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This particular day, he had been away, hunting down in southern Indiana with some of the guys. Nancy had a meeting to attend in the evening, but she passed it up, because Bobby was late getting back. She cooked a huge, scrumptious dinner, but apparently that's standard fare at the Knights'.
Whatever other ambiguities Knight has to deal with in these cloudy times, Nancy isn't one of them. "She's just a great coach's wife," he says. She knows her man, too, knows not to intrude on the game. When Indiana won the NCAA in Philadelphia in 1976, Knight and some old friends from basketball and Orrville went out to dinner afterward—the victory celebration, the culmination of his career. Neither Nancy nor any other woman was included.
Says Steve Green, one of Knight's better players, who graduated in 1975, "He feels women are just an obstacle that must be overcome. Players' girl friends didn't really exist for him. Just didn't exist. If he heard me talking to someone about my wedding, he'd be yelling, 'Don't do it! Don't do it!' "
It is instructive that Knight's language seldom goes beyond the anal stage. In the course of a day, he describes an incredible number of things being done to the derriere: it's burned, chewed out, kicked, frosted, blistered, chipped at, etc. Plus, almost every time he loses his temper, there is invariably a literal bottom line, involving the suggestion that the posterior be used as a depot—for money, a whistle, the Time and Life Building, what have you. But, when addressing the fairer sex, Knight has a reputation for purposely expanding his anatomical vocabulary to include graphic references to the male genitalia. This curious proclivity has offended people of both sexes and, perhaps more than anything, has tarnished his personal reputation.
One of Knight's heroes is Harry S Truman, which is why Give-'em-hell Harry is conspicuously honored by bric-a-brac in Knight's office. But this graphic assessment of another President, Lyndon Johnson, by columnist William S. White, is eerily applicable to Knight: "His shortcomings were not the polite, pleasant little shortcomings, but the big ones—high temper, of course, too driving a personality, both of others and himself, too much of a perfectionist by far.... Curiously enough I think one of the reasons he didn't go down better...was that his faults were highly masculine faults and that our society is becoming increasingly less masculine; that there's a certain femininity about our society that he didn't fit into."
On the subject of Bobby and women, Nancy Knight demurs: "I certainly couldn't have been married more than 17 years to a man who hates women. But I can understand how Bobby feels about some of them. I believe a woman should try and stay in the home. I've never been anything but very happy and satisfied to spend my life raising a family."
Nancy is, really, the only woman who ever came from the outside into Knight's life. She isn't pretentious, and their sprawling house, hidden in the woods just outside of Bloomington, is warm and comfortable. But those who would deal glibly in harsh housewife stereotypes must be careful. Everyone who knows the Knights well has the same one secret: Nancy influences Bobby more than you ever would guess.
Like many coaches, she often speaks for her husband in the first person plural—"We got the job at West Point"—but in neither a proprietary nor insecure way. He has the court, she has the home. It's defined.
Nancy acknowledges that Bobby's disputes with the press may well be exacerbated by her overreaction to criticism of him. "I read about this ogre," she says, "and he's the gentlest, kindest person to his family. He does so much good everywhere. I just can't stand to see the man I love being torn apart."