It was a game made not so much in heaven as in an emerald corner of hell; the coaches mean and hungry, the combatants bred on asphalt playgrounds and nurtured in the slinky, scar-tissue ways of the sport. All of the Irish gags were trotted out. The game should be played behind barbed wire somewhere in the shadows of Ulster. Sean O'Casey would throw up the first ball. Everyone would wear green, and how was the closed-circuit crowd in Belfast taking it, anyway?
But when the jokes and psychology were over, after the deception and the guile, it was time for the McGuires of college basketball to get right down there into the pit and slug it out in that fashion familiar only to alley fighters.
Along the sidelines it was as Frank, the older and perhaps wiser of the McGuires, had said it would be: "The shanty Irish against the lace-curtain crowd." When Al heard that, he roared. "Lace!" he said. "We lived in the back of a bar where drunks interrupted dinner looking for the men's room."
Whatever the case, when Marquette met South Carolina high atop the national standings, it was more than just the personalities of the coaches dominating the scene. It was, instead, everything that makes the college game bristle—region against region, style against style, speed against power and, yes, black against white.
January 17, 1972
Moreover, it was a savage and bloody conflict that unbeaten Marquette won 72-71. And ultimately it was decided not on the rims or in the pit but outside, where Kevin Joyce, South Carolina's fine junior guard, had the worst 40 minutes of his life. It was, as Joyce knew, his game to win or lose when the Gamecocks got the ball with 11 seconds to go. But he fumbled it in the Marquette end, had to hurry his dribble downcourt and then missed a 25-footer wide to the left as time ran out. The shot, his 12th, would have won the game; it also would have been Joyce's first basket.
With Joyce silenced, but with sophomores Brian Winters and Ed Peterson scoring 11 baskets between them, the Gamecocks had come back from 12 points behind early in the second half. They had even gone ahead, 69-68 with 2:36 left, but Marquette's Jim Chones, who led all scorers with 17 points, got a quick basket. There were more points, but then Joyce missed his shot and there was nothing left.
Much earlier than this the game had grown extremely physical, until three minutes into the second half the muscling got out of hand. As Marquette's Bob Lackey and the Gamecocks' Tom Riker struggled for the ball, the guns went off. Lackey elbowed Riker in the neck; Riker flashed a left cross on Lackey's side-whiskers. Within moments several brawls had broken out—one featuring Chones against heavyweight Danny Traylor. "Let's stay out of this," Traylor said to Chones. "Can't do it," said Chones. "My man's in trouble." Then Chones opened a nasty cut under Traylor's eye.
Frank McGuire was in the middle of the floor, bodies whizzing past him, but Al McGuire remained on his bench with his reserve players. "A waltz," he was to say later. "A bar-hall bouncer wouldn't take his coat off for this one."
After a good three minutes of heavy punching on both sides, order was restored; immediately a hefty South Carolina state trooper charged the Marquette bench and went after Lackey. The Warriors' Larry McNeill grabbed a chair, but he and everybody else were finally restrained. Lackey and Riker were removed from the contest.
"The dude sucker-punched me," said Lackey. "Then they throw me out. If I'm leavin', I want some action."
"I'll take kicks, knees, elbows, every shot he's got," said Riker, "but not after the whistle blows. This guy's a cheap-shot artist. It was bush league."
Such pugilistic activity is not wholly unexpected when any McGuire steps on a basketball court. In fact, everything about this match between Al and Frank seemed to recall the past—all, that is, except the new uniforms Al broke out that featured wild stripes and a certain iridescent shade from which the color blue may never recover. Historians pointed out that it was not the first time the two men had brought their respective schools together. In the 1966 Milwaukee Classic, South Carolina defeated Marquette 63-61 in a game that contained many elements of the McGuire—pick either McGuire—style, a game that concluded on an offensive goaltending call that disallowed a tying Warrior basket.
Al still thinks Frank stole that one by earning two technical fouls early in the contest. These, he believes, persuaded the officials to look favorably on South Carolina toward the end. Another technical called on the Gamecock bench so frustrated the Marquette McGuire that finally he went to his knees and begged the officials to give him a T, too. "I say he won that game," says Al of Frank. "All I did was stand up," says Frank.
