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PERFECT TIMING.
April 4, 2003

by Bill Hogan

 
 

Just when the donation well for the new $31 million Marquette University athletic facility seemed to be running dry, the men's basketball team makes its first appearance at the NCAA Final Four since 1977.

Nothing says "give 'till it hurts" to the alumni, friends and supporters of the Golden Eagles basketball program more than a trip to New Orleans and a place on college basketball's biggest stage.

 
 


A program seemingly left for dead with the departure of legendary coach Al McGuire after Marquette's 1977 National Championship season once again finds itself in the limelight. It's a fund raiser's dream. Like taking candy from a baby.

Since their improbable win over Kentucky in the Midwest Regional Finals March 29, the school has collected $2 million for the construction of the new Al McGuire Center scheduled to be completed in the fall. The university is still $2 million shy of their goal. A win over Kansas in the national semi-finals and the collection plate at the Jesuit institution in Milwaukee will be overflowing.

The objective behind building a state-of-the-art athletic facility – according to the university web site – is "to return Marquette basketball to national prominence". After years of discussion, planning and fund-raising, Marquette will get its new building. But it was Coach Tom Crean and the 2002-03 team that took care of the return to "national prominence" by winning four basketball games over two weekends in March.

With the team's recent success quickly filling the school's coffers, maybe the university can set aside a few shackles to assemble a brain-trust to investigate an issue that has me scratching my head.

In 1994, Marquette came up with a new nickname for their athletic teams. The Warriors became the Golden Eagles. Why? I understand the obvious social concerns associated with using a Native American mascot. And I applaud their efforts to conform to developing social standards. But why change the nickname?

Here's an idea that I can't believe escaped the scholarly community at this prestigious institution of higher learning: change the mascot!

When I think of a Warrior, the first image that comes to mind is not that of a Native American (no offense). I envision John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima. I picture Kirk Douglas in Spartacus; and John Belushi swinging into action to rescue the helpless sorority sister at the end of Animal House.

It was Al McGuire's Warriors that put Marquette basketball on the map in the first place. Those same Warriors claimed the 1977 National Championship. Slap a metal helmet and body armor on a pimply-faced freshman and shove him out to center court at halftime - problem solved – you have your Warrior and nobody is offended.

I'm no prognosticator, I'm not a self-proclaimed "expert" and I've never played a basketball analyst on television, but I like Marquette's chances to win it all.

You can forget about Kansas. Coach Roy Williams is title-less in four trips to the Final Four – a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the sports media. There's way too much pressure on this team to shake the monkey off his back. And since the North Carolina job opened up, every idiot with a press pass has felt compelled to ask the coach if he has any intention of pursuing the position. Too many distractions.

After a 26-year hiatus, Marquette is "just happy to be here". There are no expectations. Advantage: Golden Eagles.

Kiss Syracuse good-bye. Coach Boeheim is still answering questions about the last-second loss to Indiana in the 1987 championship game. The Hoosiers' Keith Smart hit a 16-foot running-jumper in the final seconds to ruin Boeheim's best chance at a national title. That nightmare took place in the Superdome. New Orleans holds too many bad memories.

The memory of Marquette's 67-59 win over North Carolina in 1977 has not waned, and serves as an inspiration to the current team. Advantage: Golden Eagles.

Texas comes to the Final Four as the sole remaining number one seed and they should do well this weekend. But I question the team's motivation to win a national basketball championship when the most pressing sports issue in Austin is who will replace Chris Simms at quarterback for the Longhorns this fall.

Marquette doesn't have a football team; basketball is it. Advantage: Golden Eagles.

Bad motivation, bad memories and bad mugombo all point to Marquette hanging a second championship banner from the rafters of the new Al McGuire Center.

Hey, do you have a better method for picking a winner?

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