Imagine a home basketball team selling apples in the stands at halftime nowadays -- the way Nebraska players did in a game against Kansas in 1938. How long before the tensions of a tight game would encourage some coward to launch a piece of fruit in the direction of the enemy?
In this era of excesses, you don't even allow spectators to have nerf balls, let alone hardcore agricultural products.
Does the name Ferdinand Pralle mean anything to you? It should, because he's one of the all-time greats at Kansas, or anywhere, a 1930s icon that experts like Dick Harp and Bob Allen contend was the Michael Jordan of his day. They and countless others think Fred, a name he adopted for obvious reasons, should have his jersey on the south wall of Allen Fieldhouse along with those of other Jayhawk legends. Fred's nearly 82 now and close friends say he is battling leukemia. KU would do well to hurry the honoring process.
But back to hostile Lincoln on Feb. 26, 1938, when Phog Allen's KU team and Nebraska's William Browne gang were playing a game that could give KU the Big Six championship or project NU into the title picture. Floyd Ebaugh was the Husker standout; Capt. Pralle was KU's mainstay. Ebaugh's brother had died that day, according to Topeka Associated Press legend Elon Torrence. The news was being withheld until after the game. The other players knew and had vowed to dedicate the win to Floyd and his bub.
Torrence was covering the game for the University Daily Kansan and was sitting behind the KU bench. ``For whatever reason, apparently to raise money for some charity perhaps, at halftime the NU players went into the stands selling apples,'' Elon recalls. ``It was tight from start to finish and KU had rallied for a 30-29 halftime lead. NU moved ahead in the second half and a controversial foul was called on a Husker. Boom! Somebody had thrown a half-eaten apple from the stands in back of the KU bench and it landed at the side of Phog Allen, where Fred Pralle happened to be at the time.''
The fierce Pralle didn't know if it had been aimed at him or Phog; either way he took it personally. He dashed up into the stands, decked the guy who threw it and then rushed down to get into the game.
``I'm not clear about all the circumstances, but I know I was hot and smacked somebody,'' the still-impish Pralle commented while here the past weekend for KU's 100th anniversary celebrations. ``I got back into the game as soon as I could, figuring that might be the safest place.''
Torrence recalls that KU finally gained a 48-47 lead and, with no shot clock to deal with, began to hold the ball. Jayhawk George Golay, who died only recently, didn't get the message. He launched two long shots and Nebraska got the ball both times. Still, the Jayhawks managed to score once more and prevailed 50-47. Pralle took some heat for his Sunday punch, but ``at least they didn't haul me off to jail,'' he said with a grin. ``And no charges were filed.''
Torrence recalls that Pralle scored enough against NU to wrap up the Big Six scoring title, with something like a 12-point average, which was pretty impressive that year. For all games in 1938, Pralle led KU with a 10.1 mark. He was three-time All-Big Six, three-time All-American and then won AAU Al-American honors in his four years with the Phillips Oilers in the days when AAU ball was light years ahead of anything at the pure pro levels.
``I forget how many points I scored at Nebraska,'' said Pralle, `` . . . something like 22, maybe. Then Doc (Allen) took me out. The story in those days was that Phog held the school scoring record with something like 26 points, and he wasn't too eager to have it broken, so he tended to take guys out when they were getting close. That's just a rumor, of course,'' he added with a chuckle.
``Better not print that,'' he added, then grinned and winked. ``Aw, hell, go ahead; you will anyway. And it makes a pretty good story, doesn't it? Doc Allen. Boy, will there ever be anyone else like him on this planet? I could talk for days about him!''
Pralle, who played at about 6-3, was recruited out of St. Louis where he still has many relatives. After his years as public relations director for Phillips Petroleum, which has a tremendous KU pedigree, Fred earned a Phillips dealership in Gainesville, Fla., where he and his wife continue to live. What's his take on the jersey retirement?
``It's no big deal for me,'' he said. ``I already have all the great memories any guy could have about KU and its basketball. It's an ongoing thing you appreciate more and more the older you get. But I still have a sister and about 20 members of the family in St. Louis . . .it might mean a little bit to them.
``But what the hell -- I'm 82 years old and I've already had my place in the sun,'' Fred added. ``Just being able to get back here for this 100th anniversary celebration, seeing all these great people and feeling that I was a small part of it is all the reward a guy should need. How can any school ever top what has been happening here this weekend? I just hope people in general and other players in particular appreciate KU's heritage the way I do.''
Fabulous Fred Pralle (ask anyone who saw him play) has more than just a little to do with that heritage. KU would do well to get the first jersey from its great 1930s period up on that wall while its owner can still relish it to the fullest.