Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mostest Bestest

That's how my daughter, many years ago, described Sesame Street's Elmo -- her mostest bestest friend. I thought it captured the relationship perfectly.

So I would describe this week as one of the two mostest bestest for Notre Dame basketball fans in a typical season: one featuring a game against Marquette. As SC is to Notre Dame football, the Warriors (none of this Eagle or Golden Gold crap) are to Notre Dame basketball -- a rival without peer.

Yes, the Blue Demons had Ray Meyer, and for that they will always have a special place in ND lore. And our history with UCLA is certainly a vibrant one with multiple high-stakes contests won by each side.

But the statistics and lore are undeniable. Marquette tops the list.

Saturday's meeting will be the 109th between the two schools, far and away the most ND has played against any opponent, with the Irish holding a 76-32 advantage (and 32-21 in Milwaukee). And were it not for Marquette's Conference USA commitments in the 1990s and the horrible accident that resulted in Eddie Hickey being born without testicles, the number would be even higher.

Note: For those unclear on the concept (or who haven't read the book), Eddie Hickey is to ND basketball what Fielding Yost and Fritz Crisler were to ND football. Moose Krause recruited Dick Rosenthal right under Hickey's nose when he was at SLU, and the little man was never able to let go of it. He blew up the ND/SLU series, and once he got to Milwaukee, did the same to ND/Marquette during the 1960s.

Lopsided as the series may be in ND's favor, people on both sides can point to games where they stuck daggers into their opponent's hearts. Digger having his players sneak back into the arena to cut the nets down in Milwaukee after breaking the Warriors' 81-game home win streak, or pulling out the green socks at the (then) A.C.C. before a 65-59 win when Marquette was ranked #1. The triangle-and-two that shut down Adrian Dantley and left him 1-4 against Marquette in his career.

But even if none of those things were true, Marquette would still sit in the catbird seat for one reason:

Al McGuire.

Was there ever a basketball coach you loved to hate more? Heck, maybe you were like me and couldn't bring yourself to hate him. For someone who never walked a sideline or scored a point for the Irish, Al was the closest thing to a Notre Dame Man you'd find out there. He spoke the blarney. He had the attitude. He was a spunky Irishman from New York City. And the minute he became a broadcaster, you couldn't find a bigger Irish booster out there. He was Dickey V before even Dickey V was Dickey V.

Trying to remember my favorite Al McGuire story is like trying to remember the best hot fudge sundae I ever ate. But after thinking, I decided it was the story Digger told in his "Tales from the ND Hardwood" book. He had opened his practices early in his career, trying to get the student body out and interested in the team. Lo and behold, about three weeks later, he gets a letter from Al along with pages and pages of diagrams. Apparently a life-long Marquette fan had decided to attend Notre Dame, and not only had gone to every practice, he had diagrammed ND's offense and mailed it to Al in the hopes it would help him prepare for ND. Sportsman that he always was, Al sent the data back to Digger rather than use it against him.

If you an Irish hoops fan, you have to love this week. Forget the antiseptic nature of the Bradley Center and think about the plethora of watering holes surrounding it for pre- and post-game libations. Forget the antics of Tom Crean and remember he's taken a team to the Final Four and Mike Brey hasn't (yet). Forget the attitudes of Warrior fans and remember the reason you don't like them is, down deep, they're a lot like you.

It's like a late-arriving Christmas. ND basketball as it should be, as it always should have been.

Irish and Warriors, together again.

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Anonymous Irish72 said...

Well said. I agree with every point. Oldest son went to ND, middle to Creighton, and youngest to Marquette. McGuire is indeed and Irish treasure. Next to "Echos on the Hardwood: I recommend reading "I Remember Al McGuire" by Mike Towle to basketball fans who love the game.

1/08/2008 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous davemc53 said...

A few of his quotes I like:
(I hope these are close)
"If the waitress has dirty ankles, the chili must be good."
"I think the world is run by 'C' students."
"When I was losing, they called me nuts. When I was winning they called me eccentric."
He is sorely missed.

1/08/2008 06:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom Crean didn't take Marquette to a Final Four, Dwayne Wade did.

1/08/2008 08:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Travis Diener got them past the first round that year. They were Crean's recruits and Crean's system that they were running. Travis had a huge first round game and Novak was a key contributer that year as well. While DWYANE Wade did carry the team with his triple double against Kentucky, Crean definitely deserves the credit for taking a chance w/ Wade when a lot of other schools passed him over due to his academic struggles. Wade is the Crean version of many of Al McGuire recruits. Get them out of the cracked sidewalks neighborhoods they live in and give them a chance to shine on the court. Best of luck to both sides. Hope us Warriors skin some Irish on Saturday! ;)

1/09/2008 07:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Nitschke said...


