Marilyn Bowman will wear two pins tonight as she watches Indiana face Iowa from the comfort of her couch in New Castle, Ind. But it's the Iowa Hawkeyes pin that Bowman wears closer to her heart, despite being a Hoosiers fan all her life.
For Bowman, 65, Iowa Coach Steve Alford is like a son. He's still the local boy who grew up in the neighborhood, and like many New Castle residents, she has followed Alford's athletic accomplishments from the day he moved into the small town off Highway 5, to his collegiate career at IU, which includes leading Coach Bob Knight's 1986-87 team to a national championship.
It's loyalties like Bowman's, to both Alford and Knight, that have IU fans in the state of Indiana as divided as a four-lane highway. Tonight at 7, when Iowa (7-8, 1-3 Big Ten) faces the Hoosiers (12-3, 3-1) at Assembly Hall, Bowman will cheer for Alford.
"I've watched [Alford] since he was in the second or third grade," said Bowman, a New Castle school board member. "I'm still a die-hard IU fan and I think Steve still admires [Knight], but now he wants to defeat his old coach and I want to watch."
Tonight's game will be less a contest pitting pupil against teacher and more a battle between one-time friends who haven't spoken to each other in more than a year. Neither will comment on the reason for the rift. Alford, whose book "Playing for Knight" has been sold out in Bloomington bookstores for weeks, did talk yesterday about what it would be like to face his former coach.
"As far as Coach and I, it's always uncomfortable," Alford said. "I'm shaking hands with the guy and then going the opposite direction. Coach has had a lot of players, but very few players who grew up in the state of Indiana dreaming about playing at Indiana and for him as I did. I was a coach's kid that grew up in that state dying to play for him and for Indiana."
Knight was less forthcoming when asked about Alford after Indiana's 86-61 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.
"Why would I want to discuss my feelings about my relationship with my dog, let alone some other person, with you?" Knight said to a reporter during the postgame news conference. "Do you think there's any good reason for me to? I don't, either."
Bloomington and New Castle are about 100 miles apart, and both towns illustrate the state's storied basketball tradition. Almost every house has a hoop in the driveway and the movie "Hoosiers" is as seasonal as "It's a Wonderful Life."
But even IU fans in Bloomington can't forget that Alford still is second on IU's all-time scoring list. Or that he earned Indiana's Mr. Basketball Award after averaging 37.7 points per game as a high school senior.
"We are IU fans and always have been IU fans," said Dick Barns, co-owner of Nick's English Hut, a Bloomington bar and grill. "Of course, Alford was one of the best players in IU history. I'd like to see Alford win. I think the general feeling here is that there will be a lot of people rooting for Alford."
While Alford left a strong legacy in New Castle, not everyone is staying loyal to him. Tammy McFalls, 54, is a waitress at the Maxwell House Restaurant there and said the Alfords were loyal customers.
"It's going to be the first time in my life that I'm going to go against Steve because I can't go against IU for anything," McFalls said. "No fiber in my body could root against IU."
Even though Alford was taught by one of the best, Iowa isn't yet at a point where it can consistently beat the best. Although they opened the season by upsetting defending national champion Connecticut, the Hawkeyes are a rebuilding team and struggling offensively. Iowa lost seven of its top 10 scorers and rebounders from last season's team, which reached the NCAA tournament round of 16 in Tom Davis's coaching swan song, but leading scorer Dean Oliver is back and Luke Recker, a former Hoosier who transferred to Arizona last season, has transferred from Arizona to Iowa.
Some fans in Indiana feel Recker's decision to join the Hawkeyes strained the relationship between Knight and Alford.
Cheryl Betten, the athletic department secretary at Chrysler High in New Castle, said she regularly receives e-mails from Sam Alford, Iowa's assistant coach and Steve's father.
"Sam e-mailed me and said they had nothing to do with getting Recker," Betten said. "He said [Recker] came on his own. I wish it was a better relationship between the two of them [Knight and Steve Alford]. Knight's been good about not saying anything."
While the coaches have kept quiet, the matchup between an old teacher and his student is all the fans have been talking about.
"Knight's still the best," said Jake Pasman, Chrysler High's former athletic director. "I want Steve to do well, and he will, but this is Indiana."