For Francis's teammates it was a dizzying season. "We didn't realize what was happening," Moses says. "But we loved to play basketball, so we were just having a great time." And by season's end they had steered thousands of dollars into the school's coffers, keeping the doddering old place on its feet.
But when the NCAA stripped Francis of his records, the sweet season turned sour, and Oliver was incensed. After finding that the coach at Yale had been among the chief instigators of the NCAA's action, he shot off a letter to New Haven and challenged the Yale team to a game. Rebuffed by the Elis, the irrepressible Oliver took his quest elsewhere. He scheduled 28 games for the following season, all on the road, and some, as promised, in exalted places.
In their second game of the season, in December 1953, Francis and his teammates found themselves in Madison Square Garden. Against a relatively weak Adelphi College team, the Redmen lost 83-76, with Bevo getting 32; afterward Oliver's road show took a pounding in the New York press. Wrote columnist Jimmy Breslin, "Their humiliating scores against nonentities is a travesty on the entire structure of intercollegiate athletics."
With that, the Redmen fled to Philadelphia, where they went hammer and tongs with Villanova, the first major school they had ever played; Francis sent the game into overtime with a long jumper from the side. Rio Grande lost, but barely, 93-92; Francis had 39. Then, at the Boston Garden, behind Francis's 41, the Redmen beat Providence College 89-87, and the team went home to Ohio in triumph. A week later Oliver whisked them off on a southern tour. After trouncing Miami 98-88, with Francis scoring 48, Rio Grande took a beating at Raleigh against North Carolina State, which held Bevo to 34 points. But the Redmen finished the trip by defeating Wake Forest 67-65. Oliver had made his point. From New England to Florida, Rio Grande had showed it belonged.
"The second year," says Francis, "they believed us."
And when Bevo walked off the court at Hillsdale with 113 points in his pocket, he and his team had made history.
It all ended as abruptly as it began. Six games from the end of the season, against Ashland Junior College, Francis sprained his ankle, and that hobbled him the rest of the way. The Redmen had brought fame, money and new life to Rio Grande, but their national celebrity had ultimately created a backlash on the campus. Some administrators and faculty had come to resent the gaudy circus wagon that had invaded their grove of sapience. "I would walk down the sidewalks," says Francis, "and faculty members would see me and turn their heads. I don't know what it was. Maybe they were jealous."
He dropped out of Rio Grande at the end of the spring semester, never to return as a student, and the slights he felt left a galling residue. "I didn't go back for 10 years," he says.
Oliver was chased away too, even though he had helped raise his alma mater from its deathbed. "I'm still bitter about it," he says. "Little people in a little institution. They cut us down in our prime. If we had gone four years, no telling what we would have done."
Instead, Bevo and Newt joined the Globetrotters' act together, Francis as a featured player on the Whirlwinds and Oliver as a coach and later the promotion man of the Globies. Together they lasted 2½ seasons before going their separate ways. Oliver became the owner of a Springfield, Ohio, drive-in restaurant, where he made a fortune selling 25,000 gallons of root beer a year; he later moved on to tree farming and to two elected terms as Clark County commissioner. It all fits as neatly, to be sure, as the white Lincoln Town Car now parked in his driveway in Springfield. He speaks of the Bevo years as if he had lived them just last week.