1/09/2008 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom Crean is an insufferable b*tch. Anyone see his pouting performance last year? I was at the game, and I prayed that he would be thrown out on a technical. I love the Marquette game, if only to watch Crean break out into histrionics when the Irish dominate.

1/09/2008 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous The Beef said...

ND-Marquette is a great series. In 1987, my freshman year, a bunch of us rented an RV, loaded up a Keg and roadtripped to Marquette. By the time we hit Chi-town we had guys booting out the windows.

The Marquette students were fun to party with. The fans at the Mecca were brutal, pouring beer all over Donald Royal, David Rivers, and the rest of the team.

I would love to see a resurgence of the days when ND played a home and home with Marquette, DePaul and Dayton.

1/09/2008 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Kit said...

I loved Al McGuire. I loathe Tom Crean. McGuire was a treat who is sorely missed. Crean is a whiny little bitch who never will be.


1/09/2008 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous tanner81 said...

Related to the Chili comment:

As a student I kept stats for Al during a televised ND home game. During one of the breaks, he asked me if there was a good place to get Chili in South Bend. I told him John's Deluxe sandwich shop (sadly no longer in existence). He asked me if the waitress had dirty ankles?? I said I didn't know, why? He said don't ever order the Chili unless the waitress has dirty ankles!!! I laughed my arse off, but had no idea (and still don't) what it meant.

1/09/2008 04:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You WILL lose. James, McNeal, and Hayward will be too much for the Irish.

1/09/2008 06:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Jamie in Milwaukee said...

Mike - outstanding! I'm a life-long Milwaukee resident @ 54 years old and the 70's MU/ND games were HUGE.

Both teams were in the top 10 almost every year and were the top independents (remember them?)

As an ND fan living in Milwaukee, it was brutal. We're talking about NASTY arguments about who was more hated: Al by ND or Digger by MU. I have to admit that Al was the master of making it all about HIM, taking the glare & presure off the team.

After all is said, I miss Al. After all this time has passed, if Al wasn't AL, this rivalry wouldn't be the same. They broke the mold when he died.

But during the '70's, I wanted to throw him in the Milwaukee River. He was that "bad", that "good" as an opposing coach. Talk about getting under your skin - "Oh My", as Dick Engburg used to say. And that was his genius.

And then with NBC w/ Dick & Billy, he was even better. Uncanny ability to predict a coach's next move - i.e. substitution, time-out, etc. And he was FUNNY! His put-downs of Billy were great.

***Remember, this is from an ND blue-and-gold-in-the-veins fan. Mike, you're right. This is the best in ND basketball.

One last note: I was at the ND/MU game at South Bend in '71 when ND won in double-overtime when Austin Carr (vs Dean Meminger & Co) tallied 38 points. *That was his AVERAGE that year. One of many great games in this series. I still have the ticket stub.

Go Irish - and thanks, AL, for the memories.

1/09/2008 06:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hard to forget the 1970 double-overtime win. Austin Carr, of all people, missing a critical free throw! I was working that game. Collis Jones was replaced by Jim Hinga (only a few seconds remained, Marquette was inbounding the ball and we desperately needed a steal). As I was handing Collis his warm up stuff I thought about saying "It's not over yet, Collis" but I didn't. Hinga got the steal and fed Carr for the tying layup. A classmate who was also working the game had gone up the ramp to open the locker room door. As the bench area was jumping up and down in delirium, he grabbed me after a few seconds and said "what the hell happened?"
I ran into Hinga in Ann Arbor a few years ago and we discussed the game. He said that years after the game he had run into McGuire at O'Hare. Jim politely approached Al and said "I played against you, coach." McGuire responded with "what school and what's your name?" Upon hearing "Notre Dame, Jim Hinga" Al muttered a terse comment and quickly walked away.
I remember McGuire before the game trying to build up Meminger and downplay Carr's scoring average. "We don't play racehorse basketball. If we did and Dean got as many shots as Austin, he'd score just as much." Note that Meminger's field goal percentage was lower than Carr's but 2008 is a presidential election year so let's not dwell too long on facts. After praising Meminger to the hilt, Al was asked "will Dean be guarding Carr?" McGuire responded "No [certainly not?], he'd get in foul trouble"

1/11/2008 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous ndfootball_MUbball said...

Do not forget Al telling the crowd at an ND Football pep rally... If you don't quiet down, I'm going back to Marquette and starting a football team!

1/11/2008 11:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McGuire also was quoted saying, "A Notre Dame grad would pick his nose just to show you his class ring"

1/14/2008 03:31:00 PM  

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