James Gary Joseph Kennedy Jr., age 20, is a forward on the University of Missouri basketball team that recently went to the finals of the NCAA Midwest Regional playoffs after winning the Big Eight Conference championship, the school's first outright title in that league since 1930, when it was composed of six teams. Technically, therefore, it is Missouri's first Big "Eight" championship. Jim Kennedy is the team's second leading scorer and its most aggressive offensive player, which is to say he is not afraid to get his nose bloodied going to the basket. On defense, he is not as aggressive.
Kennedy is a marketing major, a junior "getting by" mostly with Cs. He has blue eyes, a somewhat fleshy nose, lank brown hair he fears he is losing, and is good-looking enough at 6'6", 209 pounds to attract signals of interest from various Missouri coeds. Some of these signals are untimely and get him into jams with his regular girl, a symmetrical and well-favored brunette named Terri. Holding what is known in the NCAA lexicon as a "full scholarship" (value: $1,879 a year), Kennedy is given tuition, books and supplies, meals, laundry money, a housing allowance and an allotment of Missouri game tickets in return for his basketball services.
His friends characterize Kennedy as a bright, unassuming young man too straightforward to talk from but one side of his mouth. He drives a 1966 Mustang convertible, lives in an off-campus two-bedroom apartment with three teammates and aspires to play pro basketball. Two years ago Kennedy's father, a furniture salesman, suffered a fatal heart attack while attempting an overhead smash in a tennis match in North Carolina, where he was on business. Kennedy and his father were close. Kennedy wanted to quit school and return to St. Louis to help the family, which includes three sisters, two older than he. His mother was insistent. She told him to "get your fanny back in school."
April 5, 1976
Kennedy asked for $3 worth of gas and went around to watch as the attendant at the cut-rate pump plunged the nozzle into the Mustang. "It might not know what to do with that much," Kennedy said. "I usually get a dollar's worth. They hate to see me come in here. I dollar 'em to death."
Kennedy wore cotton pants and a flannel shirt and desert boots, and his 2-year-old tapioca-colored cashmere coat, bought in a closeout sale at Boyd's in St. Louis, was unbuttoned, the weather being unusually mild for February in Missouri. He had retrieved the car from a parking lot outside his girl friend's apartment on the outskirts of Columbia. It had sat there for three days while he used her Mustang convertible, a 1968 model. "Hers had gas," he explained.
There were other qualitative differences. Hers was blue and his was white and had less paint—or more rust—and his included the residue of his life-style: peanut shells, broken pencil stubs, a screwdriver, a crumpled letter with the greeting "Dear Foul-Up," and two dusty tapes of the rock groups America and Bread. The fragrance lingered from the time he had left the top down and rain soaked the cushions. And for a radio antenna he had substituted a coat hanger bent double; a friend had grabbed the antenna and snapped it off while falling from the hood in the aftermath of a party.
The Mustang was a family hand-me-down, he said, that he had helped pay for by painting houses in the summer on the west side of St. Louis. "My dad put money down, then gave the car to my sister. She gave it to me. One of these days it's going to be worth a lot of money. A collector's item."
He got into the car and pulled the tails of his cashmere coat around him and fired the engine. "Always starts right up," he said, and fired it again, "...on the second try." He twirled the wheel with two fingers and stomped the gas pedal and, coming out of the station, stuffed a cartridge into the tape deck he and a roommate had installed. The deck's wiring hung down from the dash like whips of licorice. He said he wished he were heading for the river instead of the campus.
Bay-be I'ma want you...
"A perfect day for cruising," he said.
Bay-be I'ma need you...
On such days, he said, he put the top down, and his baseball cap on and, with a kindred "cruiser" or two, went on missions of discovery. Often he took Route N south, down to the Missouri River where it bends in near Easley, 15 minutes out of Columbia.
"The river is beautiful there," he said. "I think it's the prettiest part of the state." Last year, he said, he took with him a former teammate who had been unable to get along with the coach, a player who "had always said what he thought," which didn't make for a lasting relationship. The player was transferring to a school in the East. They came to the river in a melancholy mood, with a fifth of Southern Comfort in a bag, "and we climbed the cliff overlooking the river. By the time we got up there we were so tired from the climb all we did was sit and drink and look at the river."
He said school was not so demanding that he couldn't find time for periodic flights to the river. The riverbank, in fact, was a congenial study hall—often he could get in three or four hours of uninterrupted reading there. "In the spring we take tents, and a few six-packs, and camp out. It'd be better if I had a Jeep—I'd love to have a Jeep. This thing takes a beating. Sometimes we take girls along. Sometimes we take shotguns and shoot. I've got a 12-gauge and a 20 my father left me. He and I used to go bird hunting. Quail, pheasant. I haven't been for a while."
