Thursday, May 31, 2018

Al McGuire: Color, Charisma, Character

Topps 1969 football, Marquette Men's basketball, RetroCards, custom cards that never were

Who would have thought the son of a New York saloon keeper would become the Vince Lombardi of college basketball?
Al McGuire grew up in the Queens & Brooklyn playgrounds where he played football against Joe Paterno and played basketball with and against Bob Cousy.  His older brother Dick was a constant basketball companion and both entered the NBA after stellar careers at St. John's.  Al played only four seasons referring to himself as "the worst player in pro ball.”  He was a defensive specialist who could occasionally contain Bob Cousy.  He is famous for pleading for playing time from his coach with the New York Knicks, saying, “I can stop Cousy.”  He was granted playing time and promptly fouled Cousy six consecutive times down the court!

He began coaching ant Dartmouth (1955-57) and Belmont Abbey College (1957-64) when Marquette University came calling.  It was in Milwaukee that McGuire brought his New York-Irish attitude to the midwest and made contenders out of Marquette’s men’s basketball team from 1964 through 1977.

He famously rejected an invitation to the 1970 NCAA tournament because of the unfavorable placement and went on to win the NIT Tournament that year. After losing the NCAA tournament in 1974 (to North Carolina State) they still continued with winning programs.  In 1976, they lost the regional finals to Indiana after posting an impressive 27–2 record.  By the beginning of the 1976-77 season, McGuire surprised the sports world by announcing his retirement effective at the end of the season.  After entering the NCAA tournament with a questionable record (25–7), McGuire’s Warriors went on to win a thriller vs. UNC-Charlotte where guard Butch Lee inbounded a court-length pass to Jerome Whitehead who tipped it in to win in the closing seconds.  Marquette capped off the Cinderella season with an impressive come from behind victory over North Carolina to win the tournament.  When the game was in hand a visibly emotional McGuire tried his best to compose himself.  It was the last game he coached.

Digger Phelps, former coach at Fordham and Notre Dame, called McGuire “a great psychologist.”  Phelps said, “I learned defense from Bobby Knight and psychology from Al McGuire.  People need to be refreshed on who Al McGuire was.  He was a rock.  He was the best.  He did for Milwaukee in college basketball what Vince Lombardi did for Green Bay in pro football."  He went on to have a successful broadcast career with NBC Sports and CBS Sports where he help bring college basketball more prominence with his flare and personal catch phrases he would invent.  He died of leukemia at the age of 72 in 2001.

RetroCards honors Al McGuire and his thirteen years of coaching Marquette basketball with two series.  The first includes a team photo of the 1970 NIT team, the Milwaukee Arena, George Thompson, Dean Meminger, Gary Brell, Ric Cobb, Jim Chones, Bob Lackey, Ally McGuire, George Frazier, Marcus Washington, Larry McNeil, Maurice Lucas, and coach McGuire of course. Get it here!

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