Grambling State University has a favor to ask the Loyola College men's basketball team.
"Erase us from the record book," said Albert Dennis III, Grambling's athletic director.
Grambling, a small, historically black college in Louisiana, holds the all-time NCAA Division I mark of 33 consecutive basketball losses. Beleaguered Loyola (0-18) has dropped 31 straight entering tonight's game against Marist College (N.Y.) at Reitz Arena.
"I know what they [Loyola] are going through," said Dennis, recalling Grambling's funk. The Tigers lost 25 in a row to end the 1999-2000 season, then started the next campaign 0-8. Players transferred out; recruits begged off.
How bad was Grambling? Louisiana State trounced the Tigers by 75 points. Alabama and Georgetown routed Grambling by 47 and 37, respectively.
As the losses pile up, Dennis said, "Your school becomes a question in 'Trivial Pursuit,' and the butt of jokes on late-night TV.
"I pray that Loyola can get out of this morass -- once they get us out of the book."
The Grambling streak "was devastating," said Randy Hymes, a junior guard on that team. "Nobody goes to college expecting to be part of something like that."
Hymes coped better than most. At Grambling, he also played football -- the school's winningest sport. Now a wide receiver for the Ravens, Hymes caught six passes in 2002 (a leg injury sidelined him last season). Looking back, he said the basketball boondoggle honed his mental toughness, although, in truth, he'd rather not have been a part of it.
"A streak like that is not in anybody's playbook," he said.
Grambling bottomed out in a game against Arkansas on Dec. 16, 2000. The Tigers committed 42 turnovers in a 121-66 defeat. The skid stood at 33. Grambling coach Larry Wright made a New Year's resolution to beat someone, anyone, if only to end the streak. "All I wanted was one win," he said. "It could have been against the Little Sisters of the Blind."
Defeat was new to Wright. As a player, he had starred at Grambling and been Washington's first-round pick in the 1976 pro draft. A guard, he helped the Bullets win the NBA championship in 1978.
Little of which prepared him for the losing skein in his first two years as a college coach.
"It's like everything bad that can happen, happens," said Wright, now in his fifth season at Grambling. "We must have lost five games at the buzzer. Players develop a mentality that something bad will happen, and it does."
On Jan. 6, 2001, Grambling broke the spell, edging arch-rival Southern University, 89-86, in its first home game of the season. Six players scored in double figures for the Tigers.
"All I remember is a hard-fought game, after which my oldest son, Larry, grabbed me and gave me a hug," Wright said. "I told the team I appreciated how they had fought through it. You could see the relief, how their confidence level changed."
Grambling proceeded to lose five more in a row, then reversed course and won seven of the next eight to finish the 2000-2001 season with an 8-18 mark. Recruiting has improved, but the Tigers keep struggling, going 21-36 the past two seasons. This year's team is 4-13.
Wright said he can't root for Loyola to set a new mark for futility. "Sports records -- positive or negative -- are made to be broken, but I don't wish this one on anybody.
"Just tell Loyola to keep their heads up. It sounds funny, but there are lots of things happening in this world that are worse than that streak.
"It's still just a game of basketball."
Rising in futility
Loyola's 31-game losing streak is two behind Grambling State's NCAA record for Division I men's basketball:
No. Team ........................ Dates
33 Grambling St. .......... 12/6/99-12/31/00
32 Cal St.-Sac. .............. 12/6/93-12/28/94
31 Loyola ...................... 1/23/03-present
30 The Citadel .............. 1/16/54-12/12/55
30 Prairie View ............ 2/25/91-12/5/92
29 UMass ...................... 1/26/79-2/1/80