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Card Chronicle Catches Up With: Marty Pulliam

For some time, I have wanted to create a new series focusing on former UofL athletes and coaches (and possibly fans if well received). With the COVID-19 crisis in full swing and life as we know it temporarily coming to a damn near halt, what better time than now?

The easy and cliché thing to do with a series that I am attempting is to pick some of the most popular Cardinal athletes of all-time. But the reality is that many of us are fairly well versed on their whereabouts and what they have been up to since they left UofL. That doesn’t mean that I won’t write about some of those individuals, however, so expect to see some variance.

So without further delay, I hope you as the reader enjoy this first installment….

My first true recollection of an actual UofL Men’s Basketball came in 1983. My father, a staunch Louisville fan, invited me to sit beside him on the living room couch to watch what would later become known as “The Dream Game.” That game became the origination of my UofL fanhood. I remember damn near every play. With that said, the monumental battle that took place that day in Knoxville may have been the first UofL-related memory I retained but it WASN’T and never has been the first thing I remember learning about Louisville Basketball. That distinction belongs to my father occasionally referring to the “Snowman.”

As a child, I always found it strange that a snowman would have a damn thing to do with basketball. Nonetheless, it’s what I remember the most. For many of you, it’s likely apparent that when mentioning Snowman that I’m referencing former UofL Basketball player Marty Pulliam. For those of you too young then read along as you learn more about the guy who played with some of the greatest UofL Basketball players of all-time, was part of UofL’s National Championship team in 1980 and showed up this past season for the 40-year team reunion looking like Grizzly Adams.

Below is the transcript from a questionnaire/interview I had with the honorable Marty Pulliam. I found his responses to be both articulate and entertaining. Enjoy, Card fans…..

OK Marty, so where did the nickname “The Snowman” originate from? Do you like having a nickname like that?

I gave it to myself. George Gervin of the NBA (as well as our own Wilt Wagner later) was called The Iceman so I figured that I would be The Snowman. One of the beat writers that followed us during the ‘80s wrote an article about me that was titled “The Snowman Cometh”. It stuck. People still refer to me as The Snowman today. As far as liking it, well sure. It is unique and fits me well. And its better than some names I have been called.

What are some of your fondest memories from your time at UofL, particularly the ‘80 Championship team?

I guess my fondest memories could be placed into 2 categories. One, winning basketball games, usually in a big way was awesome. When other teams came into Freedom Hall, you knew that they had to know that they had a butt whooping coming. If they didn’t, they was about to figure it out. On the road it was the same. We won a good percentage of our games. Go into another team’s gym, kick their butt and say “See you next time.”

Our team was so athletic and explosive. We would press all game long and the score would be about even then all of a sudden a steal or two would trigger a situation where the press was turned up a couple of notches and we would go on a 12 to 15 point run. Game over. The fans in Freedom Hall were great. When they sensed blood in the water they would start a “Blow ‘Em Out” cheer. Once they did it during warmups.

Being on such a great team was, well great! The entire city was behind us. Griff told me once to ALWAYS wear my “L” jacket when I went out to eat. I could go to most any restaurant and someone would buy or offer to buy my food.

Second, I enjoyed all the pranks and fooling around that we did. Our team got along super well and the players actually enjoyed being around each other which is good as we spent so much time together. It was a lot of fun playing tricks on the guys and doing things that would keep even serious situations loose and in perspective.

Not everything in life is a “life and death” situation and it is great to have some fun. We did what we had to do, took care of business but we had fun doing it. Nothing that would get anybody mad or anything but 20 year olds are supposed to have fun.

Describe Denny Crum in just a few sentences....

Denny Crum is a man who embodies the word “class”. You could look up the word “class” in the dictionary and see his picture beside the word. I have known Coach since that night he first called me and I can tell you that I have never once heard him utter a curse word. I have never seen him upset to the point of being even border line out of control.

Once he saw that I was probably not going to be the talent that he had hoped for when he signed me he could have easily sent me packing as scholarships were renewed yearly, but he did not. Instead he honored a promise he made to my dad when he signed me, that being I would be a Cardinal for 4 years no matter how my game turned out. In fact, he allowed, actually encouraged, me to redshirt a year which meant that I would be around for a total of 5 years.

He has never, as in not a single time, spoke to or acted toward me in a manner that was the least bit disrespectful. If I needed his help today all I would have to do is call him and he would be there for me.

Louisville fans (those that are old enough) undoubtedly have a special place in their hearts for former great Derek Smith. What did you think of him as a player and as a person?

Derek was a super nice person, awesome basketball talent and a great teammate. He was young and immature, like the rest of us, when he came to Louisville. He had a desire to be the best from the onset and when he learned that we were pulling for him, not against him, to succeed, you could not have asked for a better teammate nor a better player to have on the floor during a game.

When Derek passed I was working on the front porch at my house that was made of concrete and had been painted and I spent 3 days trying to get the paint off it. I also spent those 3 days crying, intermittently, over Derek’s death. He hugged me at our 15th reunion and said that you should always hug the ones you love and have helped you succeed in life. He went on to say that you never knew if you would ever get that chance again. Derek died before our next reunion.