It don't matta to me, if you take up with someone who's bettah than me...
He turned the Mustang into College Avenue and passed a panel truck, whipping the car out and in again with two fingers.
"I really miss my dad. I don't guess I'm over it. He was always so active. We used to go for walks, and talk. He would talk and I'd listen. I didn't realize how much sense he made until I was 16 or so. We were really close after that. He was only 59 when he died. Young."
He said his mother came to all the games, and when they were on the road she sat by the radio exerting influence with her rosary beads. "When Dad died, she was very strong about me staying in school. She's a great person. I owe her a lot. I don't know if I'll get to play in the pros, but if I could make some money I'd do it. It used to be a guy 6' 6" was an off-size, too big for guard, too small for forward, but now there's plenty my size playing pro. Swing men. And I'm white. They could use a few whites. It may be my biggest asset."
College Avenue skirts the eastern perimeter of the Missouri campus. Kennedy made a left on University, the bisecting artery, and slowed for the mid-morning traffic. He said playing for Missouri was something he wanted to do, not something he was charmed into. He had seen Norman Stewart, the Missouri coach, only once before he got to Columbia, "when he visited my parents."
Abruptly, Kennedy turned the Mustang into the rear parking lot of an undistinguished six-story brick building identified on the facade as Tiger Towers, and took the last available spot. He said college life wasn't everything it was cracked up to be, but what was? He said there were times, however—
"Honolulu was the best," he said. "I gotta go back. We played two games there before Christmas, but we were so awed, the beaches and all, we blew the first one." He said the next day he discovered that a Missouri pompon girl had also made the trip. "I saw her on the beach, in a really foxy bikini. I said, 'Oh, God.' " A friend with a car came and picked up the group. "We stocked up with Coors and traveled around the island all day long. I never drank so much beer. That night when we got back they had a luau going, with an open bar."
When the team went onto the floor for the next night's game, he said, "I thought I was going to die. Half the team was hung over. And we played one of the best games we ever played, and won. I scored about 28 points. I don't know what that tells you, but I doubt Coach Stewart would get the same meaning. We had to be in good shape to live through it."
He paused at the bicycle cage near the rear door of the brick building. A 10-speed bike was chained to the fence, its front wheel missing. "That's mine," he said. "The guy who stole the wheel must have been blind. The chain was just looped over the seat. All he had to do was lift it off and he could have had the whole bike. If you don't chain things down around here, you get ripped off. That's why I've decided to keep my shotguns at home." He opened the door and went inside.
There is no sex discrimination at Tiger Towers. The 176 coed units rent from $225 a month to nonstudents and students alike, though it is located on campus. The building has laundry and game rooms, a study lounge and a main-floor reception area with a 24-inch color television. The building is ten years old but appears considerably older. The motif is school-spirit oriented: Tiger golds and Tiger blacks in rugs, decorations, accessories, etc. Kennedy said he quit using the laundry when he found that he could get his clothes a lot cleaner at a laundromat two blocks away, and that he "never did like black and gold."
Each apartment is furnished, and includes a bath and a kitchenette. On some nights, Kennedy said, the smells of various ethnic dishes—curry, collard greens—mingle in the halls. Sometimes it is not the cooking alone. Sometimes, he says, you can get a high "just walking down the hall."
Many of the doors on the second floor are padlocked. Outside No. 124 there is a message scratched in the wall in a girl's handwriting: "Came by to see you but you weren't here—as usual. DZ." One-twenty-four is home for Danny Van Rheen, a 6'6" forward from Houston; for Scott Sims, a 6'1" guard from Kirkville, Mo.; for Kim Anderson, a 6'8" forward from Sedalia, Mo.; and for Jim Kennedy. All have been starters except Van Rheen, who is a confirmed substitute. All are juniors. All are on full scholarship. None is a zealous housekeeper.
A glowing Pabst Beer sign on one wall illuminates discarded shoes and articles of clothing, a scattering (or a collection) of empty beer cans and, in the kitchen alcove, a trash can in perpetual overflow.
