Feb. 24, 2014
On Feb. 24, 1964, Rich Falk scored a Northwestern single-game school record 49 points against Iowa at McGaw Hall. NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski recently sat down with Falk to reminisce.
The Falk family recently donated the video of the game to Northwestern University Archives. The game can be seen above.
WATCH: Rick Falk Interviewed by Dave Eanet for Wildcat Fastbreak
Rich Falk was always a scorer. He did that at tiny Galva High School, where as a senior he put up better than 50 five times, and he did that too after joining the `Cats in the early `60s. He dropped 37 on Michigan State, then a visitor's record at the Spartans' old Jenison Field House, and did similar damage on trips to both Indiana and Ohio State. "But," he recently remembered, "never in my mind did I ever think I would be scoring in the 40s for Northwestern. You want to know why? We had other good players. I didn't have to, it was that simple. But in this game I got off to a great start, hit a bunch of shots, and we were rolling. The whole team was playing extremely well."
That game was played 50 years ago, back on Feb. 24, 1964, and it found the `Cats matched up against Iowa in a playpen still known as McGaw Hall. The school's single-game scoring record was then 40, a mark shared by Joe Rucklick and Rick Lopossa, but the building's record was even better, was the 48 Temple guard Hal Lear had posted in the consolation game of the 1956 Final Four.
That was the setting for the performance we recognize today, where Falk will be honored during the Wildcats' game with Minnesota, the setting for an affair they would eventually win by a comfortable 22. He is their star this night, putting up better than 20 points in the first half alone, then struggling some early in the second before breaking the school record with his 42nd with some five minutes still remaining.
That is enough for Larry Glass, his coach, and during the next timeout, he pulls Rich Falk. "He should have. We're killing Iowa," he will say, and so here he starts pulling on his sweats. Concurrently, during the lull, the public address announcer informs the audience that one record has been shattered, but another, Lear's, is still in tact. That news is not lost on Sharm Scheuerman, the Hawkeye coach, and soon enough he dispatches a manager with a message for Glass.
"If you want to put Rich back in the game to see if he can break the McGaw Hall record, it's fine with me," that manager tells the `Cat coach. "We can't win."
Eight years earlier, when the Final Four came to McGaw Hall, Rich Falk was an eighth-grader and Sharm Scheuerman was an Iowa star. The latter was there then as a member of the Hawkeye team that would lose in the championship game to the great Bill Russell and his San Francisco Dons. The former was there, in turn, thanks to Ernie Nordstrom, his mother's brother and then the `Cat ticket manager. "So Sharm knows about the record because he's out there watching it before playing in the championship game," remembers Falk.
"I'm there--you know where the band is now?--I'm there as an eighth-grader because of my Uncle Ernie. He got me into the Final Four as an usher. So I'm sitting up there in my usher's hat watching, in person, this player for Temple score 48 points. You don't think that was inspiring and awesome to see for a young eighth-grader who's five-feet tall and 90 pounds soaking wet, not knowing whether he'll be a player?"
Four years later, when Rich Falk was a high school senior, he was most certainly a player, a member of the Illinois All-State team that also included future Bull legend Jerry Sloan and future Cincinnati star George Wilson. Countless schools were coveting him then and here one of his most-ardent suitors was Iowa, where the young Sharm Scheuerman had been named head coach after Bucky O'Conner was killed in a tragic auto accident.
He has already signed up Jimmy Rodgers, who will later coach the Celtics and be a Bulls' assistant during their second three-peat, and the wondrous Connie Hawkins, a high-flyer who's a playground legend back in his native New York. Now he wants Falk to join them and here he is tempted. But Uncle Ernie, he has been getting him tickets to `Cat games since he was in third grade and so, he remembers, "I naturally had emotional ties to the school.
"But Sharm and I had a respectful relationship. Not only did I like him. We all got to know him, my family included, my mom and my dad."
Larry Glass, the `Cat coach, calls time as soon as Scheuerman's manager delivers his message, and now Rich Falk rips off his sweats and reenters the game. He will end this season as his team's Most Valuable Player and as an All-Big Ten selection. He will later be taken with the ninth pick of the seventh round in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics and spend a month of the exhibition season rooming with the future Hall of Famer John Havlicek. He will then return to Northwestern, where he will serve as an assistant coach and eventually take over as head coach ('79-'86) and lead the `Cats to their first-ever post-season tourney (the 1983 NIT), and finally move on to the Big Ten, where he spends 21 years as the associate commissioner in charge of basketball operations and officiating before he retires in 2010.
But it is here, on this night 50 years ago, that he chisels his name into the record books when he drives the lane and offers with some 10 seconds remaining. "It was just meant to be. It bounced around and went in," recalls Falk, who ends with 49, and soon enough he is on the shoulders of teammates who parade him around McGaw Hall. Sheuerman, the game now over, congratulates Glass on his win, and then turns immediately and begins walking toward the pack carrying the `Cat star. When he reaches it, he extends a hand and offers congratulation drowned out by the din around them. Still, Falk says now, "That's a class act.
"You think that doesn't mean a lot to me and will always be carried with me? That's the best thing to me about the story. It's the connections. Remember. He was in McGaw Hall the same night I am as an eighth-grader and he's the reason I break the record. His sportsmanship eight years later."
The denouement begins some 15 years later, with a game between DePaul and Loyola that is being played at McGaw while the Ramblers' home is under renovation. Rich Falk is in attendance here and, as Blue Demon star Mark Aguirre puts on a show, he thinks, "It's about time someone broke the record and I'll be the first to congratulate." But late, when Aguirre drops the shot that will give him 50, a whistle blows and it is disallowed. Traveling.
Some years later, when Terry Furlow is a Michigan State star, he is in attendance again when that very same plot plays out once more, and many years later he remembers witnessing current `Cat coach Chris Collins go for 40-plus for Glenbrook North in a regional super-sectional. "I was sitting near his dad, Doug. We've been friends for years," the 71-year old Rich Falk finally says, thinking back one last time. "I'm thinking, `Geez, maybe it will be a high school player who'll break the record and I'll be there to shake his hand.' He was close.
"Now isn't that something? That's the real story. How it happened and how many times it could have been broken and how many people have come close. The other thing is I've been there every night from the first one, when I was an eighth grader."
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