Is Darrell Griffith the greatest UofL Basketball player of all-time? Who would be second if he is?

Yes he is. Griff was not only the best player at Louisville but he has done more for U of L and the city of Louisville by far than any other player.

As to who would be second I have to pick a person that I have seen play which would leave out Unseld, Bridgeman and Tyra and players from the time I was watching UK. I guess my choice for second best would be Pervis Ellison. He led his team to a Championship and had great numbers doing it. He scored over 2000 points and had over 1000 rebounds. He was a #1 pick in the NBA draft. Pretty solid player.

How did you end up at UofL? Did Coach Crum come see you play in Mercer County?

I was not heavily recruited by Louisville. It was late in the year before I even heard from them and I always thought that Coach Crum had missed out on somebody he was trying to get and he needed to find and sign somebody and that somebody was me. Bruce Springate of Harrodsburg was close friends with a Louisville booster, Fred Rice, and Bruce gave me a strong recommendation to Mr. Rice who I assume communicated with Coach Crum. I had been heavily recruited by Don Lane of Transylvania in Lexington since my sophomore year and was almost certain that I was going to go there.

After the season Coach Crum called me late one night and out of the blue he asked me if I would like to come for a visit. Well, I did come for a visit and it took me about 30 minutes to decide that I was going to Louisville. I was not sure that I could play there but no way was I going to turn that opportunity down. Coach Jones did come down for our banquet and he was the guest speaker for the event.

Did you grow up a UofL fan? Looking at a map, I would think that 90% or more of the area you grew up in was pro-UK correct?

More like 99%. I grew up a Kentucky fan. I loved the Cats, still do, as far as the Cats of that era. Dan Issel, Louie Dampier, Mike Pratt. My high school coach, Steve Clevenger played for Rupp in the ‘60s and was a sophomore on the team that lost to Texas Western. My dad got us tickets 3-4 times a year and we went to see them in Memorial Coliseum. It was great.

As far as being a Louisville fan, well no. The first game I saw the Cards play was the one where they played Las Vegas on TV in 1976. It turned into a shootout with Vegas winning. When I came to school at Louisville I was still a Wildcat fan and was one until about midway thru my second year. Along about then something changed. By our championship year I was 100% Cardinal as well as was all my family. Today I am red to the bone. Can’t stand the Cats but still have a place in my heart for the Cats of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

So can you shed some light for me on the following picture. I’ve had this on my wall in my man cave for some time and it looks like you are sitting on the bench in a blanket while Grif dunks (inset behind Darrell’s foot) Do you remember this? What the hell was going on?

(photo credit: UofL Media Guide)

I have NO idea. Not sure if the picture was taken at Freedom Hall or not. That is the end of the floor we sat on and we are in white. But it could have been a tournament game. Just not sure. Bobby Turner is in the picture as is Bob Albertson. Neither of these guys were there for the ’80 season. Bobby ran into a player from Memphis State and cut his forehead in a February game. I would say that is why he has the bandage on his head as I don’t remember him wearing a head band any other time. As to why we all got blankets, I have no idea.

What have you been doing with your life since your playing days?

Living the good life. I graduated with hope of working for the Department of Fish and Wildlife but that just did not come about. I had taken a job with the Department of Corrections in hopes of being able to transfer over into Fish and Wildlife and that is where I met my wife of 36 years, Mary Ann. She had two sons from a previous marriage. A company (then named RR Donnelley) came to Danville and I hired in with them. I never really intended to spend my career there but I ended up being there for 26 years until I left due to a knee replacement that did not go too well.

My last few years at RRD I was substituting at the elementary schools in Lincoln County and did that for several years, still do on occasion. For what it is worth I should have been a teacher as I got way more joy out of working with the kids than I ever got from printing magazines. At the same time I became active in the youth group at out church and I have worked with them for the last 15 or so years.

My oldest step son has a daughter that was here a lot when she was growing up and we became very close. She has a 5-year old son who is here a lot and we are close as well. A good portion of my time is spent with him. As for my days now, I don’t do too much. My knee bothers me and I have developed neuropathy in my feet and legs and I struggle with that. I bought a farm a few years ago and we have 5 cows that I take care of. I still hunt some and fish when I don’t have my great grandson.

I don’t get much done most days and as I like to say, “I got nothing to do and all day to do it. Most days I go to bed before I get it done”.

So, I have to ask, did you grow the beard for any particular reason? Has anyone ever told you that you kinda look like one of the Moon Dog wrestlers?

I am not real sure why I decided to grow a beard. I started it last February after I turned 60 in January. Maybe a midlife crisis. Scooter asked me recently if I was having some issues going on in my life that we needed to talk about. I do remember the Moon Dogs as I was an avid fan of professional wrestling during my early years but nobody has mentioned them to me. I saw a wolf hunter on Gunsmoke that had long hair and a beard that was more the look I was going for. I do tell people that I have saved $28 on shaving supplies since I started growing and a couple have offered to buy me some razors.

What do you think of Chris Mack?

I don’t know him. I met him recently but that was for 30 seconds.