Kennedy and Van Rheen are roommates, protruding from beds that are 6'2" long. Van Rheen has a quick, toothy smile and expressive eyebrows and is regarded as a botanical genius for keeping three house plants alive in a room in which interest in the environment is otherwise expressed exclusively in wall posters (a landscape, a seascape). The dressers and nightstands are littered with empty ice-milk cartons, soft-cover books by Daniel Defoe and John Wooden, throat lozenges, a can of auto touch-up paint, a tube of Preparation H, a half-empty bottle of Michelob, a Panasonic radio on top of an Emerson radio and a Wolfman mask draped over a desk lamp. An action photo of Bruce Lee in a stance suggesting imminent havoc faces the window on which a yellow-paper sign reads: "Up your binky with a chocolate winky."
"My little sister put the sign up," said Jim Kennedy, lolling in a chair to catch the first vibrations of Bob Dylan on a borrowed stereo. "My mother would never come in here."
Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed...
He said he and Danny were going to move out next year, to a new apartment near Terri's place, where the rent is $180 for two. He said they'd have to paint some houses to hack the difference. "The hassle," said Kennedy, "is getting your deposit back. Forty bucks. They always hassle you about the deposit."
"If we don't get it, I'm going to leave a few more holes for them to remember us by."
"Yeah, man, make it worthwhile," said Kennedy. They joined in cheering noises, relishing the specter of busting up the place in the name of justice.
Over Bob Dylan, the shower hissed.
"I'd play my favorite Beach Boys album for you, but somebody stole it," said Kennedy.
"What they stole was my $1,000 stereo," said Van Rheen. "Your album just happened to be on the turntable."
"It's all in how you look at it. Your stereo happened to be on the bottom of the album."
"That's the first time we've been ripped off. One guy down the hall got hit twice this year. They just bust the door down and walk in while you're away. Nobody seems to hear anything. Nobody has eyes. They took my stereo, two TV sets, the watch I got from playing in the Commissioners Tournament last year and Jim's Missouri watch. All the expensive stuff."
The redeeming factor of Tiger Towers, said Kennedy, was that in the bedlam hours of a postgame party it could take on a very warm, friendly glow. On those occasions the traffic was terrific and there was no sense closing the door.
"Only thing better is Meat's place in the basement of the Sigma Chi house," Kennedy said.
The bathroom door opened and Kim Anderson emerged in terry-cloth shorts, a towel over his dripping Buster Brown haircut. Dylan clicked and made way for the Doobie Brothers at top volume on the stereo.
Oh black watah, keep on rollin'...
"Brooding somewhere, I guess. His girl threatened him if he didn't quit drinking beer."
"What a pain."
"She's the one I told you about. She's so pretty none of the girls like her."
"Whataya mean, girls? I'm down on her act, myself. Terri gets mad at me, too, but she's cool about it."
"How you doing with the pompon girl?"
"She was hanging around after the game the other night, but I think she saw me with Terri."
"Did you make your 7:40 class?" Anderson asked Kennedy. Anderson is an honor student.
"You know how that is. I don't think they should allow 7:40s. I've made it four times in five weeks. That's four out of 15."
"You don't have to go at all if you can get the notes."
"Except for the tests."
"They don't even take roll most of the time. Never in the lecture halls. How could they? It'd take the whole period."
...Mississippi moon wontcha keep on shining...
The reason for Columbia, Mo. is the University of Missouri. Founded in 1839, the first state university west of the Mississippi, its landmarks include the largest nuclear research reactor on any campus, the original grave marker of Thomas Jefferson and the world's first school of journalism. J-schoolers make up 1,036 of the 23,000 students and project a fierce intramural competition onto the pages of the Columbia Missourian, the city's principal morning daily, and the in-house tabloids ManEater and Campus Digest, staffed by pre-J-schoolers.
The Missouri campus is an architectural mismarriage, the painstaking old and the stark, slab-sided, glass-and-aluminum new. But inside those walls there is a Midwestern consistency and a profound functionalism. The 4-year-old, $11 million Warren E. Hearnes Multipurpose Building, a giant hat box that seats 12,600 for basketball, was so named to convince the state legislature it would house many things (offices, indoor tracks, courts, lecture halls, etc.). Missouri has not had a significant social protest on campus since 1972, when an antiwar group made what was later termed a tepid rebuke of an ROTC parade.
In this calm, vacuumlike crucible, Kennedy moves serenely. He takes only 12 hours of courses a week during the basketball season and no more than 15 in the off-season. His instructors fill his head with "cash flow" and "average rate of return" and "capital rationing," in courses like Personnel Management (Monday-Wednesday-Friday) and Corporate Financing (Tuesday-Thursday) and Marketing and various labs (Thursday-Friday), and for the most part he finds he does not have to answer back, only pay attention. He also takes a "fun" liberal arts course called The Education of Exceptional Children. His favorite course this semester is a Thursday-only corporate finance lab, taught to a group of about 20 by a very pretty young woman who wears blue jeans in class and "just happens to be a terrific lecturer. Cool as ice." Kennedy said her class would be worth monitoring even if you weren't interested in cash flow and average rates of return.
