When I arrived at Marquette University in 1984, there were TV
lounges on every floor of McCormick Hall, the cylindrical,
high-rise, all-male freshman dorm that resembled--in shape, smell
and construction materials--a 16-ounce beer can. But the TV
lounges were bereft of TVs. This owed, we were told, to a single
night seven years earlier when Al McGuire led Marquette to the
national basketball championship in Atlanta. Residents of
McCormick, in downtown Milwaukee, celebrated by throwing their
TVs out the windows. It must have been a beautiful tableau, and
one that Led Zeppelin would have envied: the sky black with
falling TVs, a Biblical rain of Zeniths.
But I was born late, and by 1984 Marquette was becoming a
basketball Mojave. My Warriors were coached by a nervous,
overweight man in funereal coat-and-tie who could be seen late at
night solitarily sword-swallowing submarine sandwiches, in a
nimbus of fluorescent lighting, at Cousin's on Wisconsin Avenue.
He looked like a fugitive from an Edward Hopper painting, and
after my sophomore year the university--perhaps fearing for his
health--released him from his contract. "That's when he became his
own Damon Runyon character," McGuire would say years later.
"Wearing a tie [only] at weddings and funerals. He got his own
identity. He became Rick Majerus."
This was 1986, the same year that another heavyset man partial to
ill-fitting jackets left Marquette, via graduation: an aspiring
actor named Chris Farley.
Marquette replaced Majerus with the hottest young coach in the
nation, a piano-playing stick figure from St. Peter's named Bob
Dukiet, whose 39-46 record with the Warriors got him fired after
three seasons. He, too, would blossom outside Milwaukee. Phil
Mushnick of the New York Post last week tracked Dukiet, 55, to
Boynton Beach, Fla., where he is now a tuxedo-wearing pianist
playing gigs at senior-citizen homes. "These days I'm Piano Bob
of Palm Beach County," he said.
After graduation in 1988, I fell out of touch with Marquette,
though Marquette, I'd discover, was hardly through with me. I
moved to New York City, where I frequently saw Farley--in Zubaz
and Chuck Taylors--taking communion at St. Patrick's Cathedral on
Sunday mornings after his manic performances on Saturday Night
In 1991, while reading the newspaper, I was surprised to learn
that one of my former neighbors in Milwaukee--he lived five blocks
from my off-campus apartment--had been a serial-killing cannibal.
The New York Times, on its front page, identified Jeffrey
Dahmer's neighborhood as "once popular as inexpensive housing for
Marquette University students." Marquette enrollment, it is
perhaps unnecessary to point out, soon went into steep decline.
Nor did it help that in 1993 the school--in a parody of political
correctness--decided to change its teams' nickname from the proud
Warriors; the next year they became the milquetoast Golden
Eagles. Though I don't know, to this day, a single classmate who
has acknowledged the change, it did nominally rob the program of
some poetry, of the "seashells and balloons" that McGuire, in his
Joycean way, was always speaking about.
"Seashells and balloons is bare feet and wet grass," he once
said. "It means a light breeze. You know, a light breeze that
would maybe move a girl's skirt a little. It's sweater weather. A
malted, you know. A shake. The gentleness of it. The
wholesomeness of it. It's tender. That type of thing."
In 1997 the gentle giant Farley died of a drug overdose. A year
later Rick Majerus--by this time a beloved, hilarious,
sweater-wearing colossus--took Utah to the Final Four.
It may have been nothing more than nostalgia, but sometime in the
second half of the '90s I was seized by a renewed interest in
Marquette basketball. I acquired a Marquette letter opener, a
Marquette wristwatch and a Marquette rocking chair with my name
wood-burned into the backrest. It became my desk chair. I sit in
it for hours each day.
Every spring for the past half decade I've returned to
Milwaukee--with its bars, brewery, bowling alleys and
Harley-Davidson plant--and now see it again for the Eden it has
always been. The same goes for Marquette, which this year
received a record number of applications.
Last Christmas I was given a Marquette sweatshirt in a yellow so
violent that it camouflages, almost perfectly, the nacho cheese I
dribble onto my chest while watching the resurgent Warriors'
increasingly frequent appearances on national television.
I was wearing it last Saturday when the Warriors--indulge me--won a
trip to the Final Four by dominating Kentucky. Guard Dwyane Wade
made the nets sway, as the late McGuire might have put it, like a
girl's skirt in a light breeze. Coach Tom Crean, a worthy heir to
McGuire, has not merely invoked Al's spirit, he's had al stitched
to the team's uniforms.
Those are also the first two letters in alma mater, a phrase that
I know now--at age 36--is perfectly apt. For it translates, from
the Latin, as "nourishing mother."
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
I was wearing my Marquette sweatshirt when the Warriors--indulge
me--won a trip to the Final Four.