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How Loyola Chicago's Last Final Four Appearance Changed College Basketball

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

If you're a college basketball fan and you are not rooting for Kansas, Villanova or Michigan this weekend, just admit it. You're rooting for Loyola.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Loyola Chicago, an 11 seed, is everyone's team now after its incredible run to this weekend's Final Four in San Antonio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: One timeout - they don't take it.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: And the Ramblers are moving on.

SHAPIRO: It also helps to have a team chaplain like 98-year-old Sister Jean, who makes adorable appearances on shows like "Good Morning America."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

JEAN DOLORES SCHMIDT: It's just brought so many happy memories to me, and I'm really happy to be saying good morning to all of America today because...

(LAUGHTER)

SCHMIDT: ...All of you are going to be our fans.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: She's hired.

SHAPIRO: The Ramblers' Final Four appearance is a big deal because it was such a surprise and hasn't happened since 1963. And in that first appearance, it was a big deal for a different reason.

CHANG: There used to be an unwritten rule in college basketball. Coaches would not play more than one or two black players at a time. But Loyola coach George Ireland decided not to follow that.

SHAPIRO: For the tournament in 1963, he had four black starters. This was a problem for one of Loyola's opponents. Mississippi State was an all-white team and wasn't allowed to play integrated schools.

CHANG: Mississippi's coach thought his Bulldogs had a shot at the title, though, so the school came up with a plan to sneak its players out of state to make the game against Loyola. Loyola won 61 to 51 in what became known as the Game of Change, opening the path for more integrated teams.

SHAPIRO: And the story doesn't end there. Loyola made it to the title game to face two-time champion and heavy favorite Cincinnati. The game went to overtime. Here's the frenzied finish and an ecstatic call by Loyola radio announcer Red Rush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RED RUSH: Harkness has got it. Here he goes. He jumps. He passes off to Hunter. Hunter shoots, hitting off the rim. Rouse tips it, scores. It's over. It's over. We won. We won. We won. We won the ball game. We won the ball game.

CHANG: Vic Rouse's putback at the buzzer won the title for Loyola 60 to 58. It was an extraordinary game also because between Loyola and Cincinnati, there were more black players on the court than not.

SHAPIRO: Michael Lenehan as the author of "Ramblers: Loyola Chicago 1963 - The Team That Changed The Color Of College Basketball."

MICHAEL LENEHAN: People saw that there were seven black players on the floor at the same time, and the world did not come to an end.

SHAPIRO: So no matter what happens for Loyola this weekend, it already has an unbeatable Final Four legacy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.