"The J-schoolers cover us like nobody's business," said Jim Kennedy. He and Van Rheen had begun their walk to lunch, crossing Hitt Street and moving down Lowry Street in the mainstream of class-bound pedestrians.
"It's like a lab for them, competing like crazy for stories."
"They all look alike," said Van Rheen. "They got that Woody's look—button-down collars, sweaters, plaid pants. If Woody's [a popular men's store] comes out with a new style, they're the first to have it."
Kennedy responded to a beep from a passing motorist, and then a "Hey, Jimbo, what's doing, babe?" He had discarded his favorite cashmere coat for a lighter jacket.
"The M-Bar will be packed today," said Van Rheen. The M-Bar, Kennedy explained, was a little lunchroom in the basement of the bookstore that spilled out onto a large cement bench on good days. "The regulars take their coffee out and watch the girls go by. Some guys spend their entire school lives having coffee in front of the M-Bar. They oughta give credits."
"In the spring we lead the nation in streakers right through there," Kennedy said. "At least we did a couple of years ago. Parades of streakers were running through Greek Town and around the Columns. Remember the one who rode the white horse? A little chubby but nice."
"My favorite was the blonde on the motorcycle."
"I think a couple of the basketball players streaked. And some of the football guys. They oughta give credits for that."
A walk across campus for a basketball player could be alternately exhilarating and humbling, Kennedy said. "One guy stopped me the other day and said, 'How'd you do this year, Jim?' He thought the season was over."
Van Rheen and Kennedy came to a one-story frame house, the Black Culture Center.
"A black kid got shot right here two years ago," said Kennedy. "A basketball player who'd become ineligible and quit the team. A Missourian writer tried to make it sound like Coach Stewart had been insensitive to the guy and that was why he was dead. Pure crap. Stewart can get pretty sarcastic, but he sure doesn't confine it to the blacks. He's always telling Kim and me we're the worst two defensive forwards in the Big Eight. He's always telling me I'm lazy. If anything, the black athletes get treated better than whites, and you can quote me."
"The thing is, when a white guy gets hassled and quits the team, it's discipline," Van Rheen said. "When a black guy gets kicked off, it's prejudice. The St. Louis papers write all that stuff, about blacks not wanting to come here. How tough it is for them. I think the black guys we have get along fine."
"I think a coach has a harder time disciplining a black guy because he doesn't think a black will take it," Kennedy said. "The white guys are used to discipline, so they can't get away with anything. They get disciplined and they stick around. The coaches aren't sure a black guy won't say, 'The hell with you, I'm leaving.' Little things get by—showing up late for meetings, facial hair. If I grew a mustache Stewart would cut it off the next day."
They crossed the street and ducked into Lewis and Clark Hall, where scholarship athletes at Missouri have a private cafeteria. The cafeteria dispenses high-quality food, well prepared, no limit to a customer. The athletes are allowed three meals a day there, two on Sunday. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are steak days. After a lunch of soup, veal sandwiches, green beans, Lyonnaise potatoes and ice cream from a custard machine at the end of the service line, Kennedy and Van Rheen split for their afternoon classes. Kennedy toyed with the idea of happening by the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority to see if his pompon girl might be out getting some sun, but thought better of it. "I'm in enough trouble already," he said.
At the modern Middlebush classroom building, Kennedy descended a half flight of stairs onto a crowded landing and made his way through a bank of doors into a lecture hall for his class in corporate financing. The auditorium, with seats for over 500, sloped to a stage. Twin rows of television sets hung from the ceiling. Kennedy took a place near the back of the class, on the right. Students piled in, shucking coats and rattling newspapers, half-filling the hall. A boy in a "Florida" sweat shirt passed Kennedy a copy of the Campus Digest and said something, but class began before Kennedy could open the paper.
The professor, a man in his 30s, wore a brown dress shirt, brown pants held smartly in check by a big-buckled belt and a tie that from a distance appeared to be Tiger gold and black. "Always wears the same outfit," Kennedy said. The instructor clipped a microphone to his neck and began to go over a test the students had taken. His voice came over the loudspeaker in a fiat metallic tenor, as if issuing from an old-fashioned wind-up Victrola.
