The weekend before the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament’s last round of games known as the Final Four, the folks from Maguire University met at Kelly’s Pub, located under the el tracks at Webster and Sheffield, essentially on the DePaul University campus.
Although Kelly’s is usually concerned collegiately with things DePaul, which is a real school, sometimes it is concerned with things Maguire, which is not.
How this came about is a story often told this time of the year in sports features around the country, usually in the city where the NCAA Final Four is held.
Back in 1963 Loyola of Chicago went to Louisville to play in what is now called the Final Four, but back then was simply know as the finals, with two semi-final games on Friday and the Championship game on Saturday night. Loyola was a highly rated team all season, although the consensus number one team in the nation was Cincinnati, which had been the national champions the previous two years. The coach of Loyola was George Ireland, and one of his assistants was Bill Shay, a regular at a bar in Forest Park named Maguire’s. Maguire’s was a hangout for sports fans and coaches, mainly from Fenwick High School but also for other Catholic League teams. Scouts frequently dropped in, aware that the place was patronized by some of the most knowledgeable followers of high school basketball in Chicago. Fenwick was on Washington Street in Oak Park, which in those days was dry, and McGuire’s was just over the line on Madison Street in Forest Park, which was wet and close to Fenwick.
Tickets to the final four were precious in those days. Freedom Hall in Louisville held about 19,000. (In contrast, the Superdome in New Orleans, site of this year’s Final Four, holds about 60,000 for basketball). Bill Shay had tickets for the finals, and about eight guys from the Maguire’s crowd went to Louisville. They had such a good time partying at auxiliary events surrounding the games that they encouraged others in the crowd to go the next year, with or without tickets, which can always be obtained one way or the other at big events.
By 1972 more than 100 of the Maguires were going wherever the the Final Four was held and their love of a good time had become well known among other attendees, who
included coaches of every level of college basketball, who hold conferences during Final Four week. The Maguires always had a hospitality suite wherever they stayed and coaches like Ray Meyer of DePaul, Al McGuire of Marquette and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke would drop in to say hello. That first year in Louisville Len Tyrell, then the football coach at Fenwick, was sitting at a hotel bar on Saturday afternoon with Bill Shay and a couple of other guys and Loyola coach George Ireland. Loyola had beaten Duke the night before by 19 points—it was Duke’s first appearance in a Final Four—and was going to play Cincinnati that night for the national championship. A man approached Ireland. “Aren’t you the guy who’s coaching tonight?” the man asked. “I am,” Ireland replied. “And you’re drinking in a bar now?” “I’m coaching, not playing,” Ireland said. Although most people do not realize it, Ireland contributed significantly to the integration of college basketball. In 1963, the same year that Martin Luther King Jr. would deliver his deliver his “I have a dream speech,” Ireland was the first college coach to start four black players. When the team met Mississippi State in the East Regionals, the governor of Mississippi and the head of the state police wanted the team to withdraw from the game because Mississippi had a law that forbade white teams playing against integrated teams. The Mississippi players courageously voted to play Loyola anyway. Loyola won, but Mississippi State players had gained their everlasting respect. In the championship game Loyola fielded its four black starters and Cincinnati three, the combination being the first time an NCAA championship was played by a majority of black players. Loyola won the game in overtime 60 to 58. One day in 1972 one of the coaches from Fenwick came into Maguire’s with a rather long application. It was issued by the NCAA. Not all colleges belong to the NCAA, and this application went to colleges that might be interested in joining. As a joke the McGuire regulars decided to fill it out. The questionnaire asked the name of the school and the coaches and administrators of various programs. For the school’s name they wrote Maguire University, 7215 W. Madison, Forest Park, and they took off from there.
Their conference was independent, enrollment 1,600, colors green and white, nickname The Jollymen, field house Lawless (after Tony Lawless, a legendary Fenwick coach). Their football stadium was Friar holding 12,000, their president was Mel Connolly (a truck driver in real life), with Bill Shay the basketball coach and Len Other Maguire regulars were listed in positions like athletic director, baseball and track coaches, and sports information director. Gert Ireland, wife of George, was listed as the director of women’s physical education. A Chicago police officer who worked at O’Hare was listed as a football assistant. But when they were filling out the application they could not think of his last name, only his first, Sal, so they listed him as Sal DeCopper. The gag worked. Maguire University was accepted into membership of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and as such was entitled to a block of tickets for the Final Four and a listing in a book put out by the NCAA every year called The National Directory of College Athletics. McGuire U was in the 1972-1973 registry, commonly called the blue book. The blue book is used by many high school coaches who might be interested in finding a suitable college for one of their players who had been overlooked by other college coaches or scouts. Coaches also use it when trying to fill a schedule of games for various sports. The NCAA takes the book quite seriously, considering it a bible of Maguire’s saloon had become Maguire University and at the 1973 Final Four in St. Louis, they had a Maguire University hospitality suite at the downtown hotel where they had a block of rooms. They had pennants that said “Maguire University Final Five” and T-shirts. They were more popular than ever, as everyone played along with the joke. It didn’t hurt that the Maguires were good natured spenders and generous tippers.
