And now, out of nowhere, here come the Brown Indians of St. Bonaventure riding forth from the southern tier of western New York to plunder and defeat the Duquesnes, the Xaviers, the DePauls and all of the other paladins of Catholic basketball in America.
The Brown Indians' home is in the town of Allegany, which is nestled in the foothills of the mountains of similar name, 10 miles above the Pennsylvania state line and, on some maps, just to the left of Olean, where everybody thinks the Brown Indians' home is. The identity problem is due, mostly, to the Olean Armory, an aging stone fortress that used to accommodate all St. Bonaventure home games on a floor of planks and in an atmosphere of fury. Such specialties of the house did not exactly make for bonhomie with the visiting teams, and St. Bonaventure once won 99 straight there before the building was taken over by Company C, 127th Armored Company. This came about when the school at last built its own 5,600-seat, all-purpose University Center on campus, in Allegany.
The memory of the old armory has been revived, however, and this year, wherever the Bonnies play, they carry their heads in the clouds and the winning spirit of Olean like a cudgel. In the University Center and every other arena in which they have appeared so far, the team is undefeated, untied and practically unmoved by it all.
In the arenas where they have not played, the Bonnies remain dangerously underrated. They still are often written off as a team that, like another Bonnie (and Clyde), must manage with strictly a five-man gang. After their 17th straight victory Saturday, an easy 70-56 win over Providence, it was obvious that the five Bonnies create sufficient devastation by themselves to be accorded gold stars.
In the Bonaventure backcourt are the slender upstate Irishmen, red-haired Jim Satalin from Syracuse and blond Billy (The Kid) Kalbaugh from Troy. The forwards are 6'5" John Hayes of nearby Niagara Falls and 6'3" Bill Butler, the outlander from Washington. And then, at center, stands 6'11" sophomore Bob Lanier—Buffalo Bob Lanier, Bob (The Boat) Lanier—a virtual man-child in the promised land, down from the big city 70 miles away, with his 265 pounds and his size 19 sneakers, to give the Bonnies strength and life and lead them against all the world, Catholic and otherwise. Remember these five because, unless the sky falls or the river runs dry, it is likely that St. Bonaventure will finish the regular season at 22-0, surprise the NCAA Eastern Regional Tournament and go on from there to walk with giants.
For a school with 1,800 undergraduates to manage such a record would normally be considered phenomenal, but St. Bonaventure has been down this road before. In the 1960-61 season Tom Stith and Fred Crawford led the Sonnies to a magnificent 24-4 record. That included a two-point loss in Madison Square Garden to the fine Ohio State team of Lucas-Havlicek-Siegfried, et al., and an NCAA Tournament loss to Wake Forest in Charlotte, N.C. in a game still remembered for its odd officiating and for a Wake Forest fast break started by the coach from his bench.
Since the Stith years, however, St. Bonaventure has been up, down and around with little flair or fanfare, and Olean, a sleepy town of small industry and old faces, has had to content itself with reminiscence and dreams. It was only this year that St. Bonaventure again began to win basketball games with regularity and that stuffed dummies, signifying the team's beaten opponents, again appeared on the 30-foot maple tree in the middle of the campus.
"We wanted to get the hanging tree going once more," says Lou Ciullo, the organizer of a campus booster group, the Brown Berets. "They started it in '61 about midseason, but then nobody cared after that year. We all figured this team would be good. Maybe not this good, but good. And we wanted to get up some spirit."
Ciullo and the Berets carry the act one step farther this time. They encase a dummy in a real coffin before each home game, then proceed to the tree for hanging ceremonies that are well attended by students and the brown-robed friars.
The team's success has not hurt the ecumenical spirit either. The week following St. Bonaventure's biggest win, a 66-62 decision over Villanova in the Palestra, the Reverend Richard Duncan, rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, was inspired to advertise in his schedule of services, "Keep going. Brown Indians," right in there below "10:00 a.m.—Holy Communion."