The Unanswered Questions of Hoosiers

When someone asks me what my favorite movie is, I’ll usually roll off four or five movies — Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, Die Hard, Jedi, Real Genius — hoping I don’t have to narrow it down.

When I do, my answer is always the movie I have watched more times than any other, a movie I know so well that I wrote out the script from memory on one particularly boring day in high school.

not in the movie! not in the movie!

Hoosiers.

And Monday, Hoosiers turned 25. 25!!!

That means it was 25 years ago that I sat in the Eric in Dickson City with two buddies as an 11-year-old enjoying one of my five greatest movie theater experiences (along with Pulp Fiction, Rocky 4, UHF and Independence Day). Basketball ruled my life when I was 11, and everything about Hoosiers grabbed me. The ahead-of-their-time realistic basketball scenes, the basketball integrity of both Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, the absolute lack of one dumbed-down scene involving basketball in the entire movie and the magical score that really has never been duplicated. It was everything I had always wanted in a basketball movie but didn’t realize I could have. thinking that it almost didn’t happen nearly makes me cry.

But it’s not a perfect movie, not by a longshot. When you watch it as many times as I have, you drive yourself bonkers asking questions you know will never be answered, at least not until the sequel — Hoosiers 2: Boyle’s Revenge.

In no particular order, without worrying about how they may or may not have been explained in the special edition DVD commentary (and some of these were), here are some of the biggest questions I’ve asked in 25 years of watching Hoosiers about 200 times, easy:

How is point guard Buddy allowed back on the team? He’s kicked out in the first practice — the first two minutes of the first practice — then magically shows up during the second game without explanation. Editing? Not a huge thing 25 years ago.

run, kevin, run!

When men go to Hell, do they spend the remainder of eternity married to Myra Freener from Hoosiers or Winnie Cooper from Wonder Years? It’s a lock to be one or the other.

Far be it from me to criticize the 1950s-era Indiana public education system, but shouldn’t we have expected more from a high school student reading an oral report on “progress” than to just name a bunch of inventions? How much time did poor Ollie spend writing that thing? He did it in homeroom that morning, right? And what’s so funny about indoor plumbing?

Even if Principal Cletus thought Coach Norman Dale would never hit another player in his life — “Slate’s clean here” — why would he go out of his way to track down some guy he randomly met at a teacher’s conference in New York 20 years prior? Must have been one heck of a conference. How did he even remember him? How did Coach Dale remember Cletus? It’s not like they could be Facebook friends or anything.

Hickory is a small town. We get that. But how are there only two people in the town who immediately know that Dale not only won a national championship, but was then ousted from his job a year later for cracking one of his players in the jaw?

Dale said he’s been in the Navy the last 10 years. But wouldn’t “punched a 20-year-old square in the face” on a police report preclude you from serving in the Navy? Who’s checking his background, Gomer Pyle?

Let’s forget about the town of Hickory’s size for a second. It’s 1951, we’re 45 years away from the Internet, the town only has a handful of people, fine. I’ll buy that. But when the team starts making its way through the state tournament … I mean, someone in the basketball-crazy state of Indiana has to recognize the name “Norman Dale,” right? By the end of the movie, only three people in the entire state know about Dale’s past indiscretions — and one of them is sitting in a detox bed complaining about seeing little green monkeys. Not exactly the most credible witness, counselor.

Oh, and don’t bother asking. The answer is yes, I’ve seen this movie way too much. The sad part is I’m only getting started.

What the heck does “bust off” mean? Was that the insult of the time, or was it just something the “gorilla” was trying out right before Rade popped him in the face? Was it like Pierce trying to move “streets ahead” into the lexicon on Community?

Has anyone ever really been hide-strapped to a pine rail? Where/what exactly is the Monon Line? What’s a pine rail? I guess what I envision is Coach being strapped to a cut-down tree floating down a river of some kind. Is that right?

How long was it after Coach Dale’s “This is your team.” speech before someone in the gym actually talked? If the scene kept going and it took more than 10 seconds, would it have been the most awkward moment in movie history? “Soooooo … should we go back to class now?