"The grade cutoffs are 21, 18, 15 and 12," he said. "Below 12 and you're in serious trouble."
The instructor paced the stage, declaiming "biased estimates" and "unbiased estimates." His content was to the point, but his delivery numbing. A glaze fell over the audience. Some returned to the newspapers, a few dozed. Two walked out. Kennedy took notes steadily. "The only class I take notes in," he said. "The rest I can pretty much get by reading the text. But, geez, I wish he'd crack a joke now and then."
When the class was over, the boy in the "Florida" shirt asked Kennedy if he'd read the Digest. "If you haven't, read the personals column," he said.
Kennedy opened to the classified page. The first item leaped at him: "Jim Kennedy: are you available?"
"Terri will kill me," he said.
Terri Matheis is little more than half Jim Kennedy's size. She has black hair and eyes so liquid brown they appear to be black, too. Her manner is retiring; she does not take charge of conversations. Terri is a psychology major, a year ahead of Kennedy in school. They have been "close" since high school when, he likes to remind her, she used to drive down from her Catholic school to pick him up for lunch at his Catholic school. Though they are not engaged, there is a proprietary interest, mutually held. Kennedy's mother thinks of Terri as "part of the family" and takes her side when Jim gives her a hard time, "which I do" he admitted. "But the fact is, none of the other girls I've met ever measured up to her."
"We had one class together in accounting," said Kennedy. "I had her sit in front of me because her shoulders are narrow and I could read off her papers. Trouble was she'd turn her head and her chin stuck out so far I couldn't see."
"At least my hair's not falling out," said Terri. "At least I'm not getting bald."
"Massage," he said. "Massage is the answer. My father's hair was thin. Why do you always talk about my hair?"
"You started on my chin," said Terri. "You always start it."
They were having celebration lasagna at La Cantina d'Italia in downtown Columbia, Kennedy in a jacket without a tie, Terri strikingly pretty in a black dress and earrings and high heels. The occasion was her 22nd birthday. She celebrated with a wine cooler, he with draft beer.
"How does it feel to go out with a younger man?" he said. He told how at the last game she sat behind the bench and he didn't know it until he heard a voice crying, "Do it for me, Jim, do it for me! It's my birthday."
"Don't do that on your next birthday," Kennedy said. "I was having enough problems."
"Don't blame me if you can't make a basket."
Kennedy said talk of his liaison with the pompon girl had reached the mainland almost as soon as he did. He said "after Terri heard it from sorority sisters," he confessed everything. "Every time I make a move in the Kappa Gamma house it gets back to Terri."
"Everybody's against you," Terri said. "When my mom heard about it, she lectured me 30 minutes on the phone. My little sister wouldn't even talk to me."
Terri was conciliatory. She said the truth was that the accelerated social life at a big university—the prospects of new entanglements—had not changed Jim that much. "He's really the same solid person. He gets it from his family."
She said campus morals probably hadn't changed that much over the years, but the kids today were "more open." A favorite campus legend, Kennedy said, was that of the six columns that have stood over the Red campus "almost forever." The legend is that every time a girl gets through Missouri still a virgin, the school erects another column.
"It'd be easier if it weren't for the parties," he said, "and the fact there's about a two-to-one ratio of girls to boys on the campus."
"There is no such thing, and certainly not for you. For you it's one-to-one."
"I can't make any promises."
Terri screwed up her face.
"Times change. Even Coach Stewart recognizes the need for change once in a while. He had old-fashioned rules about hair over the collar and ties and coats on road trips—the same ugly mustard gold blazers. Everybody looking like altar boys. You couldn't wear anything but high-top Converse shoes. He laid the rules down, and if a guy didn't like it, see you later.
"We lost eight guys in three years. My freshman year, the more he got on us the worse we played. We lost eight straight games and 11 of our last 13. Some guys he rode just couldn't take it. I think he learned a lot from that. He's easier-going this year. This season he let us make our own rules. We met on it. We decided to have three rules: no cigarettes, no drugs, no alcoholic beverages, except beer. The brothers were big for beer. I voted for hard liquor."
"You did not."
"Yes, I did. Smoking was no problem. I can't stand the smell."
"You ever try grass?"
"Once. Everybody had been telling me how good it made you feel, and I got one and puffed it about two hours. All I got was a sore throat."
"Now if I can figure out a way to get your brother to move out of your apartment...."
Terri laughed. "I tell people my brother shares my apartment and they don't believe it. It's true. He's a sophomore. Jim can't stand it."
