By Philip Newman
To call Mario Cuomo a sports fan, particularly when it came to baseball and basketball, might be an understatement.
For instance, when Cuomo was a sports writer on the St. John’s University newspaper, The Torch, he wrote a column that was not optimistic about the Redmen’s chances in the approaching 1952 basketball season.
Fifty years later, Cuomo told the TimesLedger Newspapers that he had pounded out that column, although his memory for details might have been dulled a bit because of his success in another sport.
“That was around the time I signed a $2,000 contract with a farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates,” Cuomo, a centerfielder, recalled in 2002.
But his professional career, starting with the Brunswick (Ga.) Pirates turned out to be brief. A fastball struck him in the head, causing temporary sight loss (in an era before batting helmets.) He spent six days in a hospital.
Years later, Cuomo, a renowned asphalt court basketball player, was pictured in The New York Times shooting hoops in the backyard in Holliswood.
In his sports column in The Torch, Cuomo wrote: “Coach Frank McGuire will face the greatest challenge of his short, but illustrious, career in trying to build a top team from only six returning lettermen and promising but untested sophomores.”
But Cuomo and most of the Redmen’s supporters could not have predicted the inspired play of the Redmen that winter of 1952.
The team, before jet planes or three-point goals, fought their way, including downing mighty Kentucky, to the championship game in Seattle against the University of Kansas Jayhawks. They were led by the great Clyde Lovellette of KU in a finale televised only locally and starting at 12:30 a.m. Eastern time. In the nation’s midlands, many Jawhawk fans set their alarm clocks for 11:30 a.m. to rise and see the game.
Kansas won 80-63, but it was perhaps the all-time season of thrills for the Redmen and their fans.
Cuomo, whose fervor for sports never lessened, spent many hours watching games on television and discussing plays and players.