Lost legacy

This is the first of a five-part series on college football.

The reaction was almost instantaneous. At 9:30 on the morning of Dec. 9, 1960, Marquette's Office of the President announced that the school's football team was abolished.

The program that had compiled a 273-220-38 record during its 68-year history was slashed without notice because it was costing the university $50,000 per year.

By 2 p.m., the protest was underway.

The Dec. 14, 1960 issue of The Marquette Tribune reports, "The demonstrators, estimated from 300 to 3,000 at various times marched over 22 city blocks carrying brooms, scrawny Christmas trees, funeral parking signs, and placards with such slogans as: 'Join the fight with N.D. (Notre Dame) against this brand of excellence' and 'Liz for MU Pres.'" Lisle (Liz) Blackbourn was head coach of the team when it was disbanded.

Not everyone shared that sentiment, however. In the same issue of the Tribune, Engineering senior Frank Paulus was quoted as saying, "I'm glad they dropped football. It was a good move by the administration. Big-time football has to be a money making organization: if you can't make money at it, give it up."

University officials concurred, and the varsity football team quickly became obscure. Now all that remains are a collection of records in the university archives, a few giant placards near the Union Sports Annex court and the memories of players who were part of the program.

The early years

In "The Story of Marquette University," the Rev. Raphael N. Hamilton, S.J., wrote, " … in 1892, the College undertook the launching of an up-to-date football team and devoted all attention to this king of games."

Because of its small enrollment, Marquette played a collection of area high school and college opponents until 1901 when Jerry Riordan was named the first professional coach, according to Hamilton.

In 1912 Notre Dame beat Marquette 69-0 in the final game of the season. Faced with a disappointing season and an $18,000 deficit, the administration decided to discontinue the program for the first time. An outpouring of alumni and student support saved the program — for now.

The Murray years

Frank Murray took the helm in 1922 and led Marquette to unprecedented success. The team went 8-0-1 in his first year. The next season, All-American Joseph "Red" Dunn led his team to a 7-6 victory over Boston College despite a broken arm, and for the second year in a row Marquette did not lose a game.

But neither of those teams compared with the 1936 squad.

The team featured halfback Ray Buivid, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting that season, and it mowed down its early competition. Marquette topped St. Mary's College of Moraga, Calif., 20-6 before 50,000 at Soldier Field on Oct. 30. If not for a 13-0 loss at Duquesne, there was talk that the Golden Avalanche could have played in the Rose Bowl. Instead, Marquette was invited to the first-ever Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Marquette fell to "Sammy" Baugh and Texas Christian University 16-6. Murray resigned after the season but returned in 1944 and remained until '49.

The ending

Marquette never played in another bowl game, but it was not because of a lack of invitations.

The team posted a recorded of 6-3-1 in 1953.

"We had a bid to the Sun Bowl which we turned down, " said Marv Swentkofske, a guard on the team. "That was one of the four or five bowls at that point in time."

He added: "All of us worked in addition to having scholarships but the Sun Bowl was during the Christmas season. … One of the guys got up and said, 'How much will we get if we go play in the Sun Bowl?' There wasn't any rules like there are today. … I think we were offered fifty bucks and a watch." Everyone could earn more money working over the break, so the team turned down the offer.

After that season the team struggled mightily, especially after John Druze became coach in 1956. During his three years, the team went 2-26-1 and many blame the program's demise on him.

"The Packers moved to County Stadium and we'd play on the same night. Sometimes you could hear the roar from their stadium, but not at ours," said Lee Hermsen, a running back with the team from 1954-'56.

Blackbourn, who coached the program's last winning season in 1953, returned as head coach in 1959.

In the first game of the season Marquette hosted a highly touted Pittsburgh squad that featured Mike Ditka.

"We were beating them in the fourth quarter and punting from our 30-yard line with two or three minutes left," said George Andrie, a two-way standout who went on to play in five straight Pro Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys. "Ditka blocked it and they scored. If only we could have won that game. … That game stays with me quite a bit."

Pittsburgh won 21-15 and Marquette finished 3-7 on the season. In 1960 the Warriors went 3-6, but no one knew the program was in danger.

"A lot of people didn't know it was coming," Andrie said. "We woke up in the morning and there it was. Somebody … said, 'Did you hear the news?' 'No.' 'We no longer have a football team.' 'What?' Everybody ran up to the coach's office. Nobody knew anything about what was going on."

He later added: "When they took away our scholarship we went to the dean and we says, 'Hey, why are you doing this to us? This wasn't our decision. We didn't quit the team. … You know what he told us? 'I'm running a business. I'm running a business.' I could not believe it."

This article was published in The Marquette Tribune on October 13, 2005.