SBN Wisconsin Hall of Fame Nomination #1: Al McGuire

This is the tenth and final post revealing the ten Marquette nominees for the SBN Wisconsin Hall of Fame.  These are in no particular order, except for this particular one.

Today's final post comes from Madison resident Christian Schneider. He was once known as Dennis York
. He wrote good columns for the defunct SportsBubbler. He's short, white and likes to dunk on 8 foot hoops. The Bucks' Brandon Jennings thinks he's cool people. He also had a troubling childhood. You can find more of his writings at his blog: http://www.christianschneiderblog.com/

Thanks to Al McGuire, my life got off to a good start.

When I was two weeks old, a letter showed up in my parents’ mailbox.  It was a letter from the Marquette basketball team, offering me a scholarship when I graduated high school, eighteen years later.  It offered me room and board, books, tuition, and fifteen dollars a month in laundry money.  It was signed "Al McGuire."  (Little did Al know I would only grow to be 5 foot 9.)

Who knows if McGuire knew this small tongue-in-cheek gesture would mean so much to me through the course of my life.  But what’s most remarkable is that my experience is hardly atypical.  Al was always giving to people.  Rick Majerus once estimated that Al gave away 200 of his own watches to friends and family, including the watch he received for winning the 1977 NCAA championship.  "The best thing to happen to me was that it allowed me to be called ‘Coach,'" he said.  "That’s something nonnegotiable. It makes me feel so good."

Of course, there are plenty of wonderful, caring people in Wisconsin, and Al McGuire wouldn’t get the accolades he deserves if he wasn’t also a championship-winning coach.  In his 13 years as coach of the Warriors, McGuire made the NCAA tournament nine times, making it as far as the Elite 8 four times.  After an 8-18 season in 1964, McGuire posted a 287-62 career record at Marquette, including the NCAA championship in 1977.  As we all know, the championship game against North Carolina would be the last game he would coach.

But much of McGuire’s appeal was his legendary outward personality.  He was the King of Milwaukee, at a time the city was the place to be in America.

In the late 1970s, Milwaukee was the nation’s 16th most populous city. Pabst, Miller, Blatz, and Schlitz, all of which were founded by 1856, were still cranking out the suds and providing good union jobs. The city’s manufacturing base was strong, leading the nation not only in beer production, but in industrial control equipment, mining gear, cranes, independent foundries, and of course, one of the leading indicators of industrial muscle – Harley Davison motorcycles. "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley" gave viewers weekly reminders that the city was still alive and well. 

And Al McGuire ruled it all.

He brought the national spotlight to a small Jesuit school that didn’t have the advantage of playing in a conference.  And when the media descended, he rewarded them with unforgettable one-liners.  What other basketball coach was feeding reporters with lines like:

"If the waitress has dirty ankles, the chili should be good."

"Remember, half the doctors in this country graduated in the bottom half of their class."

"The only mystery in life is why the kamikaze pilots wore helmets."

Late in his life, I saw McGuire at a basketball camp being held by Majerus in Milwaukee.  None of the kids in the gym likely even knew that the frail old man sitting up in the stands watching them was a member of the Mount Rushmore of Wisconsin Sports.  He succumbed to Leukemia in 2001, having given us laughs, memories, and championships.  He is, quite simply, the only choice to be number one on this list.

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