It’s the day of days. Opening Day in baseball. Last call for men’s college basketball. A happy Cinco de Mayo to you, too, just one month from today. Tonight in Indy, it’s Butler-Duke. We all know where Al McGuire would stand on this one: America’s Bulldogs, not the aristocratic Blue Devils. A no-brainer.
For now, a few more Al-isms, including one close to my heart as a sportswriter, a father of two grown daughters and a staunch Title IX advocate:
In 1965, when Al’s Marquette team went to Peoria, Ill., to play Bradley University, the press corps included Barbara Roncke. She was the first female sports editor of the student paper, the Marquette Tribune. She was also being denied a seat on press row — at least until Al found out and confronted an arena official before the opening tipoff:
“She doesn’t sit in the press row, we don’t play this game.”
Roncke got her seat, and the game went on.
Roncke was able to return the favor. Although Al loved the spotlight — “I don’t really know what it is not to be a celebrity. I like to have smoke rings blown at me” — there were times when he needed to chill. One such time: a Marquette game in Kentucky, when Al bumped into Roncke on the day of the game. He asked her what she was doing
later before tipoff; Roncke replied she was going sightseeing.
“Good,” Al said. “Give me the key to your room. I want to hide out.”
And so he did.
Here’s the sartorial Al on his 1977 team’s late-season resurgence, after beating Cincinnati in the Midwest Regional enroute to the NCAA title:
“There is no way they could defense my lucky suit. They tried to steal it but we got it back. It’s not lucky at home, but it is on the road. It’s made of traveling threads.”
McGuire wore the same suit twice in Atlanta, where his Warriors edged North Carolina-Charlotte in the Final Four semis and then beat North Carolina in the championship game. And then he retired, having won his first NCAA title in his last game as a coach.
“I was the Houdini who did his disappearing act. I know that 85 percent of me is buffalo chips and the other 15 percent is rare talent. I’d stay in that 15 percent in the mental toughness, the media, keeping an eye on the elephant, not the mice, and extending the life of the extinct kiwi bird, which is nocturnal.”