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50 Years Ago Today Marquette football died

December 9, 2010

Though the team was struggling and a financial burden, 50 years ago today, University officials at Marquette made the most short sighted decision that could have ever been made.

Bob Wolfley has the story:

Fifty years ago on Thursday, Marquette University gave up on intercollegiate football.

The news came as a shock to most everyone at the school, except perhaps for Rev. Edward J. O’Donnell, S.J., who made the announcement on a Friday morning that the school was dropping football.

Students, players and coaches were left stunned, bewildered and dismayed by the move. Some of those feelings morphed into bitterness, a taste of which survives today, at least for a few of the players on that team.

Students, players and coaches were left stunned, bewildered and dismayed by the move. Some of those feelings morphed into bitterness, a taste of which survives today, at least for a few of the players on that team.

“Back then we didn’t have demonstrations, we had rallies,” said Bill Johnson, 70, in a phone interview recently. Johnson was a junior quarterback then for the Golden Avalanche.

The Dec. 10 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel carried a photograph on its front page, running the entire width, showing students surging along N. 5th Street.

“ ‘We Want Football!’ MUers Yell” the headline honked.

“We have exhausted all possible ways of retaining the sports,” O’Donnell said. The athletic department could no longer support football, track and cross-country programs, he said, because they cost too much. He mentioned that basketball was “the principal athletic rallying point for alumni in the future.”

During a press conference at his office, O’Donnell said he had reached the decision “with deep regret.” He said the programs had been operating in the red for five straight years. He said the athletic program was $50,000 in debt in 1960 and that the track program alone lost $8,000 in 1959.

The 1960 team was 3-6. The program was a power in the 1920s and ‘30s but had not had a winning record since 1953. From 1954-’60 the team was 10-44-3.

According to one report the total attendance for the four home games in the ‘60 season was 57,600.

Joe Schulte, 70, was a defensive back/quarterback for Marquette then, a junior who had just been elected captain for the 1961 season.

Schulte remembers him and Johnson trying to persuade the MU athletic department to honor not only tuition but room and board costs.

“They said no it’s a business decision,” Johnson said. “We’re not doing it. That was upsetting to hear that in a cold fashion . . . . We felt we were not treated properly.”

George Andrie, 70, a junior end and defensive end on the team, went on to have an impressive professional career with the Dallas Cowboys. With a year a eligibility left, Andrie considered transferring to the University of Tulsa. He thought about playing for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He chose neither.

The Cowboys, who were interested in him, wanted him to transfer to East Texas State. He decided against that too, and returned to Marquette to finish requirements for his degree. He does to recall his time than at MU with fondness.

He thinks he would have been better off at Michigan State, which had offered him a scholarship.

“The more you found out, the more you kind of resented what they did,” Andrie said. “We didn’t have anyone we could talk to. My parents didn’t know anything about football. Hell, there were not advisers for us to turn to. They said we are going to take away part of your scholarship. That really pissed me off. It was a mess, a true mess. It really left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Andrie said his older brother, Stan, who also played at Marquette remembers his playing days there with more affection than he does. George Andrie said he is grateful for at least one aspect of his time at Marquette – he met his wife there.

Former Packers president Bob Harlan, 74, was the sports information director at Marquette in 1960. He said the program’s demise was hastened by a decision years before to play home games at County Stadium instead of the smaller, cozier Marquette Stadium, which was more accessible for students.

“Our attendance dropped tremendously,” Harlan said. “The students lost interest. Moon Mullins was the athletic director at the time and he was a Notre Dame man. His hope was to make Marquette another Notre Dame. He thought one of the ways to do that was to move to the bigger stadium. It was just brutal.”

Dennis Ferriter, 72, was a center, linebacker, kicker and senior captain of the 1960 team.

“A lot of the students were really upset,” Ferriter recalled. “There were marches in the street. I doubt very many students went to classes that day. What good it did I don’t know. There were a lot of disappointed people, myself included.

“I still have allegiance to Marquette,” Ferriter said. “I’m very committed. But if they had a football program, I would certainly be more committed. I absolutely would be, as I think a lot of other people would be. It’s different with a football. . . versus a basketball game. It’s not quite the same. I think (football) generates more interest. I think it generates more contribution dollars for the university.

A hat tip to Bob Wolfley for this tremendous article. He did a great job of hunting down former players and those that were involved with Marquette in the 60s. The article answers a lot of questions about the program and of course, provides a first hand account of how Marquette broke the news, and how the players reacted. There stills to be some bitterness there.

It’s unfortunate that Marquette Football was financially unstable and equally unfortunate that Marquette decided to cancel the program. Thought it will probably never come back, there always remains a shimmer of hope that Marquette will bring a Football program back to the university and the city of Milwaukee.

 

 

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