"I like him. I really do. I mean, he means well, but geez, he's got his nose in the books all the time. He's in bed every night at quarter toll. I'm just getting set for a little Johnny Carson and he wants to go to bed. And his grades are no better than mine."
"Some people have to work harder for grades. It comes easy for you."
"Did you go to your 7:40 today?"
"You know how those 7:40s are."
"Norman will get you."
"No, he won't. I'm on to Stormin' Norman. I have heard on good authority that he was really wild when he was in school." Kennedy smiled happily.
Norm Stewart has coached the Missouri basketball team for nine years. In the two seasons before his return to Columbia, where he was a Helms All-America in 1956, the Tigers won six of 49 games; since then they have had only two losing seasons. The current team won a record of 24 regular-season games and two more in the playoffs before losing to Michigan. It was Missouri's first appearance in the NCAA tournament in 32 years.
Stewart is a tall man with an imperious bulldog jaw, a wry wit and a reputation for devouring recalcitrant young athletes and impatient young journalists. His players do not warm to him so much as they respect his ability to coach the game, to find diagnostic truths in the heat of play. He is not unaware of their feelings. "They think I'm a hard guy," he said, the thin line of his lips rising at the corners of his impressive jaw. Last Christmas the team gave him a toilet seat with the University of Missouri seal on it. "I know what they were trying to tell me," he said.
Stewart's budget runs around $200,000 a year; he spends $15,000 recruiting. It cost virtually nothing to recruit Jim Kennedy, he being right up the road in St. Louis waiting for the call.
"He wasn't a blue-chipper in high school, but he is now," said Don Kelley, one of Stewart's assistant coaches.
"He's gifted," said Stewart. "When he grits his teeth and goes to the basket he's about as good as anybody. I'd just like to see him be more intense on defense."
Players and coaches were mustered in limby knots on the beds and chairs and floors of two adjoining rooms in a motel in Lawrence, Kansas, coaches and team having flown in for a crucial night game with rival Kansas. The budget allowed for just the two rooms for the 12 players and coaches to relax in before the game. They had left Columbia in midmorning in three twin-engine planes. Kennedy got to fly in the best of them, a seven-seater Cessna 402 that Stewart reserves for the starting team while he himself takes a slower model.
During the dead time between arrival and the pregame afternoon meal, the players lolled in the rooms. Stewart got a spades game going in one, with Scott Sims as his partner, and turned the volume up on a Western song. In the other room, Kennedy turned the pages of his $15 Business Financial Management text and put it down for the second time. "Very dry," he said.
"Coach loves that hillbilly music, doesn't he?" said Danny Van Rheen.
"He really had it going last summer," said Kennedy. "We took this float down the Current River in southeast Missouri, way down in the sticks, practically in Arkansas, and he put on his Merle Haggard tape and his cowboy hat and really got it going."
"Why a canoe trip?"
"To develop a close-knit group. Team harmony and all that. I know that's what he has in mind, and with this team it works."
In the other room, Stewart was dealing and telling a story about coming to Lawrence as a player for a game and going into the dressing room at halftime to find a foot of snow on the floor. A window had been left open. He suggested sabotage.
"What happened in the second half?"
"We beat hell out of 'em," he said.
Three taxis transported the team to the Kansas field house. Ankles were taped, and the players sat around studying game programs, looking for some meaning in the weights and measures. Stewart's pregame talk was a model of urgency and expertise.
"Set the double and go...push that wing man out here and start cat-'n'-mousing...when this man buttonhooks, you got to get off, get off...if they start out zone, Jimmy, I want you in the middle.... You're going to have a physical game here, you can't be reacting to the crowd or the officials. You can't be tense, but you've got to be intent."
Clap, clap, clap. The players began a rhythmic applause and surrounded Stewart, Kennedy rising from his spot off to one side. "Let's go, baby!" "Let's do it, No. 42," "Do it, Big D!" Clap, clap. "Get after 'em, Jimbo. Let's go, Bo!"
"Now listen," said Stewart, his voice falling. "There are nuts in every town. When we go out there they'll be yelling and maybe throwing things, but when you get to the floor, run on the floor. Make it tough. Make it tough as hell. Everyone, everyone can do something in this game. Make up your mind. O.K."
When they went out, the Kansas crowd greeted them with slander and ridicule. Stewart looked up at the far end of the arena, where a small band in motley dress—but mostly Tiger black and gold—thumped and boomed. "See where they put the Mini-Mizzou?" he said. "Section 11. Best band in the league, and everybody's scared to death of 'em." He grinned.
