’t just want your money.
I prefer the Big Open Nothing because I’m all that’s there, and I can look in all directions and see possibilities instead of people in the way.
Of course, that’s an idealized view of small town America, where if you’re the wrong color or religion or sexuality, trouble will find you. In many cases, you’re not welcome around these parts, just like Coach Dale isn’t welcome for the first hour of the film. They got that part right, too.
But something beautiful and poetic happens in Indiana small towns to this very day. Dreams are born and often realized in high school gyms and gravel driveways and in living rooms in front of televisions. If you’ve ever read anything about Indiana basketball, you’ve heard all this before.
This year marks 25 years since the Indiana Hoosiers won their last NCAA title with this shot. I was 12 years old, and it was the greatest game of basketball I’ve ever seen — though it wasn’t an underdog story, necessarily.
We need underdog stories. I’ve either been an underdog or been around underdogs my whole life. I like it that way. Victory is sweeter if no one expects it.
Underdog success stories are special, because what typically happened to little teams in Indiana is this. That’s my old high school on the losing end of the last single class state championship just a few years after I graduated.
The following year, Indiana high school athletics switched to class basketball, so those rare and beautiful underdog stories like Muncie Central vs. Milan, or Central vs. Hickory, can’t happen again. Oh, sure, you get underdogs, but not like the ones in Hoosiers.
Hoosiers is special because it commemorates all the small teams that actually made it that far, and brings back memories of county, sectional, and regional upsets, all in one film. One quote from Hoosiers sort of encapsulates a lost age: “Let’s win this one for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here.”
As for me, I was never good at basketball. I wasn’t very fast, wasn’t very tall, couldn’t shoot well, and forget dribbling altogether. By all accounts, I stunk.
Still, because of games like that ’87 NCAA title game and films like Hoosiers, I spent half my teenage years in my parents’ driveway, playing ball until I got sleepy or until the sky got so dark I couldn’t see the hoop.
I’d bring the ball inside for the night and go to the sink to wash my hands, which were covered in the kind of dirt I didn’t want to wash off. That dirt made me feel like a part of it all, when deep down, I knew I’d never get that far.