Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
There is no evidence that A Redlands Connection came up with a meeting of Jerry Tarkanian-coached teams at Long Beach State/Nevada-Las Vegas and the University of Utah, which was where “Black” Jack Gardner reigned as coach for so many seasons.
Tark and Black Jack never came across the other in NCAA play. Gardner’s career was winding down when Tark’s career was heating up.
It would have made a great game – the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV against the Runnin’ Utes of Utah – coached by two guys with A Redlands Connection.
Tarkanian distinguishes Redlands for another reason. In his book, “Runnin’ Rebel,” Tark The Shark wrote about his reasons for showing up at the Inland Empire.
“I was in Redlands for two seasons, and two important things happened. The first was that I decided to get a Master’s degree. I figured it would help if I ever wanted to coach at the college level. And if not, you got a jump in pay as a high school teacher if you have a Master’s. With our second daughter, Jodie, on the way, I needed the money.”
The second “big thing” that Tarkanian connected was at Redlands High … playing in the 1960 league championship game against Ramona High School over in Riverside.
Jerry Tarkanian, shown here in a familiar pose, chomping on a towel. The practice began, he says, back in the days when he coached Redlands High School. It was simple: He got tired of walking back and forth to the water fountain at Riverside Ramona High School. (Photo by Tim Defrisco/ALLSPORT
Wrote Tark: “It was really hot in the gym, and my mouth kept getting dry. I could hardly yell to my team. I kept going to get drinks from the water fountain. Back and forth, back and forth. Finally, I got tired of doing that, so I took a towel, soaked it under the water fountain, and carried it back to the bench. Then when I got thirsty, I sucked on the towel.
“We won the game and the league championship. Because I was a superstitious person, I kept sucking on towels the rest of my career. It became my trademark, me sucking on a white towel during the most stressful times of a game.
“Everywhere I go, people ask me about the towel. People used to mail me them. Fans brought towels to the game and sucked on them, too. It was the big thing. Eventually when I was at UNLV, we got smart and started selling souvenir “Tark the Shark” towels. We sold more than 100,000 of them. It was incredible.
“And if that high school gym in California had been air-conditioned back in 1960s, I probably never would have started sucking on towels.”
In those days, it could’ve started out as a Tark Terrier Towel.
Rack it up again – A Redlands Connection!
A look ahead — four-part series on “Black Jack” Gardner is set to come soon.