Carol Timko Edwards
Special to the Tribune-Star
Even though it has been nearly 35 years, I remember it like it was yesterday. The chaos of the fans screaming at every home game. The pride in Terre Haute as seen on every billboard. An unbelievable basketball season that brought no losses.
The year was 1978. Indiana State University was to provide the city of Terre Haute, the state of Indiana, and the entire country with a year of memories and exhilaration that none would soon forget. Led by Larry Bird, the Sycamores would take on one opponent after another. The games would be tough. Some would go to the buzzer. Others would be won in overtime. But all of them had the same result: ISU had yet another W.
As an ISU Sycamore, I remember well the impact that season had on all of us. Watching the games, we grew more excited as the Sycamores improved their record one game at a time. When the score was tight, I’d run out of the room, unable to watch as the tension mounted. My tactic always seemed to work, however, for when I returned, things were always better. We were eventually ranked No. 1 and every opponent wanted to be the one to finally stop Larry Bird. Soon, we were 9-0, then 15-0, then 20-0. Whispers could be heard about the improbability of actually going undefeated for the season. Could it happen? Could this team actually do it?
The Sycamores did, in fact, go on to end the season undefeated. Sports analysts began to look ahead at the NCAA tournament and those who at first doubted the Trees were singing their praises. Larry, Carl, Alex, Brad and Bob were getting the job done one game at a time.
Eventually, the fairy tale season would end with a loss to Michigan State in the NCAA championship game. After a sensational season, Larry and his crew lost to Magic Johnson in a game that would spark a rivalry that would last for decades.
Today marks a special day for Indiana State Sycamores and basketball fans throughout Indiana. At last, after 35 years, a bronze statue honoring Larry Bird, will be dedicated at Hulman Center on the ISU Campus. The dedication is at 11:30 a.m., ahead of the 1 p.m. tipoff as the current Sycamores take on the Ball State Cardinals with all of that memorable ’78 team in attendance.
For years, the idea of a permanent statue honoring Bird has been mentioned. It was not until 2006 that Brad Fenton and other ISU students established the Larry Legend Foundation, an organization dedicated to honoring the accomplishments of Bird. It was the Foundation that contacted Bill Wolfe, a Vigo County sculptor, who would create the lasting tribute.
The statue began as a working model, Wolfe said. Made of copper, the statue stands 15 feet tall and is permanently located on the North Eighth and Cherry Street side of Hulman Center.
Wolfe is proud he has been given the opportunity to be part of this tribute. “I am a huge basketball fan,” Wolfe said. “I am proud to be part of this, not just because I am a sculptor, but because I love the sport. I am a Sycamores fan and a Pacers fan. I hope Larry is pleased with it, too, as well as the town of Terre Haute and ISU. To be the artist, I can’t hardly express how happy I am. We all love Larry.”
Last evening, hundreds gathered to kick off the Larry Bird Scholarship drive. Jackie McMullan, ESPN analyst, presided over the program that followed the dinner. Even though the specifics have not been finalized, the scholarship bearing Bird’s name will be presented to an ISU athlete from Indiana.
It has been many years since that incredible season. Fans of Bird followed his career as he left ISU for Boston and then back home again to Indiana. For some, there will never be anything to compare to those days in the late ’70s. At least for now, the statue will always remind those basketball fans who continue to cheer on their team of the greatness he brought to the game.
Carol Timko Edwards is an ISU graduate and a retired elementary school teacher who writes for the Brown County Democrat and the Daily Journal, which authorized reprinting of this column.