In 30 seconds of Shooter stumbling out on to the court during the sectional championship, he drunkenly stops the game, puts kids in danger and slobbers through some complaining about the refs. So what would possess any coach with a brain to tell these refs without provocation basically, “Oh, that guy? He works for me. Yup, he’s my assistant. Let’s play ball!” One technical foul was generous. Hickory should have gotten at least two — one for Shooter’s antics, and one for being stupid. It’s not like any cocks would be crowing off in the distance if Coach denied ever seeing Shooter before in his life.

Was Ollie supposed to be dating the little blond cheerleader? If he was, did he get some after the semifinal win over Linton?

Oooooohhhhh, that semifinal win over Linton. Where should we start? How about here: How does Hickory come back from 17 down in like three minutes of game time? The scoreboard says 31-14 early on, then the next time we see it after the montage of traded baskets, the score is 37-33 Linton. Wow! That’s an unexplained 19-6 run. I’m guessing the one and only Jimmy Chitwood — the greatest basketball player, real or fictional, who ever lived — was prominently involved.

In the state semifinal, when Ollie is taking those last two foul shots, the camera keeps showing the marching band waving and screaming behind the basket. There’s one guy in there who has to be about 50. Ever notice him? He looks like he should be the villain in some obscure French movie twisting his handlebar mustache.

Who taught Hickory about charges? They complain about two of them — the one against Terhune in the sectional finals that sent Shooter flying out onto the court, and the one that fouled Buddy out of the game against Linton to force Ollie in. Hickory is clearly in the wrong on both of them but that doesn’t stop them from arguing. “On me? Nooooo! Nooooo! Are you joking?” 

Speaking of that, after Buddy fouls out, the Linton player that took the charge is awarded one foul shot, makes it, and Hickory gets the ball back. Huh? My old man confirms that was the rule at the time, but I call BS on that. It’s either a stupid, stupid rule or an egregious basketball oversight on the part of the people behind the scenes. A team up by five with the ball with 10 seconds left would be best served to just start charging into opposing players instead of risking losing the ball — or the ball falling into the hands of someone like Ollie.

And how does the Linton coach not have any more time outs left for the last three seconds of the game? He takes one in the last two minutes of the game, the one to ice Ollie’s final foul shots. So when did he use all the other ones up, when the team was up 15 in the first half? And if he really doesn’t have any time outs left, shouldn’t he be designing a play during that timeout to ice Ollie just in case he makes the last shot? Three seconds left isn’t a whole lot of time, but they should be able to scare up a better heave then three-quarter court (and it almost goes in). Nope, the only answer they have for Ollie is the assistant chucking his clipboard in the air.

i love you guys. TEAM!

On to the championship game. One line that drives me nuts every single time I watch the movie: In the pregame locker room before the state final, Coach Dale says, “Their top player is Boyle, number 15. He averages about 20 points a game.” And it’s said with such conviction and gravitas that it’s supposed to be this crazy number so far removed from 1950s basketball reality that it should make the Hickory players scared just hearing the words. 20 points a game! But didn’t we just watch two different basketball montages where Jimmy has scored about 80 percent of the team’s points? He’s gotta be averaging 40, right? Or at least 30? Jimmy wakes up in the morning and pees 20 points a game.

The team balking on Merle taking the last shot of the state championship is understandable since, you know, Jimmy is the greatest basketball player in the history of the world. But why did Coach Dale have to abandon the Picket Fence and instead go with “Spread the floor!” coach-speak for, “Get the hell out of his way!” Why didn’t they just run the Picket Fence for Jimmy? Was it because the first time Shooter ran the Picket Fence, the refs should have called three seconds twice?

What is that weird little dance Rade does after he steals the ball in the final seconds of the championship game?

What kind of defense is Boyle playing on Jimmy? Jimmy is a righty and Boyle is cutting off Jimmy’s left. And he’s playing off him a little to be ready for Jimmy to drive when we’ve seen Jimmy shoot inside of 10 feet exactly twice in the movie. Duh.

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