Sunday, March 21, 2010

What a bracket buster it was!

My NCAA bracket is totally busted. Darn Kansas!! Everyone in my bracket pool has been injured by the early exit of the Jayhawks. One of my colleagues had an odd final of Kansas vs. New Mexico - so the big dance is over for her.
In the above photo, my dad is playing against Bob Kurland. Kurland was the first 7 foot player in the 'big leagues.' Kurland is the really tall guy on the left half of the photo. My dad is buried back in the crowd, just the top of his head visible to me. My dad was a mere 6'6".
After college, my dad played for the Goodyear Wingfoots out of Akron, Ohio. The Wingfoots were in the NIBL, an industrial basketball league, semi-pro in its status. They played teams that evolved into the first  NBA teams, and they also played college teams. You could say these guys had 'the fever' and would play anyone who'd dribble a basketball.
My dad's best friend was #20, Sherman Nyerman (my dad is #17). Sherman started with the Wingfoots the same year Dad did, and they became fast pals. They were roommates on the road, and carpool partners when at home. They looked out for each other and kept each other in check.

After a full day of work, the team would meet at the Akron bus station to catch a bus to wherever they were playing. The team always traveled in a neat, professional attire - long sleeved white shirts, skinny dark ties, dark gray jackets. Some road trips went on for days and the same shirts were hung up at night to be worn again the next day.

To pass time on the bus, the guys would play penny poker. A penny here, a penny there - the losses could add up. Sherman was a notoriously BAD player. He did NOT have a poker face - he had a 'tell all' face. The team would gang up on Sherman and wipe out every penny he had, including his cash food allowance. Gone, night after night on the bus - he'd bet it all.

Finally the team allowed him to bet his cuff-links and tie-bar. They were worth more than mere pennies, and Sherm could run up a great debt in hopes of winning just one cash-crowded pot. On a bad luck trip to Gadsden, Alabama, Sherm had a long string of lousy cards. He lost both cuff-links and the tie-bar and even his comb. He had nothing out in his pockets or on his clothing worth a penny. My dad, ever the best friend, didn't offer a penny. Dad didn't offer anything but a competitive swipe at the deck of cards and an evil eye to Sherm. Tough luck...

Team breakfasts meant all players had to be showered, dressed in their professional attire, and ready to meet the press. Sadly, Sherm was going to be forced to show up without his cuff-links, tie bar, and uncombed hair. He'd be a disgrace... until Dad decided a quick trip to the hardware store would solve it all. Dad would spring for new 'jewelry', but he would never spring for Sherm's poker losses.  That just wouldn't be competitive.

Sherman showed up for breakfast with a set of nuts and bolts on each cuff, a free paperclip for the tie bar. His hair had been combed by his own toothbrush. But the day was just beginning...

That evening, the team moved on to another town in Alabama. A new hotel for one night, another game in a town that was only known to them on the map. As the team stood in line to check into the hotel, the hotel clerk read off the players names, handing out room keys to each pair of roommates. He got to Nyerman...

"Nyerman?" Sherm stepped forward. Dad stepped with him.
"Nyerman? I'm sorry, we don't allow Jews in this hotel."
A deafening quiet spread over all the players. They looked at one another, then all their eyes rested on Sherm. Now what???

"Excuse me, sir. His name is O'Nyerman. You must have a misspelling. His last name is O'Nyerman. He's Irish."
The deafening silence continued. My dad had been the one to speak up. All his teammates eyes were on my dad. Even Sherm was staring at Dad. What had he done?

He had contained his anger but not his outrage. His competitive spirit came out, and he was GOING to win this game. Sherm was his pal, his roommate, and his friend. Whatever his name was, whatever his faith, Sherm wasn't going to be denied.

He had busted the attitude, the pre-judgment. He broke the bracket.

That was in 1951. Fifty years later, Dad told me he wished he had been braver. He wished he had pushed harder. I know he meant about Sherm. But even now, I think he was pretty tough.  


Mister Earl said...

Great story, Brenda. I'm from the O'Nyerman clan myself.

Send an email to and I'll send you a photo of the picnic.

altadenahiker said...

You've coined a new word, Brenda. Or your dad did. I think that was a deft piece of negotiation. And 100 years before that, it was "No dogs or Irish."

BANJO52 said...

Like your dad, I know there were times I coulda done more and still fallen way short of heroism. But your dad steps up nicely in this story--not just courage and loyalty, but quick wit.

How did those guys keep their day jobs with all that bus travel? That is REALLY love of the game (and of course the camaraderie.

Ashley said...

Great story. It's nice you can document these stories of your dad's!

My bracket busted too. I was tied for first out of 54 people at work on Saturday. When Kansas lost, I dropped to 37! Ouch!

allhorsestuff said...

Excellent story of faithfulness in action!
Your dad really chose his battles well. Too cool here...Mister Earl...wrote to you!