Lung for lung, Cincinnati's basketball boosters are the loudest, brashest, wildest and usually happiest in all the land. Whether in field houses during games or on the streets later on, they shout, scream, sing, stomp, whistle, clap, clang and toot longer and louder than any of their competitors. "It's easy to tell when you're on the same block with Cincinnati fans," said a flinching coach last weekend. He was being conservative. It's easy to tell when you are in the same state with Cincinnati fans.
Last Friday the Bearcat worshipers made a pilgrimage to Louisville, 3,000 strong—congressman, mayor, corporation presidents included—to watch their team try for its third straight national championship, and if it was not to be Cincinnati's weekend on the court, it was certainly Cincinnati's weekend on the town. Their enthusiasm was delightful indeed. Take, for example, Boop Rodenberg (below), a slightly round-shouldered man of 41 who follows the Bearcats as if attached by a rope. Rodenberg's first name is Richard, but so many people call him Boop that he has two lines in the phone book, one for Richard, one for Boop. He lives on the west side of Cincinnati with his wife, Mary. He owns a small lighting-fixture company, is not an unfamiliar face at the Western Hills Country Club and watches every Cincinnati home game. So do all of Boop's friends. Boop's group also has traveled to most of Cincinnati's NCAA tournament games in the past four years, places like Kansas City and San Francisco, so it was only natural that they should all be in Louisville. Boop and his wife arrived early and checked into the Sheraton Hotel, where they had reserved nine rooms and a party suite on the ninth floor for the gang. They had the same room the year before, and Boop had scared the wits out of everyone by climbing out the window, standing on the narrow balcony and shouting the glories of Cincinnati to the town below. It was when he casually flipped a beer can into the street that his friends hauled him back inside. "It was an empty can," he protested.
Before he unpacked, Rodenberg removed his sign from its special black leather traveling case and hung it in the party suite. The sign is a strip of window shade eight feet long on which is painted in big red and black letters: NCAA—CINCINNATI ALL THE WAY. Boop made the sign a year ago before Cincinnati's conference playoff game with Bradley. Since then, he and his friends have had to defend it against repeated attacks. On the trip to play Bradley, for instance, Rodenberg strapped his sign to the side of the chartered bus in which he was riding. A car pulled alongside the bus and its occupants tried to rip the sign off, but Boop countered by spraying the attackers with seltzer water, driving them off. Shortly thereafter, the sign was torn and partially burned by some students at another game. The scars show, but the sign is still intact.
By pregame time Friday evening, everyone in Boop's crowd had gathered in the party suite, most of them bearing some symbol of luck. All Cincinnati fans follow their private pregame rituals, and heaven help the man who breaks one of them. Some wear lucky shoes, others wear lucky socks. There are lucky hats, lucky ties and lucky pins. One man even carries lucky pencils that he always keeps in his lucky pocket. The wife of another, Mrs. Warren Hensel, distributes lucky candies to her group during a game. She forgot to bring the candies to the NCAA playoff in California in 1960, and, of course, Cincinnati lost.
Boop Rodenberg felt no need for good luck symbols, unless you count his bright red blazer and red-and-black vest. What he did feel a need for were his tranquilizers. Boop had his leather pill case in Louisville, containing six bottles in which there were pills to soothe his ulcer, cold pills, gas pills, stomach-settling pills, Bufferin and tranquilizers. Boop took three tranquilizers during the Oregon State game, two before the start and one at half time.
The way Cincinnati played against Oregon State, there really was no need for tranquilizers and, back at the hotel later, the crowd was happy and confident. Boop wandered around the suite trying to think of somebody to call long distance. When things have gone well for the team, Boop likes to call someone he knows, preferably at 4 in the morning, and reverse the charges. It does people no good to refuse the call. Boop will call again five minutes later. At 5 a.m., the party broke up, with Boop still trying to think of somebody to call.
The next night Boop, again wearing his blazing red blazer and Bearcat-emblazoned vest, lugged his sign into Freedom Hall and hung it over an exit for everyone to see. Others had whistles (left) and even guns (below, left). There was noise, loud and raucous, as the team came out on the court, as the team was introduced and as the team went into an early lead over Loyola. Boop and his friends were part of that noise, rising from their seats and shaking their fists with every Bearcat basket.
And then came the Loyola rush. At first Boop Rodenberg sat slumped in his seat, his face expressionless. When, with four and a half minutes to go, Tom Thacker made a bad pass and Loyola narrowed its deficit to three points, Rodenberg could stand it no longer. He left his seat, climbed down a flight of stairs and disappeared into the lobby.
"I wasn't taking another pill," he said later. "I was just trying to change the luck. Sometimes when I leave my seat the luck changes."
But Cincinnati's luck didn't change, and Boop Rodenberg was back in his seat to see the end of it. For a few moments after Loyola's winning basket, Boop covered his eyes with his hands. Then he got up, unfastened his sign and rolled it up. It was a battle to get out of the arena, bulling through Loyola fans who were singing a revised version of Cincinnati's fight chant—"We're Loyola, we're No. 1!" Boop managed a smile. Outside, he and a friend looked for a taxi large enough to carry them, their wives and the sign.