Shout-Out to the Extra is a sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.
“Hoosiers” was released thirty years ago this week. A lot has been written about this movie – a lot has been written about this movie by me – and by now you have probably heard the story that for the climactic state basketball tournament clash between itty bitty Hickory and mighty South Bend Central, the filmmakers could not find enough extras to fill all of Butler Fieldhouse, forcing them to move the extras around from shot to shot so that it always appeared as if the gymnasium was full. Boy, that’ll earn the little money of your lower-rung production crew. But there is more to the story of extras in “Hoosiers” than this one.
There is an extra, in fact, one tasked with portraying a mighty South Bend Central player, that the esteemed Bill Simmons wrote about many years ago – “My favorite part of the ensuing chaos: As Jimmy is carried around the court, the cameras cut to the losing bench, where one of the big guys on South Bend is hugging a distraught cheerleader, finally glancing out to the court at Jimmy, pointing, and saying something that was undoubtedly the 1951 equivalent of ‘That’s one bad mother------.’” Truth. Watch the scene and you will see the moment described and you will nod and think “Yup.” That extra always caught my fancy too, but there is another extra that has always struck my fancy even more.
This extra is glimpsed a few times throughout, usually sporting a pair of overalls, and he’s always right down front in whatever auditorium the Hickory Huskers happen to be playing, like a more agriculturally competent version of L.A. Lakers fan #1 Jack Nicholson. A guy who always sits this close must clearly hold the team close to his heart, and while the extra is never allowed to speak, he still communicates that love in his few brief moments, the kind of love that I dare say is familiar to many fans.
This is never more apparent than at Regional Finals in Jasper. In the midst of a tense contest to determine whether itty bitty Hickory will reach the hallowed State Championship game, Hickory’s Everett Flatch is chagrined to find the injury he suffered in the previous game has flared back up. Normally this would send him to the bench. But these are delicate times. Two Hickory players have fouled out and so removing Everett from the game would mean hapless Ollie would have to go in. At first, Coach Norman Dale sends Everett back to the court. But upon doing so, he trudges toward bench, hand to brow, clearly still working this decision through. And as he does, you see our valiant extra down front, hands folded, leaning in, as if he, the fan, is about to hold a private council with the coach, and about to be pissed if the coach gets this decision wrong.
It’s a fan who wants to be privy to the coach’s decision making. Hell, it’s a fan who thinks he is privy to the coach’s decision making. It’s a fan filled with a possessive kind of love for his favorite team, a fan who considers himself part of the team, whether or not he suits up every game and practices every day between 3 and 5. It’s a fan who intrinsically embodies that one word so many self-righteous scribes tell fans never to use, only to be ignored, again and again, because it’s not a fan that says “Hickory.” Ha! Never. It’s a fan that says “We.”
Pour one out for the extra.