In 1974 Marquette, coached by Al McGuire, made the Final Four for the first time and the fun-loving McGuire, the son of a Queens tavern owner, became a regular visitor to the Maguire U. hospitality suite. A confused local sports writer asked Coach McGuire if there was a connection between him and Maguire University. “No, no, those guys are tougher than my guys. They play hurt,” McGuire said, a reference to the Maguires’ ability to stay out late and bounce back the next day hangover or not.,“We Play Hurt” was added to the McGuire University green and white Final Five pennant.,The phone at Maguire’s, the bar, would get regular calls for Maguire, the university. Said Len Tyrrell: “John Maguire would answer the phone and someone would ask for the basketball coach, Bill Shay. ‘Shay doesn’t come in until ten-thirty tonight,’ John would say. And the guy would wonder, “What the hell kind of school has a coach that doesn’t come in until ten-thirty at night.” Once the U.S. Air Force Academy called and wanted to schedule a basketball game, but Maguire’s busy schedule could not accommodate them.After two years of being an official NCAA college, the Maguires were exposed. Bill Jauss, a sports reporter and columnist for the Chicago Daily News who normally had good instincts, decided to write a story about the phony school, apparently under the impression that everyone loves a good joke. “I thought the story was too much fun just to keep among a bunch of guys who had laughs over it in a bar.” said Jauss years later.
But the NCAA, like almost all big institutions, does not have a really good feel for fun, much less a sense of humor. “They went ballistic,” Jauss said. The NCAA ran a retraction in the 1975-1976 blue book and they tried to blacklist the Maguires, for years putting pressure on hotels not to give them rooms. Although there were times when they were forced into hotels away from the main action, the Maguires continued to thrive, securing their own tickets and still hosting parties under the name of Maguire University. They were, frankly, more fun than the ponderous NCAA, and they tipped a lot better. One Easter Sunday, the day before the championship game, a cyclone hit the Omni North on the outskirts of Indianapolis, where the Maguires were staying. It knocked out the electricity in the hotel, which had 1,800 Easter brunches booked. Management was in a panic, when Chuck LaRue, an electrical engineer who played for a short time for the Chicago Blackhawks, went into the basement to analyze the problem. He got the electricity restored in time for brunch. The Omni chain rewarded him by giving him and his family a week’s stay and travel expenses to any Omni in the world. And the Maguires moved up the ladder of preferred customers in the Omni chain.
By 2000 the Maguires had outlasted the NCAA and were pretty much unfettered in their choice of hotels. Their We Play Hurt pennants and other paraphernalia, and their hospitality suite were fixtures of Final Four week. Even Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, a native Chicagoan who went to Weber High School, expressed disappointment he was not offered an honorary degree from Maguire University.After Duke won the national championship in 2010 Coach K was awarded the first honorary degree ever given
by Maguire University—in bracketology.
In 2003 the group went down to New Orleans celebrating 40 years of Final Fours. Their pennant read “Final Five ’03—40 years 1963 -2003.” They even had McGuire U
tee shirts that had on the back “Final Five Appearances—Maguire 40, Kansas 12, Syracuse 4, Marquette 3, Texas 3.” Then someone figured out that if you included the first year, 1963, and the last, 2003, it was actually 41 years the group had been attending Final Fours or Fives. “There was some miscalculation from the Department of Mathematics,” said Skip Dorn, a Maguire regular for more than 20 years. Now, nine years after their 40th Anniversary the Maguires are going back to New Orleans for their 50th, the Math Department having recalibrated and adjusted the numbers. The meeting, or final practice, at Kelly’s Pub was in a tent out back of the bar and its purpose was to go over details for this year’s trip and to drink, eat brats, and swap stories. The business, as opposed to the social, part of the final practice was held at half time of the Kansas-North Carolina game and between the roars of the passing els. Maguire’s in Forest Park closed in 1988 and now Kelly’s in Lincoln Park is its home. The pub is run by John Kelly, a retired Chicago fire captain and his wife, Polly. The Kellys have been a central force in Maguire University for years—they’re in the Maguire Hall of fame–as have Art Duffy, the equipment manager and his son, Art Jr., who rose to be president of the university in 2000 after founder and president Len Tyrrell died. John Kelly, who is social director, has a card that reads “Maguire University Athletic Department. We Play Hurt. Kelly Sports Center, Lake Front Campus” with Kelly’s Pub’s telephone number. There is also a number for the West Campus, which is Art Duffy Jr. The younger Duffy conducted the meeting. This year the Maguire have booked the entire Hotel Marais, 64 rooms, 2 bars and 1 pool, in the French Quarter. They also have 15 rooms at the Mararin, a sister hotel block away. The fee varied from about $1,000 to $2,000 depending on how many night (four or five), which could be paid, if need be, in three installments over six months last year. There would be a 50th Anniversary reception on Friday night at one of the hotel bars where drinks would be free for those with Maguire i.d.s. Guests could also be accommodated that night.The Maguires sell a lot of their merchandise and every year they select a charity to give the profits to, as they do for an online store. At Christmas clothes and cash donations go the St. Vincent DePaul Shelter. More than 200 people were making the trip this year. Some were first time attendees, referred to, naturally, as freshmen. Some were second and third generation Maguires. For years Maguire University had a Student Athlete Application for Admission. At the bottom it said, “Filling out application does not automatically admit you to Maguire University…buying Selection Committee drinks greatly increases chances.” Art Duffy had this to say to the freshmen: “Three rules for the hotel: finish your beer, no smoking, be at the group picture taking, or you can’t come back for your sophomore year.”