Loyola University Chicago is no stranger to making history. According to the Chicago Tribune, it began in 1963, when the Loyola men’s basketball team broke the “gentlemen’s agreement” among coaches in which no more than three black players would be on the floor at one time. In addition to this agreement, in some road games, black players would have to rotate so that only one of them was playing at any given moment.
The Loyola Ramblers ignored the agreement and would regularly have three or four black starters. The agreement came to an end three years later.
Not only did the 1963 team break through racial barriers, they broke records. The Ramblers won the NCAA tournament and defeated top-ranked and two-time defending champion the University of Cincinnati 60-58 in overtime.
In September 2017, Jerry Harkness, captain of the 1963 team, saw that the 2018 Ramblers were going to do something monumental that season, according to the Chicago Tribune. Little did he know at the time what March would have in store for the team.
Loyola should not have won, but they did—defeating sixth seed University of Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament 64-62.
In the second round, No. 3 seed University of Tennessee, a final four pick, faced Loyola—Tennessee did not know what hit them. In the final second, Loyola came on top, 63-62.
As the eleventh seed in the southern section of the bracket, nobody saw this coming, but Loyola did. They gave their all every single game. They did not listen to what the majority of America thought or said about them.
Being the No. 11 seed, why would they? On paper, an eleventh seed means close to nothing.
It’s a good thing sports are not played on paper.
Cue No. 7 seed, University of Nevada. Their first-round game consisted of beating No. 10 University of Texas 87-83 in over time. In their second round, Nevada beat No. 2 Cincinnati 75-73.
Maybe it was just me, but seeing Nevada and Loyola play, I knew their upcoming matchup was going to come down to the wire. A kooky March Madness matchup of the No. 11 and No. 7 seeds did not disappoint. Loyola came out on top 69-68.
Just when we thought Loyola had reached the end of their fairytale, they proved us wrong again. Loyola beat Kansas State in the Elite Eight 78-62.
The difference between a team like University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), who knocked out one-seeded University of Virginia in the first round, and Loyola, is that Loyola extended their legacy. They played with an undying passion each game. Sure, taking out a one seed is an outstanding accomplishment, but unless you back that up, it is irrelevant.
What landed Loyola in the Final Four was not just luck, but heart.
Regardless of your talent, if your heart is not in the game and you are not working with your team to get to the top, then you simply won’t.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Loyola is the first team from Illinois to reach the final four since the University of Illinois in 2005. In addition to this, according to SB Nation, they have topped Duke University for all-time best NCAA tournament win percentage, sitting at .765.
Some may still look at Loyola and scratch their heads in wonder. I, however, am cheering them on.
Who knows how they will do on Saturday against the University of Michigan.