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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 11 2012

Schnepf: Excitement revives tradition at Nick’s

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Tonight when North Dakota State takes on No. 1 ranked Indiana, Nick’s English Hut sports bar will be packed with nearly 500 fans celebrating the second coming of Hoosier basketball.

“It’s an IU tradition to come here and have a beer during the game … home or away,” said Nick’s manager Ritchie Bowling.

It wasn’t that way just three years ago when Indiana – one of the most-storied basketball programs in the history of college basketball – hit rock bottom with a three-year probation and a 6-25 record.

But after last year’s 27-9 season and this year’s preseason No. 1 ranking, Indiana Hoosier basketball is back. And the 83-year-old Nick’s English Hut will be packed once more.

“Everyone is excited again,” Bowling said.

Even for the Bison – which, ironically, are represented quite prominently inside Nick’s. A head of a bison is mounted on the wall. A bison logo is on the cover of the menus at Nick’s.

Back in the late 1960s – about the time former NDSU coach Erv Inniger was playing for the Hoosiers – a student wore a bison costume at Hoosiers games. Tapping into the history of bison roaming the southern Indiana hills, it was an effort to create a mascot for the Hoosiers.

“It didn’t catch on by any means,” said Chuck Crabb, who for the past 37 years has been the public address announcer for more than 600 Hoosiers basketball games.

Tonight when the Hoosiers run onto the Assembly Hall court in front of more than 17,000 fans, Crabb will deliver his signature introduction: “Ladies and gentleman, your Indiana Hoooooosiers.”

By the way, just what is a Hoosier?

Crabb joked a Hoosier is someone dribbling a basketball turning left around a race track (noting the state’s fascination with basketball and the Indianapolis 500 auto race).

He referenced a story about a keelboat captain by the name of Hoosier navigating the Ohio River. He even mentioned a somewhat lame story about a sleepy pioneer answering the door with, “Who’s there?”

Probably the most plausible explanation is Englishmen who settled in the southern hills of Indiana who defined Hoosiers as woodsmen or rough hill people.

But when people hear Hoosiers (like the movie), they think of basketball.

“Anywhere you drive in Indiana, you are going to see a basket on a barn or a garage,” Crabb said. “It’s very genuine.”

As genuine as Indiana University’s five national championships, 20 Big Ten Conference titles, 36 NCAA Tournament appearances and 30 20-win seasons.

As the public address announcer, Crabb has had a front-row seat to most of this legendary success and a notorious chair-throwing incident.

In a 1985 game against instate rival Purdue, legendary coach Bobby Knight protested an officials’ call – prompting him to toss a chair across the same floor NDSU will play on tonight.

Fans cheered and started throwing coins, one hitting the wife of the Purdue coach. That’s when Crabb announced to the crowd to cease from throwing coins.

“Then they all booed,” Crabb said.

But it was last year’s win over eventual-national champion Kentucky that epitomized the hysteria of Hoosier basketball. The crowd stormed the court after a last-second 3-pointer gave their team the win.

Officials were at the scorers’ table reviewing the replay to see if the shot was taken before the final buzzer. Athletic director Fred Glass was on top of the scorer’s bench pumping his fist into the air.

And Crabb was stuck in his chair for nearly 10 minutes.

“That was the only game I could remember out of all those 600 games I did where I couldn’t leave because of the crowd,” Crabb said. “That was a coming out party for Indiana basketball again.”

Welcome to Hoosier hysteria, NDSU.

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Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549