Saturday, March 30, 2013

What Will Make the Difference for Marquette?

As the victorious warriors of the basketball court advance to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament, it has sparked some hermaneutical introspection.

A Converse perspective adopts the Athletic Department’s enthusiasm.

It is no wonder that the Marquette Men’s basketball program has a 24 game winning streak, considering the loyalty of its fans, as shown by sell outs of the Bradley Center and the energy exerted in the student section.  One small detail that belies Marquette’s Ignatian charism is the one word sentence “Pray”.

Another symbol of the University is the school seal with the strange Latinate motto “Numen flumeneque” It translates to “God and the [Mississippi] River.

Stained Glass of Marquette Seal, Sensenbrernner Hall, Milwauke, WI

The motto has more meaning when one understands Pere Jacques Marquette was a Jesuit missionary  who, along with Louis Jolliet, was one of the first Europeans to explore the northern portion of the Mississippi River in 1673.  Marquette’s alacrity with languages came in handy in his mission to spread the gospel to various indigenous tribes in the new world (a.k.a. “New France”) as he worked with the Hurons, then had good relations with the Illinois tribe as well as when he explored.

Aside from  Père Marquette, the school seal incorporates imagery which honors St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (a.k..a the Jesuits).  The diagonal red and gold bands honors heroes from Ignatius’ lineage who achieved valor in battle. In addition,  the wolves in the coat of arts symbolize the generosity of the Loyola family that even the wolves found something in the kettle to feast.

In 2002, Marquette University adopted the tag line “Be the difference” as it challenged the Marquette community to be leaders to make important contributions, which echoes the Ignatian attitude to be “contemplation in action”

Marquette athletic teams have gone by several monikers.  Originally, they were named “the Hill Toppers” due to their topography.  In the 1920s, they were nicknamed “the Golden Avalanche” for their football prowess by sports writers.  Other teams were informally tagged “the Blue and the Gold”.  The name that really stood out was the Warriors, which all Marquette teams sported from 1954 to 1994, including the infamous 1970 NIT Champions and the 1977 NCAA Champion basketball teams under Al McGuire.

Aside from a proud record for Marquette basketball, the University has the knack for choosing colorful and charismatic coaches.  The 2013 jerseys bear patches to Al McGuire as well as Rick Majerus, who played for the Warriors (or warmed the bench as he would put it), was an assistant coach and head coach before moving on.  This is Buzz William’s fifth season at Marquette.  Williams takes a humble but persistent approach with his team.  Williams recently observed:

That's just another Marquette game.  We're not good enough to blow anybody out. We're just good enough to get blown out. And if we can turn it into a fight and make it ugly, then it probably trends toward helping us the most. What you saw is a microcosm of our culture.

They also have been playing with teamwork and everyone contributing.  In a recent March Madness game, Buzz Williams made 67 substitution.  Many of the bench players get more minutes than the starters.  It may be synchronicity but this humble, determined and gritty approach approximates the Jesuit ideal.

Marquette basketball has produced some great pro players of late, including Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat) and Jae Crowder (Dallas Mavericks).  But aside from their atheletic excellence, Marquette student athletes have stellar graduation rates.  Marquette athletes have a 91% graduation rate, compared to 78% of the whole student body.

In 1994, Marquette University President hastened a change from the Warriors to the Golden Eagles, allegedly so that the Warriors could be unisex, but what is more likely is that the machinations were to be politically correct and to sell more licensed sportswear.  Even today, Marquette basketball games are punctuated with spontaneous cheers “Let’s go Warriors!” instead of chanting up the unremarkable  “Golden Eagles”.

While the Willie Wampum cartoon Warrior was obviously offensive to modern mores, Marquette University crafted a Warrior consulting with various Indian tribes that bespoke honor and valor in battle, much like Ignatius of Loyola’s black robed religious warriors.

This is Marquette University basketball’s third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen, and first advance to the Elite Eight since 2003, where they were roundly beaten by Kansas.  There is the possibility that there might be a rematch between the Jayhawks and Marquette in this year’s final four.  Rather than be haunted by the past, it is better to be calm and ahoya on.

Win or lose, Warrior or Golden Eagle, may the imprint of Marquette to be the difference in the world.  But if it helps, the Elite Eight game is being played in the District of Calamity (sic).

Pere Marqutte Statue by  Gaetano Trentanove (1896)

The Wisconsin contribution to the Congressional collection is none other than Père Jacques Marquette.  It used to be in Statuary Hall but now is displayed in the Congressional Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol. Perhaps that omen will bring some luck to keep the Blue on Gold on route to the Atlanta Highway for the Final Four.

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