The Missouri team was not so scary. Kansas took the lead and held it. Only Willie Smith, Missouri's best player and high scorer, responded to the distant beseeching of the Mini-Mizzou. At halftime Missouri trailed by five points. Kennedy was off form; one of his shots missed the basket entirely and, too eager on defense, he accumulated fouls.
In the snow-free dressing room Kennedy took a back seat for the halftime talk and sucked on an orange wedge. Stewart was conciliatory. His voice suggesting revelation, he said, "You know what? They've just played the best half they've played all year, and you've played your worst, and you're still only five points behind. What does that tell you?"
Missouri closed the gap, but could not pull away. The game came, taut, to the finish. Stewart maintained a remarkable benchside calm, calling out instructions, conducting time-out seminars. But Kennedy could not shake his torpor and, piqued, engaged in an impromptu wrestle with a Kansas player he had been wearing on his neck. A double foul was called, Kennedy's fifth. He was waved to the bench, behind which a tiny black-haired girl commiserated loudly.
Missouri lost the lead with seconds to go; then, miraculously, won on a tip-in by Smith, who could barely be seen in the flailing of arms under the basket. The gun went off as the ball sifted through the net.
"Nothing to it," said Stewart.
A 40-mph tail wind speeded the journey home. The players dipped into snack bags of sandwiches, milk and apples, and slowly wound down. Despite his bad night, Kennedy did not brood. He had rejoiced with the players at the finish, pounding backs and pumping hands, and did not sulk on the ride home. "I hate it when a guy sulks because he hasn't done well, even though the team wins," he said.
The lights of Kansas prairie towns bled into the lights of Missouri prairie towns. The team was received at the Columbia Regional Airport by a small delegation of relatives huddled in the hangar office.
"When the football team came home from beating Alabama, the road to the airport was so jammed you couldn't get here if you wanted to," Kennedy said.
"Everybody's probably home studying," Kim Anderson said, smiling.
"That's all right, tomorrow night's Face Time," said Van Rheen.
One block south of Broadway in downtown Columbia, at 10th Street, virtually under the same roof, are the La Cantina d'Italia restaurant, the Harvest Moon restaurant (conceded to be the best in town) and a sprawling, low-slung disco lounge with wooden accents called Harpo's. On any Thursday night, Harpo's is the dead center for the consumption of draft and bottled beer. Harpo's features unlive entertainment (tapes, a radio), an obscure fireplace, pinball and bowling machines, Tiffany lamps and a 50¢ drink called a Mau Mau. None of these is the principal attraction. Thursday night is Face Time at Harpo's, the appointed hour for a massive exchange of check-outs: J-schoolers in their Woody's wear, Ag-schoolers in their pointed boots, athletes in their motley styles, lady professors in their tight jeans—they all crowd in by nine, all the seats and booths taken and the waitresses lost in a hive of table-hoppers and minglers.
"Hey, Jimbo, where's the chicks?"
"Hey, Moose, you're sweating."
Kennedy was braced inside the door by a bearded, heavy-chested young man wearing a "Hawaii 76" T shirt. A horn man for the Mini-Mizzou, Kennedy said.
"Where's the chicks, Bo? You always come in with the chicks."
"Sure I do," said Kennedy, and steered Terri inside by her elbow.
Scott Sims was already there, a couple of beers ahead. He said it had not been his week, and moved away. On the far side of the room, Danny Van Rheen and his blonde J-schooler Allison had captured a booth. Kennedy and Terri pushed for it. Just as they sat down, a short, muscular young man loomed over them.
"Hey, Meat, what's going on?" asked Kennedy.
"Party at the Pit Saturday night, but get home early tonight. You're in training."
In real life, Kennedy said, "Meat" was Bob McRoberts. He characterized him as a small but incredibly fierce defensive end, and a "crazy man. He'll do anything. He loves it when it's cold—runs around in flimsy shirts. Always got the sniffes. But Meat's got the one thing I'd really like to have."
"No, his Jeep. His yellow CJ-5. The perfect vehicle. Got everything on it, including a tow bar. You know what he did one night? He ran his Jeep onto the lawn of the Kappa Alpha house and rammed into their cannon three or four times until it fell apart. I don't know how he got out of that."
A girl with a large expanse of gums came to the table to "wish Terri a happy birthday." Two other girls trailed behind her. "They're dying to meet Jim," she said, looking at Terri for approval. "Do you mind?" she asked.
Tern smiled and said no. She had put her wine cooler aside in favor of a glass of milk and was sipping it. "My stomach," she said, smiling in embarrassment. "Don't worry. The milk makes it go away."
