|Feb. 18, 1980, Gold Dome, Shreveport: The officials are looking for the culprit;|
the Centenary coaches (at right) are worried about getting a technical foul
... and I'm gone! (Shreveport Journal photo)
Actually, people won't let me forget. Can't tell you how many times I've been reminded of it. In fact, it became a fairly regular topic in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department ... and there's a reason for that.
Just a couple of weeks ago, visiting with some old friends from Louisiana Tech, one of them -- Benny Thornell -- said, "Hey, weren't you kicked out of a game at the Gold Dome one time?"
I responded: "Don't know what you're talking about."
Then I told them the story, and here it is now.
It was my fifth basketball season as Centenary's sports information director, a tenure that began in Robert Parish's senior season. Good job, great travel ... not much money in it. But a good time in my life; I met Bea and Jason near the start of the job.
In the 1979-80 season, we had our best team since Parish had gone on to the NBA. On Feb. 18, 1980, we were playing a rough-and-tough University of North Texas team at the Gold Dome. We weren't winning and the Mean Green -- an appropriate nickname -- was physically beating up our talented center, Cherokee Rhone.
I was seldom happy with the officiating we saw, and when I wasn't criticizing the officials on radio (I did color commentary on road games, mostly with Jim Hawthorne -- now the longtime LSU broadcaster -- as the play-by-play guy), I sometimes blasted them verbally (off the air).
So I want to make this clear: I was long overdue for what was about to happen.
At home games in the Gold Dome, we had a fine, experienced statistics crew; my job was to compile quick stats during timeouts and provide them to the radio crews and print media. Other than that, I could watch and then total the boxscore after the game to go with the typed play-by-play.
UNT is up 8-12 points, we're in foul trouble, there's maybe 8 minutes left to play, and I'm not happy with the officials. UNT is hammering Cherokee and our best player, George Lett, and the officials are letting them get hammered.
The ball is going out of bounds and bounces toward the press table. It's close enough for me to grab, and I do. As the official comes close, I fire the ball at him and yell, "Get them off our players." He was standing maybe 5 feet away; I hit him with a fastball.
He blows the whistle ... loudly. I know what's coming.
He confers with his fellow official, and the coaches from each team move toward midcourt. Security officers are on their way. They're all trying to figure this out.
But I'm gone. I took off for the hallway. Even if they wanted to kick me out -- and they did -- I didn't give them the chance.
|Tommy Canterbury and Tommy |
Vardeman: the Centenary
coaches, 1979-80 season
(Shreveport Times photo, 2012)
No problem, though. No technical. I come out of the Gold Dome hallway and watch the rest of the game from a corner of the gym. My tirade doesn't help; no rally by the Gents; a victory for UNT.
The officials, for the record, were Ronnie Cole and Lynn Shortnacy. We'd seen Shortnacy -- later a Southland Conference and WAC official -- several times, but Cole was a newcomer to us.
They were no better than most of the officials we had, and probably no worse. But I didn't like them that night.
Of course, I wasn't going to be able to live this down. To make it worse, KTBS-TV/Ch. 3 got a cutaway shot of me standing in the corner of the Gold Dome watching the game and used it on the news that night while reporting about the game. Just to be sure, they showed it again the next night. Thanks, then-KTBS sports director Ed Baswell and (cameraman) Jose Gant.
And we got home that night, my son -- 5-year-old Jason -- told his mother as we came in the door, "They made Daddy go stand in the corner."
People reminded me of it for years. I was just warming up. I got kicked out of kids' soccer games (they were fouling Jason), I got kicked out of other places, I got kicked out of a media softball game, and I got kicked out of some jobs. Great legacy.
And so after years in Florida and Tennessee, I am at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on a "tryout" for a job. It is Oct. 5, 2001 -- 21 years later. It is the Friday night before the Texas-Oklahoma game; also the night Barry Bonds broke Mark McGwire's single-season home-run record with his 71st homer (and later his 72nd). That puts into play a special section by the S-T. It's a busy night, and there is lots of work to do.
It's a large staff inside Star-Telegram sports; people are introducing themselves to me for a couple of hours. One guy comes over and says, "Hi, I'm Jerry Barnes."
"Nice to meet you," I say, and Barnes is laughing. "Oh, we've met before," he says. "I was sitting next to you the night you got kicked out of the game at the Gold Dome."
He was, Jerry explains, the assistant SID for North Texas. The basketball, he says, "was headed right for me and you jumped up and grabbed it, and threw it at the ref."
"Yeah, your guys were beating the hell out of Cherokee Rhone," I reply.
Then, I add, "It's a small world. Please don't tell anyone; I'll never get this job."
He didn't tell ... that night. But I worked with Barnes for 9 1/2 years; he was one of my best friends in the department. And every third week or so, he would say out loud, "Hey, Nico, why don't you tell us about the night you got kicked out of the game at Centenary?"
He also said many times that he knew one of the officials, Cole, who had been a year ahead of him at Denison High School and said that Cole "was really pissed that night."
And Barnes would remind me, "You are still the only SID I ever saw get kicked out of a game."
I can't deny it. I went and stood in the corner.
But he knew why: "We were beating the hell out of Cherokee Rhone."
He's right about that.