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Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs Notre Dame (12/9/1961)

Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs Notre Dame (12/9/1961)

In the fall of 1961, the Jays welcomed a big man named Paul Silas to the court, and moved full-time to the Omaha Civic Auditorium after playing a handful of games there in 1960. Combined with the return of leading scorer Chuck Officer, who had averaged 16.1 points a game for a team that went 8-17 in 1960-61, the two would lead a remarkable turnaround on the hilltop.

Creighton went 21-5 in 1961-62, with Officer maintaining his offensive averages from the previous year and Silas adding 22.0 points and 22.5 rebounds a game (!!) to the team.

On December 9, they played host to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the season’s second game, coming off a 85-51 blowout in the opener against Colorado College. It was a back-and-forth game, full of nice offensive plays from Silas, Officer, and Edward Hubbard, a 23-year old senior from Omaha South. We’re lucky that film of this one survives, because all three display their full array of moves in this game — Silas with jump hooks, blocked shots, ferocious rebounds, and even a possible dunk (you tell me, at the 2:15 mark after his steal, is that a layup or a dunk?), Officer with ridiculous range and nice driving ability, and Hubbard with terrific athleticism with the ball.

In the waning moments, the Jays tried in vain to put the game away. Up 71-68 with 1:20 to go, Silas took the ball at the top of the key and flung a pass to a driving Officer, who drove straight to the basket. His finger-roll didn’t fall, and on the ensuing fracas for the rebound, Silas fought off two Irish defenders for the rebound, throwing one of them to the ground in the process. That gave Notre Dame the ball, but they couldn’t take advantage, dribbling the ball out of bounds on the baseline.

Hubbard took the inbounds pass for Creighton, but had the ball stolen from him at midcourt; ND’s John Andreoli sank a layup to pull them within one, and was fouled on the shot. He made the free throw, and the game was tied 71-all with 46 seconds to play.

creighton-notredame-61-boxOn the final possession, Bluejay point guard J.L Wagner (#33) ran a keep-away offense to milk the clock, passing it back and forth between Silas, Hubbard, and Officer. During most of this span, Officer hung out on the wing and passed the ball back almost as soon as he caught it — a popular offensive tactic in late-game situations back in the pre-shot clock era — but eventually drifted out towards half court, where he caught a pass and then looked up at the clock on the scoreboard to discover just eight seconds left. Standing 35 feet away from the basket, he looked for Silas who was camped out near the free throw line but blanketed by two Irish defenders. In what must have been an “Oh, crap!” moment, Officer did the only thing he could — pump fake to clear space, and then heave a ridiculously long jumper. His nervous teammates are visible at the bottom of the frame — one of them with his hands on his head — incredulous at the decision to throw up what was essentially a Hail Mary ten years before there was such a thing. It’s an awkward looking shot, even by 1960s jump shot standards, but it goes in.

A still-frame of the film shows just how far Officer was from the basket when he released the shot — he’s about two steps from the bench! — and shows that there really wasn’t any other offensive option, as Silas (center of the frame) is blanketed by two defenders, and Wagner is even further from the basket, while Hubbard is covered just off the edge of the frame.

Chuck Officer launches a desperation buzzer-beater against Notre Dame in December of 1961. (Still frame from game film)

Chuck Officer launches a desperation buzzer-beater against Notre Dame in December of 1961. (Still frame from game film)

Notre Dame called timeout, and after regrouping, inbounded the ball with one second left. Their desperation three-quarter-court shot fell short, and the Civic Auditorium crowd stormed the court. The ebullient fans literally picked Officer up and carried him off the court on their shoulders, in a celebration not that different from what you’d see today.

The 73-71 win was a key bullet point on the Jays resume as they built a case for their first NCAA Tournament berth in 21 years. Silas led the way with 22 points, making 6-11 from the free throw line, and Officer had 20 points all on field goals. Eleven days later, they took down John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, 74-72, in another early classic of the Civic Auditorium, and that March Red McManus took Creighton to their second-ever NCAA Tourney.

Officer would go on to score 994 points and grab 392 rebounds in an 80 game career during the early 1960s, and played integral roles on two NCAA Tournament teams in an era when just 25 teams made the tourney. This was the first of three buzzer beaters in his career, and we’re excited to bring it to you as part of Bluejay Rewind.

The 8mm reel this film was shot on is not complete — it was heavily spliced for use by Red McManus in the film room — but despite the occasional awkward cut, contains most of the action. For reference, Creighton is in white and Notre Dame is in gold tops and green shorts (dark in this B&W footage), and we’ve identified the Bluejays who score since there’s no audio and for most of us, this is the first time we’ve seen these guys on film instead of in text. We also did some digital restoration to clean up the picture quality a bit. Enjoy!

We’ve also uploaded the final 90 seconds of the game in their entirety (or at least, as entire as exists given the cuts made to the original film). We didn’t do any digital restoration to this, unlike the highlight package, so the picture quality is a bit rougher and has a blue tint to it from the aging of the film stock.

About Tom Nemitz

Tom is the creative production manager at an Omaha advertising agency, and holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from Creighton University. In his spare time, he covers Creighton sports for WBR, which he co-founded with four others in 2009.
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