Kennedy and Terri left before midnight.
Peggy Kennedy is almost six feet tall, a big-boned woman with salt-and-pepper hair and a forthright manner that calls to mind the actress who plays TV's Maude. She married James Kennedy Sr. when he was with the FBI before World War II, and now, with some trepidation, follows the paths he cut as a furniture salesman, selling her line of decorator accessories. She does it "to get out," she said, not having to do much mothering for daughters who are 14, 22 and 23. "I can't tell the older ones when to come in anymore," she said.
"The thing about Jim," his mother said, "is that he has always been a good boy. No goody-goody, I don't mean that. Just a neat guy, you know? Absolutely no trouble raising. I could have raised 50 Jimmys to one girl."
She sat in the lobby of the Campus Inn on game day waiting for Kennedy to join her for breakfast. She said she had driven all the way from St. Louis by herself, the first time she'd ever done it. Ordinarily a daughter brings her, she said, but none was available. "I had to solo. I was scared to death, but I'm here." She nodded her head proudly and winked, adjusting the tilt of her tinted glasses.
She said Jim and his father had had "a neat relationship. You could see how close they had gotten. He doesn't say so, but I can still feel how it hurts him when he comes home, when he walks into the house."
She said her husband had predicted that Jim would someday play for the Big Eight championship. She said they had been grateful he was able to play under "such wonderful men as Coach Stewart and Coach Kelley." And as for Terri, she said, "How could he be so lucky? Don't you just love that girl?"
She said, "Jimmy never asks for anything. I mean, he has to have his back to the wall before he comes to me. I suppose he withdraws about $50 a month from his bank account. But he'd rather do without than ask."
It had begun to snow in Columbia and by midafternoon the parking lot at the Hearnes Multipurpose Building was a dirty white sherbet. Lines were already forming at the gates when Kennedy drove his Mustang in and he and Danny got out. "Gonna be a big crowd tonight," he said.
Quarters for the Tigers at Hearnes are small, but modern and comfortable. Each player's name is engraved on a plastic strip over his dressing cubicle, and there is a compartment for valuables, each with a combination lock. A sign advises that BIG EIGHT CHAMPIONS ARE MADE, NOT BORN. The Staple Singers hammer out a locker-room favorite: Do it again, do it again....
The doors were unlocked at 6:30 and the crowd thundered in, risking life and limb scrambling over the too-steep chair backs to get down to the choice locations. By game time the announcer was able to report that it was the biggest crowd of the year, 11,847. The crowd applauded lustily. The clamorous Mini-Mizzou added its approval from a select spot underneath the east basket.
Missouri beat Nebraska in overtime, principally because of the continued fine play of Willie Smith and Kim Anderson. Kennedy, still off form, took only six shots, but made five. He hung around the auditorium afterward, visiting with his mother and Terri. He told Terri to wait and he'd get the Mustang and bring it around to pick her up so she wouldn't have to tackle the snow.
Outside, black and white athletes split into groups and went their separate ways. It was something seen everywhere, and nothing anyone seemed able or inclined to do anything about. A matter of "selection," Kennedy said, though he added the players sometimes mixed at parties.
He was halfway back to Tiger Towers before he realized he had forgotten Terri. When he got back to the auditorium, a J-schooler was waiting with her; he had offered to take her home. Kennedy told him to "bug off."
The next morning Kennedy was at Terri's apartment early, and with the weather already warming again took her for a ride down to the river. It was breezy still, but the sun was out, and he had a six-pack, and they stayed three hours.
Two weeks later Missouri won the Big Eight championship with victories over Kansas State and Colorado. Kennedy played brilliantly against a favored Kansas State team in Manhattan, scoring 15 points and—more important—playing aggressive defense and leading the team with 12 rebounds. Afterward, however, he preferred to tell how great Willie Smith had been, scoring 38 points "and just going wild." A crowd estimated at close to 300 came to the Columbia airport to meet the team.
Kennedy's mother drove down for the final, anticlimactic game with Colorado. Kennedy told her how Coach Stewart was "beside himself" winning the championship and "how pleased" he was for Stewart. "It's his life," he said. Mrs. Kennedy took her son by the arm and walked him away from the group.
"You've wanted that Jeep for years," she said soberly. "I know you have, and I wanted you to have it. I've shopped around and looked at the prices, and it's just out of the question. So here." She handed him the keys to a 1975 Jeep CJ-5. Just like Meat's, only green.
He told her to please pass the keys to the Mustang on to his other sister. And never mind what happened to the coat hanger.