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The trials and tribulations of a Marquette fan

March 23, 2011 |  4:00 pm

When the NCAA pairings came out, there it was. My Marquette, alma mater, place where I would camp out for season tickets under cover of a windbreaker and ear muffs for the right to purchase student season tickets and the opportunity to drink beer in the snow on the street for a couple of days until tickets went on sale every year, had snuck in, a No. 11 seed.
My sophomore season the Warriors under Al McGuire (they were the Warriors then and the mascot was Willie Wampum which, it was later made clear was inappropriate and hurtful and eventually led to the name change to Marquette Golden Eagles, a trauma I'm still not over because, honestly, once the tasteless mascot was dumped, why did we have to abandon the Warriors? Nothing is inherently disrespectful about Warriors. It felt like guilt-forced caving to give up the name tied with McGuire and the only national championship we'd won).
Yes, we. When I was a sophomore Marquette, barely invited into the tournament, miraculously made it to the Final Four in Greensboro. The was 1974 and the other teams were Kansas, drawn to play Marquette in the semis, North Carolina State, the North Carolina State of David Thompson and big Tom Burleson; and UCLA, the UCLA of Bill Walton plus Kansas and Marquette. I, a poor sophomore, scraped up the money to join a school-sponsored bus trip from Milwaukee to Greensboro, a ride of about 20 hours. What I remember of the bus trip was students guzzling NyQuil to help pass out on the bus and arriving at a down-and-out-and-cheap hotel where we slept six to a room and were ecstatic.
Marquette and Kansas was the throwaway semifinal, played first and it was assumed for the right to get totally embarrassed by UCLA. Marquette students, a clever and beer-fueled lot came up with clever chants such as "Smoke those Jays,' against the Jayhawks and through the Nyquil haze, we, most of us wearing purple and gold in unattractive combinations, miraculously saw our Warriors beat Kansas who had players on the team I don't remember much. Marquette had Bo Ellis (who had designed the uniforms) and Earl Tatum, who charmed every girl in Cobeen Hall into doing his laundry and Maurice Lucas who was really good. So we beat Kansas and stuck around for the "big game," UCLA against North Carolina State. Marquette's win was 64-51, routine. North Carolina State's upset of UCLA came in double overtime, 80-77 in a game many said was one of the best college games  ever and us Marquette students stuck around to watch and must have looked like gape-jawed yokels as we oohed and aahed over Walton and Thompson's otherwordly play. And when North Carolina State won, we were raucous. This seemed an omen. We weren't getting the evil dominator UCLA. We got North Carolina State.
The next day Al McGuire said in a news conference that it would be a cold day in Greensboro before Marquette could upset North Carolina State in the national championship game, a game Marquette had never played in. And sure enough, the Monday of the game, we looked out our hovel of a hotel room and noted that not only was it cold, it was snowing. So we happily went off to the game secure in the knowledge we would soon be national championships.

However, David Thompson could still jump out of the gym and Tom Burleson was still about 10 feel taller than anyone on Marquette's team and McGuire got an early technical foul, things got out of hand and North Carolina State won 76-64 and the second the game was over we were hearded back on our buses and guzzled the rest of the Nyquil and slunk  back to Milwaukee worse for wear.
But not discouraged. Three years later, I was a new graduate in my first job working as a jack-of-all-trades at the Columbus Enquirer in Georgia. I wrote sports, I laid out pages, I took high school scores over the phone and I listened to all the southerners mock my college because it didn't have football. Until the first spring of my job when, after almost not getting an invitation, Marquette made it to its second Final Four which happened to be in Atlana, about 100 miles from Columbus. I'm not an assertive person but I asked for one of our paper's credentials to cover the event and was turned down, low man on the totem pole, etc. So I asked for the days off and was rebuffed. So I made the major decision, one made more easily by a single women just a year out of college and secure in the idea other jobs were out there. I said I was taking the time off, I would scrape up money for scalpers tickets and, if I had to, I would quit. But I was going to the game.
Seeing, for the first time, an assertive women, a concession was made. If i could come up with tickets, I'd get the time off. So there I was, pretty broke on my $167 a week salary but williling to blow it all for tickets which I found.

And so I found myself in the arena watching Marquette upset, first UNLV and then, miracle of miracles, Dean Smith and North Carolina. Carolina had a solid lead in the second half and went into its famous slow-down four corners, considered the death knell for trailing teams. Somehow, though, Al McGuire had a plan and his team blowed up that four corners into dozens of useless corners and as I stood and cheered and screamed and eventually cried, Marquette cut, cut, cut into the lead, then took the lead, then, in the last few minutes, grew the lead. Before this final game our beloved Al, crazy Al, smart Al, our Al, had announced he would retire after the last game. During the last few minutes, when it was clear Marquette was going to win its first national title, Al began sobbing on the bench and actually left the floor before the game was over because his emotions were unable to be stopped. We Marquette fans were weeping too. This seemed so improbable. It remains my most favorite sports moment of all time and it would have been worth sacrificing my job.
Things in life settled down but through fortunate circumstances I had been assigned the regional when Marquette beat Kentucky and got to another final four, they won with Dwayne Wade and then was assigned the Final Four where Marquette was just wiped out. And so, until now, I haven't dared fill out Marquette's name on a bracket much past the first or second round.
Till now. When this year's draw came out, we laughed in our family. I'm Marquette. My brother and my husband are Xavier grads. So we were all very polite and filled with praise, I saying that Richmond and Temple's initial success was a bad sign for Marquette because the Atlantic-10 teams seemed to have momentum. Even as the game unfolded and it seemed Marquette was in control, I was prepared for a massive breakdown and that somehow Xavier would prevail and that would be okay because then my husband and brother would be happy.
But, hey, No. 11-seeded Marquette won and finally, via text to my brother and in the living room to my husband, I could celebrate a little (and apparently we were part of a small minority for that game, put on truTV primetime Friday night was the losest ranked of all the NCAA games last weekend. Too bad. You guys who didn't bother to find it, screwed up."
And then, with feelings of doom, expecting Marquette to be zoned silly and unable to score much against  Syracuse, and unwilling to watch for large portions Sunday, I finally couldn't help myself the final 10 minutes. Marquette was alternately leading, or only a point or two behind. How could this be? It was unexpected and feelings I had felt in 30 years were bubbling up. I was shouting bad words and pounding on furniture and our two dogs were cowed, wondering if I was mad at them or just psycho and didn't understand that Jim Boeheim was the culprit, or a series of referees.
And so here I am now, excited beyond what a sensible sportswriter who is assigned to women's golf this week, should be excited by a team that certainly should lose to North Carolina in Newark and if, by some new miracle, manages to beat Carolina, will absolutely be stomped by either Kentucky or Ohio State. But now I'm a tad bitter. Why can't I have a credential to be in Newark? My presence is necessary for Marquette. I mean, I've attended all of Marquette's Final Four appearance and I was also right there when Marquette last moved to the Final Four.
I am happy to be writing about womens golf. It is not often we can offer women a proper prop in the sports tournaments and the field is strong and many good stories have already presented themselfs. However, part of my heart is in Newark. And I might have to cheat some and utilize to sneak peaks at Marquette and North Carolina Thursday night. Also maybe, just maybe, I will be heard singing, "Ring out ahoya with an MU, rah, rah, MU rah, rah, MU rah, should the impossible happen.
And that's my story. I am in love with Buzz Williams. With the yellow uniforms and checkboard side panels once designed by Bo Ellis. I still think of Marquette as the Warriors but am willing to call them the Golden Eagles. Especially if they win.
-- Diane Pucin

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