A 1939 Tradition in 2020

In Roman times March was the first month on their calendar. The transition from Winter to Spring allowed agricultural pursuits and the legions could venture out to defend and conquer as well as maintain the peace (Pax Romana).

Perhaps, this is why the Romans named the month Martius, Latin for the god Mars who was the supposed father of Remus and Romulus, sons of Princess Rhea Silvia.

The god of war would seen to be an apt title for March when one contemplates the March Madness which grips the nation as a tenacious tick on a Norwegian Elkhound. Basketball after the Super Bowl keeps the sport enthusiasts thriving along with the more devoted cognoscente.

In many ways March is not a productive work month since many engage in discussing and bracketing their favorite teams. When one adds the gambling aspect to the madness, billions of dollars are involved—mostly loss.

How did all of this madness begin? One would have to travel back to 1939 to Evanston, Illinois. At Northwestern University’s Patten Gymnasium two finalist teams would play the first game, and the tradition would continue until now.

March 27, 1939: over 5000 people gathered in the Patten Gymnasium to watch the Oregon Webfoots or Ducks play the Ohio Buckeyes. The tournament was organized by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The Buckeyes felt like the 12 spies of the ancient Hebrews sent to do reconnaissance of the Promised Land. The Webfoots had their “Tall Firs” which to a normal player back then were giants since they were 6’ 4” or taller.

The Tall Firs were given their nickname by William Lair Hill Gregory, sports editor of The Oregonian. The newspaper was founded in the mid-1800s by Thomas Jefferson Dryer in Portland, Oregon.

The final score was Oregon 46 and Ohio State 33. One player on the Ohio team said years later:

To me, it was just another game. You go back to 1939, this was a brand-new tournament. In those days, your goal was to win the Big Ten, and to heck with everything else. Around comes this tournament — and who wanted to play another game? There was no way in the world I could ever conceive that this thing was going to develop into 64 teams playing several weeks to get it all done ” Richard Boughner, guard for the Buckeyes

Black and white photo of the 1939 NCAA national champion University of Oregon basketball team with members’ autographs at bottom of picture. From left to right, front row: Wally Johansen, Slim Wintermute, Bob Anet (holding trophy), coach Howard Hobson, Laddie Gale (holding trophy), and John Dick. Standing are: Bob Hardy, Evert McNeely, manager Jay Langston, Ford Mullen, Matt Pavalunas, trainer Bob Officer, Ted Sarpola, and Earl Sandness.

The Buckeyes did have one bright spot. The Most Outstanding Player was team captain James “Jimmy” Hull of the Buckeyes.

Oregon’s Bobby Anet (right) is presented with the first NCAA championship trophy by Big Ten Commissioner John Griffith (left) as Ohio State All American Jimmy Hull watches on March 27, 1939. Photo: Associated Press

Jimmy, like many of the players, would join the World War II armed forces. He received his dental degree and joined the Navy Dental Corps.

Charles Robert “Bobby” Anet was the team captain for the Webfoots. This distinguished player who scored 10 points in the game was 5’8” and was the shortest player on his team.

Unfortunately, Bobby had the equivocal historical tag of breaking the tournament trophy when he went for a ball, but in hindsight the trophy should have been in a more secure place. The National Collegiate Athletic Association which took over the tournament the following year made sure such embarrassing mishaps would be a piece of history and hopefully forgotten.

Unlike today, the 1939 game lost a few thousand dollars which translated into current figures would be in the mid $40,000. The broken trophy was part of the loss.

As the 2020 Madness begins, let’s remember these famous words from the thrilling opening to the old ABC Wide World of Sports:

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition…”

So may your March be without the agony of defeat. Thrive this month with the thrill of victory on this planet traversing the cosmos.

G. D. Williams © 2020

POST 834

Before billion dollar brackets and 100,000-seat arenas, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was a simple, 8-team affair. The annual event, which started in 1939, wasn’t even the most important college basketball tournament in the country—the NIT, which was established by a group of sportswriters in 1938, featured the more marquee teams and dominated March for decades.


Well, it’s the first one, so that in itself is pretty noteworthy. And I’ve always thought it surprising that the NCAA didn’t have an organized tournament any sooner than this for hoops. Also remember, for nearly the first two decades of existence it was the NIT that was considered the big dog, not the NCAAs.

Long Island, undefeated at the time, bypassed the chance to play in this one, opting for the NIT instead.

You’ll notice, despite Oregon winning, Ohio State had the MOP. But it was thanks to the “Tall Firs,” comprised of center Slim Wintermute, Laddie Gal and John Dicke, that gave Oregon the first NCAA banner in history.






March Madness Bracket History

According to Slate, the very first bracket in a sports tournament came in 1851, at a chess tournament in London. With the city hosting the Great Exhibition for British technology, English chess master Howard Staunton set out to organize the world’s first international chess tournament.

In order to whittle the 16-player field down to one winner, Staunton decided to make eight pairs, with the losers of each being eliminated from contention. Instead of seeding players to decide pairings (like the modern NCAA tournament), Staunton had each draw a random lot.

“Eight white tickets and eight yellow ones numbered respectively, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, were put into the ballot-box,” Staunton wrote in a book on the tournament. “Whoever drew No. 1 of the white tickets had to play with the party who drew No. 1 of the yellow… and so on throughout.”




March Madness 2020: Men’s NCAA Tournament Complete schedule, dates


2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Game
Texas Tech Red Raiders Vs Virginia Cavaliers
77 to 85 on April 8, 2019 at the U S Bank Stadium Minneapolis


2020 March Madness: Women’s NCAA Tournament dates, sites, locations


2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Game
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Vs Baylor Bears
81 to 82 on April 7, 2019 at Amalie Rena Tampa


March and Assorted Moments of Madness


The Buckeyes 1939

The 1939 NCAA Tournament








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