In college basketball, teams tend to be a reflection of their respective head coach. The 1970s were no different with Bobby Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers or Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels displaying a regimental and strict demeanor. Al McGuire and Marquette were at times disorganized and free-spirited but yet still disciplined. The team’s iconic photo in front of a 1934 Packard convertible at an automobile museum perfectly captures that disposition.
“That photo from 1977 is an indication of how Al was different from all the rest,” said the late Dick Enberg, who wrote a play honoring McGuire. “He delighted in doing things that were not ordinary and was probably the most unordinary person and character that I’ve ever met. There was no coach at the time like him.”
Before the 1976 Midwest Regional of the NCAA tournament, an encounter at breakfast cemented the different demeanor and outward appearance of the Warriors.
“Knight’s players were as neatly dressed as freshman from an Eastern boarding school, wearing leisure suits or sport coats and dress shirts,” wrote sportswriter Roger Jaynes of the scene in his book, Al McGuire: The Colorful Warrior. “Al’s minions, on the other hand, were the epitome of casual, clad in cut-off blue jeans, tennis shoes and T-shirts with witty sayings across the fronts.”
Kevin Byrne, Marquette’s sports information director at the time, also remembers the interactions between the teams’ players that morning. Indiana’s star guard Quinn Buckner called over to Warriors point guard Lloyd Walton as they walked by and said, “Hey! Nice dress, Lloyd.” Byrne recalls Walton’s quick-witted response: “Yeah, it will be great when you are old enough to dress for yourself.”
Tensions ran high between the two sides. Marquette entered the game with just one loss on the season and Indiana was 30–0 at the time, looking to mend the wounds from a 92–90 heartbreaking loss in the 1975 Mideast Regional to Kentucky. Whoever won this game was likely favored to the win the national championship.
In the second half of the game, McGuire was upset with an Indiana run and kicked the scorer’s table. He was hit with his second technical when he complained about a missed foul call that may have affected Bo Ellis and could’ve made it a 57–56 lead for Marquette. It brought back memories of the 1974 NCAA championship game when he was hit with two technical fouls in a loss to N.C. State.
After the game, McGuire vowed to not coach Marquette in future tournaments and told reporters, “I won’t come to the tournament again. If Marquette goes to the tournament, then my assistants Hank Raymonds and Rick Majerus will handle the team.”
“I think I built a monster that has devoured me,” McGuire said. “The technicals hurt but Indiana probably would have beaten us anyway. Indiana is a better team than we are.”
On this day, Bobby Knight was the more tranquil of the two coaches and came away with a 65–56 victory. One week later they completed the last perfect season in college basketball history by beating Michigan in the national championship game.
For Byrne, that trip was a realization of just how different Marquette was. The Warriors—as the teams of the small Jesuit school located in Milwaukee were then known—garnered attention for wearing untucked and self-designed jerseys. McGuire also stood out too, both for his demeanor on the sidelines and for his unorthodox decisions, such as when he chose to play in the NIT in 1970 rather than the NCAA tournament because he was unhappy about the bracket they were seeded in—he didn’t think the team could beat UCLA and the NIT was also being held in New York, McGuire’s hometown.
Before the 1976-77 season, Byrne needed to put together a photo shoot for the front of the team’s media guide. He thought of the team’s public image and how it contrasted with the players and the coach he had come to know in his four years with the program.
“We were looked as a wild team,” Byrne says. “Yet, we were actually one of the most disciplined teams in America. We never ran the ball. We walked the ball up the court. Every possession was gold. Turnovers were a mortal sin. As I got to thinking about that, we’re a classy team. That led to the tuxes.”
Byrne wanted to do something unique. The previous year, players had gone to the Milwaukee Repertory and picked out costumes from various shows that were in town and were photographed in different exhibits from Milwaukee’s natural history museum.
“We thought we were different,” says forward Bo Ellis. “Coach was an innovator when it came to that and we liked the fact that we could be unique. I remember picking out a king outfit with long garbs. Marquette was different. We were never at a loss for being out of the ordinary. That’s what made us special.”
Marquette viewed the media guide as a recruiting tool to show off Milwaukee’s culture. Recruiting an athlete to play in Wisconsin’s winter is not an easy sell against schools located in warmer areas like those from the ACC and the SEC. Coaches would also recruit against McGuire and Milwaukee. McGuire preferred for an athlete’s first or last recruiting trip be to Marquette.
It was the final visit for point guard Earl Tatum of Mount Vernon East, N.Y. when McGuire asked Tatum what other schools he was considering. Byrne still recalls the visit and says that Tatum mentioned that LSU coach Dale Brown said ,“My eyeballs would freeze and that’s what happens when you go to class at 8 in the morning in Milwaukee.” McGuire countered by saying, “In Baton Rouge, it’s never cold enough for the bugs to die. The spiders live up in the ceiling. At night, they come down, get in your fro and start eating your scalp. You don’t want to go to LSU. You want to come to Milwaukee, where the freeze kills the bugs.”
For that and maybe other reasons, Tatum played for the Warriors from 1972 to 1976 before being selected in the second round of the 1976 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers.
For the 1977 program, Byrne reached out to Shekrow’s Men’s Formalwear in Milwaukee and landed a discounted rate to rent tuxedos for the players. Each player went to the shop and selected the tuxedo of their choice. They were told to wear them and meet at the Brooks Stevens Automotive Museum, about 15 minutes north of campus.
It’s rarely sunny in Milwaukee, especially on a typical autumn day like the day of the photo shoot. Bob Tai, the team’s photographer, told the players where to stand and snapped away before it started drizzling. A few ducks wandered in front of the cars and interrupted the shoot. Tai captured the players’ laughter in one of the outtakes. There was no take with the players giving a deadpan stare—only smiles.
None of the coaches, including McGuire and assistants Hank Raymond and Rick Majerus—who would coach Utah to the Final Four in 1998—were in the photo shoot.
McGuire did not participate in the team photo with the car in 1977. (It is believed that his last picture with the team for the media guide was taken prior to the 1974-75 season at Marquette’s Old Gym.) Even after the clock expired at the Omni in Atlanta to give Marquette the 67–59 victory over Dean Smith’s North Carolina squad, McGuire stayed on the bench with his hands covering his face as he cried to close out his coaching career.
“There’s really no picture of that championship team, whether it’s the tux shot or another with Al McGuire,” Byrne says. “It was his last year and it was his way of saying that I’m fading out of the picture.”
In 2016, the team got back together for a reunion, which McGuire was not present for again. McGuire died in January 2001 after a career in television and a battle with leukemia. Raymonds and Majerus have reunited with McGuire in the afterlife. Guard Gary Rosenberger and center Jerome Whitehead have also passed away. The remaining members of the team were honored during Marquette’s game against Wisconsin at the Bradley Center and Ellis says they still keep up with each other regularly. There were no tuxedos this time around. Quarter-zips, sweaters and blazers were the look as the photo was displayed on the stadium’s jumbotron.
Byrne was also in attendance and passed by an auction area that featured a framed version of the 1977 photo mounted. He didn’t have one hanging around the house and figured it would make a nice addition, but the bidding had already surpassed more than $4,000. Don’t be surprised to see the photo flash across the TV screen during March Madness each year.
“The 70s in America were arguably little more bombastic than other decades,” Enberg says. “While Indiana or North Carolina gave off a very disciplined outward appearance, Marquette was also disciplined and with 12 men huddled around a Packard convertible in colorful tuxedos, they appeared to be more in tune with the times even if it was not about wearing a sport coat to breakfast.”