SI Vault
Sarah Pileggi
March 10, 1980
The Minnesota Fillies and the rest of the players in the WBL go for broke on the floor, while their struggling franchises go all but broke at the box office
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March 10, 1980

Full Of Heart In An Empty House

The Minnesota Fillies and the rest of the players in the WBL go for broke on the floor, while their struggling franchises go all but broke at the box office

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To the rest of his players Kunze said, "If you get tired, don't be afraid to take yourself out. We've got depth. If someone's pushing you around, take care of it. Don't look to the bench. That's your job, not mine. K.O., if they belt you, belt them back.... The 15-foot shot with time, that's our shot. If you've got it, take it. We're shooters, remember that. Show 'em! Remember, all of Minnesota is watching this game. My mother's watching this game."

Later, on the bench, with the game about to start and 4,500 Iowa fans in their seats, Kunze muttered, "If we handle the press, we'll be O.K. If not, this is going to be a long day. We are a lit...tie slow."

What happened from that point on, to the Fillies, to Nevers' scenario and to the TV fans, including Mrs. Kunze, shouldn't happen to pro wrestling. First of all, the television signal that was supposed to be relayed by land line from Des Moines to Chicago to Minneapolis got lost somewhere along the way, and a quick switch to the Westar satellite had to be arranged. But the dish in Minneapolis, the one with which KMSP-TV receives signals that are bounced off satellites, was facing in the wrong direction and the motorized mechanism normally used to turn it was frozen. The dish had to be turned around by hand, an operation that took 20 minutes. Thus the game had been on for 35 minutes when the show started.

Given the way events were unfolding on the floor in Des Moines, it might have been just as well if the telecast had never gone on the air. Machine Gun Molly was shooting the lights out, and the Fillies could do nothing to stop her. The hotter Machine Gun got, the worse Minnesota looked. At the half the Cornets were leading by 13, and Kunze tore into his team in the locker room. "You're getting your butts kicked by athletes!" he shouted.

By the end of the third period, the Fillies were 21 points down, and four minutes into the fourth the gap was 25 points. Bolin was heading for another record, and when she got it—54 points—with 2:08 remaining, the standing ovation lasted several minutes.

On the bus again, heading north in the dark toward Minneapolis, Kunze said, "There's something about women. When something begins to go wrong, they have trouble turning it around."

At 6:30, not far from the Iowa-Minnesota border, the bus pulled off the highway into a glorified truck stop called Boondocks, USA, an island of neon in the night. With their spirits rising in anticipation of food, the Fillies, except for K.O. and Mason, who didn't want to spend their money, filed into the restaurant. The place was moderately crowded, so the players took seats wherever they found them, some in booths, some at the counter, a few in an area marked THIS SECTION FOR PROFESSIONAL TRUCKERS ONLY. Then, suddenly, Nevers was telling them they had to leave the restaurant; the manager felt the place was too crowded and would not serve them. Somewhat dazed, the Fillies filed back out into the darkness and onto the bus.

Higgins tried to cheer up Nevers by reiterating what he had said three times since lunch: "God is testing us, Gordon." The perfect end to a perfect day.

J. Gordon Nevers, 46, the founder and principal owner of the Fillies, is an essentially cheerful, normally optimistic, fiscally conservative middle-class American father of five who as a result of a middle-class American career crisis at the age of 41 became involved in a sporting proposition—women's professional basketball—that would challenge the gambler in Bet-A-Million Gates.

Nevers graduated from the University of Missouri in 1958 and for 3� years pitched on minor league teams in the A's organization. When a broken leg in 1961 finished off his already marginal chances for a major league career, he went into his wife's family's undertaking business in Minneapolis, rising eventually to a vice-presidency and part ownership. In 1976 the family business was bought out by a larger company, and Nevers soon realized he was temperamentally unsuited to the corporate approach to death. Comfortably set financially but casting about for something to do, Nevers decided that professional sports might offer some interesting possibilities.

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