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Men’s Basketball: Bad blood runs deep between Irish and Eagles

Chris Khorey | Friday, February 8, 2008

Last-second shots.

Technical fouls.

Crazy coaches.

Packets of mustard.

Notre Dame and Marquette have played 109 times, but they share 1,000 games worth of history.

The Irish have played the Golden Eagles more than any other opponent. The series between the two teams used to be an annual affair – often with an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line for the two independents.

But since 1995, when Notre Dame joined the Big East and Marquette joined Conference USA, the teams have met only eight times.

Reunited in the Big East, the Irish and Golden Eagles are back at each other’s throats. During Marquette’s 92-66 win at the Bradley Center on Jan. 12, Notre Dame sophomore forward Luke Harangody could feel the emotion emanating from the crowd.

“It’s definitely different,” he said. “We’re both Catholic schools … but we could definitely feel the rivalry.”

Geography and religion

The Notre Dame-Marquette series began in the early 20th century, at a time when the Irish scheduled mostly regional Catholic schools.

“They played Marquette, they played DePaul, they played Detroit-Mercy, they played Saint Louis,” said Mike Coffey, author of the book, “Echoes on the Hardwood.”

But while the other schools were generally competitive, games between the Irish and Warriors – Marquette changed its mascot in 1993 – often decided who played the best basketball among Midwest Catholic schools.

What’s more, Marquette and Notre Dame were similar in their residential and community atmospheres.

“While DePaul is closer, it’s more a commuter school, especially back in those days,” Coffey said. “Marquette, on the other hand, was a more residential campus. It was a little more similar to Notre Dame.”

Hickey cancels the series

The series took on a more antagonistic nature in the late 1950s, when Marquette hired Saint Louis coach Eddie Hickey to lead the team.

Coffey said Hickey hated Notre Dame, an emotion traced back to the 1940s when Hickey and then-Irish coach Moose Krause were both recruiting St. Louis-area high school star Dick Rosenthal. Rosenthal chose to play for the Irish and would eventually become Notre Dame’s athletic director.

“That drove Hickey crazy, and he ended up canceling the Notre Dame-Saint Louis series,” Coffey said.

Hickey got the Marquette job in 1958 and canceled that series with Notre Dame.

In the mid-1960s, the rivalry restarted when Marquette hired Al McGuire as its new coach. McGuire was known as much for his showman’s antics as his winning basketball teams – and his team’s won a lot.

Al versus Digger

In 13 years in Milwaukee, McGuire went 295-80, winning an NIT championship in 1970 and a national title in 1977.

McGuire’s flair for showy tactics added another legend in the rivalry’s history. Before every Marquette game, the Warriors’ starters would shake hands with the opposing coach. Irish coach Johnny Dee saw this as a “hot dog” gesture and, before one game, he handed each Marquette starter a packet of mustard.

The rivalry reached its peak when Digger Phelps replaced Dee after the 1970-71 season. Phelps, nearly as big a showman as McGuire, added to the craziness that had already been part of Notre Dame-Marquette games.

“The most colorful time of the rivalry was when Maguire was at Marquette and Digger was at Notre Dame,” Coffey said. “It almost seemed, when Notre Dame would play Marquette in those days, that they would get into a race to see who could get a technical first. It created a great subplot to some great games.”

The games were exciting on the court. In 1973, Notre Dame ended Marquette’s 81-game home-court winning streak on a buzzer beater by Dwight Clay.

By the late 1970s, both teams were fixtures in nation top 10. Marquette’s title in 1977 came in McGuire’s final game and Notre Dame got to the only final four in school history in 1978.

Drifting apart

Throughout the 1980s, the teams continued to play a home-and-home every year, entering into a deal with Dayton and DePaul to play a four-way round robin.

But the landscape of college basketball was changing.

With more and more independents joining an ever-increasing number of conferences, at-large bids for non-conference members were becoming scarce.

In 1995, the Irish and the newly-christened Golden Eagles joined separate conferences. Between that year and 2006, when Marquette joined the Big East, the teams played only four times.

“They fell off the schedule entirely for a good part of the ’90s,” Coffey said.

Back together

Since joining the Big East, Marquette is 3-1 against Notre Dame.

On Jan. 20, 2006, the first meeting of the two teams as conference brethren, the Golden Eagles topped the Irish 67-65 on a last-second runner by guard Steve Novak.

Later that year, Marquette won again, this time by eight at the Joyce Center.

Last season, Notre Dame got its revenge with an 85-73 win in the only meeting.

Marquette’s win earlier this season was the widest margin of victory in series history, at 26 points.

Saturday, with both teams ranked and the 33-game Irish home winning streak on the line, the series is back to the stakes it had in the 1970s. What’s more, the game is being played during ESPN’s “Rivalry Week.”

Marquette and Notre Dame are back together again, and the forgotten rivalry is back in the national spotlight.