The Marquette family did get a chance to finally give back to Coach this past year. After beginning his fight with cancer, friends, fans, players and coaches began sending cards, letters and making get-well phone calls and visits to his Wauwatosa home. Close friends, like Coach Majerus, were regular visitors over the past year. Jinny and their five children responded to all of the good wishes by saying that Coach was determined to fight the good fight. And he did, like the true Warrior that he was.
Before Coach began his treatment regimen, he wrote a letter to the former Marquette basketball players, thanking them for their loyalty and love of the game of basketball, their teammates and the university. He reminded them of how they were always Warriors on the court and in the classroom, and to be proud of it.
Later that summer, many of those former players Coach had helped during his life came back to the McGuire Center and had a group picture taken, featuring Coach front and center. All returned to show him the love and appreciation for what he had meant to their lives. After Coach left his home for the Zilber Family Hospice in Wauwatosa, the visits continued with family members, players and close friends, including Marquette head coach Buzz Williams, who spent time with Coach the Friday before he died.
On Tuesday, Dec. 7, the day after Coach's passing, Marquette was scheduled to play the University of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at the Bradley Center. A short tribute preceded the game, at which some fans in attendance remarked that it was so quiet they could have heard a pin drop on the floor of the Al McGuire Court. Marquette players wore commemorative HANK patches on their uniforms honoring Coach Raymonds. The gold HANK patch was positioned not far from the ever-present AL patch, which MU teams have worn since Al's passing in 2001. And Coach's seat at the scorer's table was conspicuously empty, as it was during the season.
Hundreds of members of the Marquette family braved the cold December winds to say their goodbyes at his wake in Brookfield, WI, on Sunday, Dec. 12. The line of mourners snaked around the interior of the Becker-Ritter Funeral Home past photos, mementos, basketballs, posters and plaques. One item in particular that stood out for a number of the mourners was a framed handwritten letter from Coach to one of his grandsons on the correct way to shoot a basketball, with step-by-step instructions. The strategically placed television monitors featured photos from Coach's personal and professional lives. Coach's life was flashing before our eyes.
Before a private interment, Coach's life was celebrated the next day at Milwaukee's Gesu Church. His coffin, draped with a Marquette Warriors banner, was carried into church by Doc Rivers, Jim McIlvaine, Robert Byrd, Terry Sanders, Mike Kinsella and representing the McGuire family, Allie McGuire. The funeral mass was concelebrated by longtime MU Team Chaplain Rev. William Kelly, MU President Robert Wild and Rev. Peter Drenzek, pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Coach's parish in Wauwatosa. His sons, Dan and Steve, chronicled his life before and after Marquette. Men's and women's coaches Buzz Williams and Terri Mitchell, along with their respective staffs, were among those paying their last respects. Many of the 50-plus former players who attended will be among those Continuing the Legacy, which just so happens to be the theme of this year's Marquette basketball team. One of those players, Robert Byrd, gave the final tribute to the Marquette legend whose life was an example for all of us. Byrd concluded his emotional tribute with: "We will always be Warriors."
One of the last times that I saw Coach was at Goran Raspudic's (1966-70 MU team manager) funeral in Milwaukee. I will always remember his admonition after the service: "Joey, always remember family. They're all you have." Joseph Declan Moran is the author of "You Can Call Me Al: The Colorful Journey of College Basketball's Original Flower Child, Al McGuire" and "Goin' Uptown: Marquette's March to Madness and Return to the Final Four."