Just before half time with the score tied, a Petrarca player named Varotto, renowned for his pugnacity, was yanked from the game by Coach Nikolic after a fourth foul had been called against him. Varotto did more than spread his arms. He began screaming. Someone handed him a sweat suit; he rolled it into a ball and drop-kicked it along the sidelines. When an elderly Petrarca fan rushed up and tried to calm him Varotto nearly knocked the little man down in his frenzy. For the last minutes of the half the angry player roamed along the sidelines, while thousands laughed and shouted "idiota" and "cretino" and held up U's made of index and little fingers, a signal that means "cuckold." When the half ended Varotto had to be restrained from going into the stands after one of his critics. "Glad he was held back," Nikolic confided. "He is fighter, but if you make strong puff with mouth, he fall down."
All through the half-time intermission arguments raged in the stands. One little knot of debaters on the floor of the gym engaged in shrill controversy with another knot up on the second level of the stands. Since the two groups were separated by steel rails and several policemen, the argument reached the decibel level of a Neapolitan open-air market. "Under those conditions, they can really let themselves go and say a lot of interesting things," my Italian friend confided. "That is regarded as the most enjoyable type of argument in Italy."
Varotto, with a native flair for histrionics, was the last player to return to the floor after the entr'acte, and the crowd reminded him once again that he was a cretin, an idiot and a cuckold. Varotto shook his fist at 2,500 people but diplomatically allowed himself to be steered to the bench.
The second half began, and the score was tied and retied, and the players seemed to rise to the tension and improve their performances. Soon I found myself becoming involved in the outcome. Would U.S. Petrarca, the honest little team from out of town, be able to hold back the mighty shirtmakers from Cassera with their unfair home-court advantage and their millions of lire of accounts receivable? For awhile the outcome was in doubt, and when Doug Moe took off on a breakaway I jumped to my feet and began shouting something I had heard the Italians cry: "Volo! Volo!"
Several people turned and stared at me, and I quickly sat down. "What's the matter?" I asked my Italian friend out of the right side of my mouth. "All I was saying was, 'Fly! Fly!' "
"You were saying, I am flying! I am flying!' "he said out of the left side of his mouth. "You should have said 'Vola!' "
"Oh," I said out of the right side of my mouth, and then I shut up.
Anyway, all the steam left the game when Dewey Andrew went on a personal scoring tear and gave Cassera a seven-point lead. At that point the referees took over, calling fouls and stopping play so often that for a while it appeared the game would never end. Indeed, the control was so tight that the players seemed to assume minor roles, while the two officials bestrode the floor like colossuses. They were calling fouls on almost every shot, whether there was interference or not. At one point the officiating dating grew so ridiculous that Dewey Andrew burst out laughing, and even the usually undemonstrative Moe spread out his arms like an Italian. Eventually eight players, four from each team, fouled out, and Cassera, aided by the inevitable letdown that overcame Moe in the last 10 minutes, won the game 69-66. (" Moe's play was inferior in the second half, but there are 1,000 attenuating factors," wrote an Italian sports-writer. " Moe has to score, he has to get rebounds both on offense and defense, make plays for his teammates and control the passing. Too much work!") Moe had scored 29, Andrew 20, and no one else had come close to the Americans in performance. The players hugged and kissed and exchanged commiseration and congratulation as though they had just finished an Olympic final instead of a battle for the booby prize of the league.
Afterward, in the cold, unheated and unhappy visitors' dressing room, Dewey Andrew flung an arm around his old friend's neck and said, "Never mind, Doug, you know you never win away. You just don't." Coach Nikolic was telling a group of sympathizers that "referees ruined game. Did nothing but whistle."
Over in the corner, a friendly priest was asked what would happen to Petrarca when both Moe and Nikolic departed at the end of this season with the team already on a losing streak. "Whenever the Unione Sportiva Petrarca has had a problem, something has come along to solve it," the father said. "Who knows from what quarter help will come? But it will come, you may count on that." By the slightest of upward glances, the priest indicated the quarter he was counting on.