Three things. He appears to have lots of energy and from the results so far it looks like he knows what he is doing. Second, Coach Crum and Susan know him and they are both high on him. Without really knowing him myself, I can take their word that he is a good coach and a good man. Lastly he has opened up Louisville basketball to former players and goes out of his way to include them in today’s program. He realized that today’s program was built on the success of the teams who came before and he appreciates that. That is something that Rick Pitino never did do.

Do you still keep up with the Cards? Ever go to random games or watch from television?

I do. I watch them whenever they are on TV. Or I should say I record them on the DVR whenever they are on and when the game is over I watch them if they won. If they lost I would erase the game without watching it as I can’t stand to see them lose. This works better for me since I don’t want to be screaming and cursing at the TV screen when they are taking a pounding.

I don’t go to many games as it is a two hour trip and pretty much a hassle getting in and out of YUM!. I am still a Cardinal though. If you look on a map of central Kentucky all of the area around Stanford and Lincoln County will be blue except for that one tiny red dot right at the edge of town. That red dot would be me. A while back someone asked me if I was a Cardinal fan. I told them “no”. I am a Cardinal not a Cardinal fan. L1C4!!!

If you had to pick one venue which would it be, Freedom Hall or the Yum Center?

Freedom Hall without question. I know YUM! Is considered the finest basketball arena in America but Freedom Hall was and will always be special to me. When it was built Freedom Hall was considered to be the Mecca and Final Fours were held there. When Louisville beat #1 Syracuse there a few years ago to earn a spot in the NCAA, it was the last game in Freedom Hall. Both championship teams were invited to that game and you could feel the electricity and excitement in the air. A blind man could have been there and felt the team win. Every game back in the day was exactly like that no matter who we played. The atmosphere and the fans were awesome.

How any team managed to come into Freedom Hall and get out with the win when the Cards and the fans were both clicking is beyond me. The ‘80 team never lost at home. If you never were a part of the experience it is hard to understand. No way can YUM! ever match that. Also, being down town is a great place for the arena to be and it does a lot for the city but getting out after the game is a pain in the butt. I went to the Virginia and it took me over an hour just to get out of the parking garage. At Freedom Hall I would have been half way home by then.

Are you aware that a filmmaker named Anthony Holt is making a documentary called “Dr. Dunkenstein & The Doctors of Dunk.”?

Yes. Griff told us about it when we had our reunion. The film crew was at Greg’s house the night we met there to eat dinner together. I am looking forward to seeing it. Hopefully they will film my good side.

Should Rick Pitino have been fired at UofL?

In a word, “Yes.”

Pitino was the man in charge when these very serious allegations occurred. He either knew about what was going on OR he should have known. It is as simple as that. I believe in accountability and if he knew or did not know, he should have been dismissed. He got his mulligan or do-over back during the time he was in the restaurant having sex on the table with some bimbo. That in itself would have gotten him fired if he had not been winning. If he was 9-23 instead of winning the Big East and going to Final Fours he would have gotten fired for that. Character is something you have not something you are. Pitino was a character who had none. I am not speaking to his coaching ability as he was and still is a great coach and motivator. I am talking about integrity and character. How do you maintain discipline among a bunch of 20-21 year old men who already feel like they are entitled when you are out there carrying on like that yourself? These young men look to you and this is the example you set? That was a sad commentary and indictment on Louisville basketball but it was the culture that Tom Jurich cultivated at Louisville then. “Keep winning coach. The rest don’t matter. We got your back”.

Winning is important and if you don’t win at Louisville you will lose your job. But integrity and character are important as well. If you don’t have these you need to be dismissed as well. As far as the deal with the escorts I don’t know if Pitino knew or not. Personally I think he is the type of person who knows about everything that happens in his program. If someone peed on the toilet seat in the locker room he would hear and know who did it. As for escorts and prostitutes coming into a restricted dorm with security cameras 28 times, I would have to say that he knew. How could he not know? He says that he did not. Even if he did not know that does not matter as he should have known. One is as bad as the other.

How far in the tournament do you think this year’s UofL team would’ve gone?

This year’s team has multiple personalities. You never knew which team would show up, the one who shoots lights out from the 3 point line or the one who could not throw the ball in the ocean if they were standing on the beach knee deep in the water. I would assume that they would have done fairly well in the ACC though I doubt they would have won it. There are just too many good teams and the odds are against any one team.

Given the season they had they would probably have gotten a 3 seed which would have given them a good chance to win the first 2 or 3 games against lesser competition. Assuming that they did not completely forget all they knew about shooting I think that they would have won 3 games. After that when they were more evenly matched it is anybody’s guess. I will say that when they were on that they were capable of winning against anybody in the country. When they were not on they could also lose to anybody. All that said, I think they would have made it to the Elite 8.

What are you doing to pass time during the COVID-19 crisis?

Well, before they asked us to self-quarantine I pretty much carried on business as usual. Now that the POTUS and the Governor have asked us to maintain social distancing I am just kind of hanging out at the house helping take care of my great grandson and taking care of my cows and chickens. When you think about it, before the quarantine, I just kind of hung out here at home most of the day. Only thing that is different now is that I am hanging out at the house with a purpose, so to speak. .