Al McGuire Remembered Famous Rockawayite Dies At Age 72
Al McGuire Remembered
Famous Rockawayite Dies At Age 72
By Kevin Boyle
They said Al McGuire knew how to work the clock. Yeah, he could. From the early days in Rockaway Beach, he lived life as if there were just a few ticks to go in the game. He understood. The final buzzer is gonna sound---you gotta make something happen before it does.
Most people become famous and you think their lives started the moment the spotlight found them. Most seem ashamed that they have anonymous, modest roots. You ever hear Phil Simms---he just offered color commentary for the Super Bowl---say where’s he from? He played for the Giants but where’d he grow up? Jeff Van Gundy coaches the Knicks, anybody know or care where he was when we was 10 years old? Think about Dick Enberg and Billy Packer, McGuire’s famous partners on those college broadcasts---where are those guys from?
McGuire was from Rockaway. He wouldn’t let anyone forget. He’d be doing a college game on TV before millions of people and though there were start athletes on the court doing marvelous things, the audience would learn a little about how his old pal Eddie Bacalles could shoot in the Rockaway wind; how Normie Oaks could bang under the board. He’d tell the world, he wasn’t so smart, everything he knew someone else had said in his family’s bar on Beach 108 street.
And it wasn’t just part of a shtick. Bacalles and Ochs, and Dougie Dean and Gil Clancy grew up with McGuire and were still his friends---more than 60 years later. It says something about your character, your life, who you really are, if you’ve got friends that long. And it says something when your son, Allie, takes a leave of absence from a job in Boston to spend time with you in your last months.
Al McGuire won a national basketball title with Marquette in 1977. That feat and a stunning winning percentage earned him a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. That says a lot about him. When he was inducted he acknowledged that it was a great honor but he also said he was embarrassed to have been elected to the Hall before his brother, Dick, the basketball wizard. That says more about Al McGuire than any Hall of Fame plaque.
He could play basketball, he could coach, do TV commentary. He could make a buck, work an angle. Some celebrities---and that’s what he was, with his rugged good looks, wit and charm---can’t seem to function off the stage; McGuire had more depth than most. When no one was watching, he spent on a motorcycle exploring the vast lands of America, no doubt stopping along the way to look inward. He knew he was lucky and rich in so many ways. He knew he was playing life on the house’s money.
Someone said his dying on Super Bowl weekend was the only time he had showed bad timing. Maybe. But maybe dying at two in the morning on Super Bowl weekend was Al McGuire all the way. Maybe, he figured, no one would notice. Maybe he could cheat death, work the clock on death a little. Maybe if no one noticed it would be like he was still around. Work an angle one last time.
But the world did notice. Lengthy pieces were written in newspapers across the country; TV commentators took time to salute McGuire and say goodbye.
The wind and sea tend to wipe away footprints in the sand. Well, Al McGuire’s are still there on Rockaway Beach. And they always will be.