Since that time the coaches have ducked further encounters, assuming humanely that one should not beat up on one's friends. It was last April, after South Carolina had made its quick getaway from the Atlantic Coast Conference into the land of independents, that Frank McGuire felt maybe the two should meet again. He needed a basketball schedule fast and called on Al.
"The student-against-teacher situation tears your gut out," said Al last week. "I'd give anything not to play this game. But, really, I consider it a favor for me to do a favor for Frank. Maybe it's the first time ever I get to pay him back for all he's done. Loyalty—that's what he always taught us."
Al calls his relationship with Frank "distant close," but the careers of the two men have intertwined at so many points and in so many places along the way that in the minds of many basketball followers they must be either father-son, brother-brother or, at worst, distant cousins. They are unrelated.
They came together on the streets of the big city, at St. John's in 1947, Frank off a Greenwich Village block around the corner from Gene Tunney's house, Al from the beaches of Rockaway. It was Frank's first college coaching job and Al was a freshman player. When the youngest McGuire reached the varsity the following year, his brother Dick was already there, and the three McGuires combined to produce a strong team flavored by Dick's passing and Al's flair for lunacy. In the three years Al played for Frank, the Redmen went to three NITs, one NCAA and, contrary to belief, not one mental institution.
Frank McGuire's glory years were to come after he and Al parted ways. The year following Al's graduation, Frank coached St. John's to the NCAA finals, losing to Kansas in a game that Al listened to while on the road as a pro with the New York Knicks. Five years later Al was working in a sewer in Long Island City when the national finals came around again. This time Frank, then at North Carolina, defeated Kansas in triple overtime for the championship.
Within months Al was in North Carolina, too—at little Belmont Abbey College outside Charlotte where Frank had recommended him to the Benedictine monks. For the next few years, while Frank was rampaging through the ACC, Al withstood the perils of Belmont Abbey. "I thought he would leave me there forever to die in a monastery," Al said. But Frank bailed him out again, this time to Marquette, whose Jesuit fathers had offered him their coaching job.
So in 1964 Marquette got Al, the same year that South Carolina got Frank. Which is why it all came down to the flesh-and-blood confrontation last week in Columbia.
Both coaches were subdued about their feelings, but under the surface there was tension. Their players knew. "The feeling is there in practice," said Chones. "We know how much this means to them. I think all of us are out to get this one for a McGuire. But which one?"
Neither McGuire has ever lost any sleep over the X's and O's of the coaching business, so it was no surprise that Frank, for instance, was less concerned about the inside power and finesse of Marquette's Chones and Lackey than he was with his own team's attitude and their reaction to a long layoff.
The Gamecocks had suffered their only defeat of the season in what they called a "sizzler," 77-76 to Villanova in the Quaker City tournament finals. It was their best game so far and they seemed to be rounding into form when a layoff of 10 days set in.
"The vacation and the mental thing are the hard parts," said Frank. "Nobody ever plays an easy game against Al McGuire. What an unpredictable fellow. He might run out there and start dribbling it himself."
As it happened, Al did not know what to expect either. "I'm not just blowing smoke rings at Frank," he said, "but he's got too much class to be a coach. Look at the clothes, those handmade shirts. I prefer not to get surly with him on Sunday, but I'm obnoxious and rotten on the road. I do it to get the crowd off my players and on me. But this man—I have to show respect. I don't know if I can wash out what this man means to me for the time it takes to win a game."
Strategically, the Warriors wanted to out-quick South Carolina underneath and press the Gamecocks into errors. "I think it will be sloppy in the beginning," said Al, "but I hope the refs let us play. McGuires like physical stuff.
"The baseline looks like a push," he went on. "We've got to get on Joyce. He's their head; you cut the head off, and the body dies."
In a phrase, that is what happened. South Carolina's massive Traylor played a wonderful first half, scoring 14 points to offset the Warriors underneath. But the Gamecocks were burned by Marquette's neat sophomore, Marcus Washington. He finished with 16 points and, with Sugar Frazier, hounded Joyce right down to the final shot.
Then Al McGuire walked to the center circle and raised his hands in victory. Frank met him in an embrace. "No hard feelings," said Frank. "It's like losing to a brother."
And again all was quiet in the emerald corner.