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Tales of the H-T: The One That Got Away

Stories taken from or inspired by the H-T Archives at the Monroe County History Center

By Rod Spaw

John Terhune can tell you a thing or two about The One that Got Away, but his is no fish story.

It is a tale of the elusive moment, and what it takes to capture history, turning a fleeting instance into an image for the ages. He can testify that it requires more than opportunity, timing and talent. It also takes a bit of luck.

Terhune went to work as a photographer for daily Herald-Telephone and Sunday Herald-Times on the day of his graduation from Indiana University in 1982. During the next few years, he would spend hours at one end or the other of the famous basketball court in Assembly Hall where the IU men’s basketball team was led by coach Bob Knight.

That’s where Terhune was on Feb. 23, 1985, when the Hoosiers tipped off against their archrivals from West Lafayette, the Purdue Boilermakers. True IU fans already know where this story is heading. For the rest of you, a notation scribbled with permanent marker in the margin of a contact sheet of Terhune’s negatives provides a telling clue: “Purdue Chair Game.”

It had been a trying season for the famously volatile IU coach. Indiana entered the game with a 6-7 record in the Big 10 conference, having lost back-to-back home games against Ohio State and Illinois. Knight was exasperated. Two days earlier, in the game against Illinois, H-T photographer Larry Crewell had snapped Knight angrily stomping his foot on a chair. Against Purdue, the future Hall of Fame coach would escalate his aggression toward the courtside furniture.

Less than 5 minutes into the first half, IU already had been whistled for multiple fouls, and Terhune could see through the viewfinder of his camera that each call was bringing Knight closer to an eruption.

Like most courtside photographers, Terhune used two cameras. One was for close-up action at the end where he was sitting, and another with a longer, magnifying lens captured what happened on the sidelines or at the opposite end of the court. It was the longer lens that Terhune now trained on Bobby Knight. The former H-T staffer said he even told a student photographer sitting nearby to keep an eye on the IU coach because something was about to happen.

The sequence of events has been well documented in the past 37 years, both in print and YouTube video. IU’s Steve Alford was whistled for a foul about 4 minutes into the game. Less than a minute later, a teammate was tagged for another penalty during a scrum for a loose ball in front of the IU bench. Knight thought there should have been a jump ball, which Terhune’s negatives show him signaling from the sidelines. On the ensuing inbounds pass, IU was called for its third foul in 59 seconds, and Knight said something that referee Fred Jaspers couldn’t ignore. It earned Knight his first “T,” technical foul, of the game.

IU coach Bob Knight signals for a loose ball in a game against Purdue on Feb. 23, 1985. Moments later, Knight was whistled for the first of three technical fouls. Photo by John Terhune, from The Herald-Times archive at the Monroe County History Center

Knight had been known to throw his jacket from time to time, something many coaches did, including Purdue’s Gene Keady. But for this game, Knight had decided to go casual, ditching his customary sport coat for a short-sleeved golf shirt. So, he grabbed the nearest thing that could be thrown — a metal and plastic bench chair — and flung it underhanded toward the end line where Terhune was sitting. However, the H-T photographer did not get the photo. At just that moment, his camera ran out of film, and Terhune was rewinding as history skittered past him.

The next day’s edition of the Sunday Herald-Times carried a UPI wire service photo of Knight winding up to launch the chair and Terhune’s photo of the aftermath – game officials huddling with IU Athletic Director Ralph Floyd and a still angry Bob Knight. By that time, Knight had received two more technical fouls and had been ejected from the arena. The two-photo sequence was captioned “Knightmare” in the Herald-Times.

IU coach Bob Knight and IU athletic Ralph Floyd huddle with game officials after a series of technical fouls on the IU coach result in his ejection from the basketball game with Purdue on Feb. 23, 1985. Photo by John Terhune, from The Herald-Times archive at the Monroe County History Center

The game took place during the film era of photojournalism. What happened to Terhune still is possible nowadays, when cameras record images on digital memory cards, but it is less likely.

Chris Howell, a former H-T photographer, shot IU basketball games during both the film and digital eras. He said a roll of film contained about 36 frames, and during a normal basketball game, he might shoot 8 to 12 rolls, or more than 400 individual images. The storage capacity of digital cards vary, but Howell said he routinely snapped 700 or more images per game after the switch to digital photography.

IU lost the “Chair Game” to Purdue, and Knight’s actions got him suspended for the game after that by the Big 10 conference. When he returned to Assembly Hall, the bench chairs had been secured by a wire cable to prevent their use as projectiles.

Terhune worked at the Herald-Times until 1990He ended his journalism career in 2019 as a staff photographer with the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, the home turf of Purdue, where he had worked for almost 19 years.

There would be other big moments in big games for Terhune, but the veteran photographer never forgot The One That Got Away.

“I was disappointed for sure,” he said.


Additional sources: “Bobby Knight throws a chair,” Referee magazine, Feb. 1, 2022, “All the Rage,” by L. Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated online, and “Silver Knight,” by Bob Hammel and Rich Clarkson