"You missed the best part," said McGuire. He glanced at his wristwatch and looked at Carol Ann and then at Frankie, 6 years old, across the table. A third child, Patsy, 15, was away at boarding school in nearby Greensboro. Another member of the family, Mac, a boxer, sat solemnly in the doorway.
Frank McGuire got up and lifted Frankie to his shoulder and led the way into the den off the living room. The wall was filled with pictures and cartoons, including a copy of the celebrated one by Willard Mullin of the
New York World-Telegram & Sun showing giant basketball players emerging from a New York subway stop on the North Carolina campus. After tuning in the television set and getting the children (and Mac) settled, McGuire walked back to the dining nook for a second cup of coffee.
"I love those horse operas," he said. "They may not be art, but I've never seen a bad guy get away yet." Husky, broad-shouldered, square-jawed, his reddish-brown hair thick and wavy at 42, McGuire himself looked like convincing casting for a Western. Except that he was scarcely dressed for the part. He wore a light gray tie against a dark gray suit, from a wardrobe that is by Brooklyn Clothier Abe Stark, who, in public life, is president of the New York City Council.
McGuire looked up at the wall where a magnetic board marked in the dimensions of a basketball court hung like a decorative mural. It was there for a very practical purpose: frequently, late at night, McGuire and his assistant, James A. (Buck) Freeman (his coach during his playing days at St. John's University in Brooklyn), sit before the board and move the metal blocks about as they ponder stratagems for an impending game.
McGuire nodded at the board as he returned to the subject of the dinner-table conversation. He spoke softly, in New York accents, so softly that it seemed to be a conscious modulation of a voice that once was surely pitched to the decibels of New York streets and the waterfront where he worked as a boy during summer vacations.
"Of course," he said, "what happened last year couldn't happen again in a thousand years. There was something eerie about winning 32 straight. We won several games we should have lost, we got breaks that were out of this world. I thought sure we would lose at least four games we won and finally I almost hoped we could get beaten just to take the terrific pressure off the players. Well, not the players so much, because they kept cool even if I didn't. But the students and the alumni and the people generally were feeling the strain. Strangers would come up to me and slip me a nutmeg, a lucky coin or a rabbit's foot to carry in my pocket, or a man might beg me to wear the same sports jacket to every game. Students were growing beards, they counted their steps from one class to another so they would take just the same number every day. One student got the idea he would jinx us if he moved his car. So he let it stand where it was and collected parking tickets until the season was over."
He took a sip of coffee.
"Now there is no place to go but down," he said cheerfully. "And the trick is to go down gracefully. I hope we lose early in the season. That will take the pressure off and the team will be better for it."
"What game would you like to lose, Frank?" said Pat McGuire with a wink. "The Clemson game?"
"Well, no," said McGuire. "I don't want to lose any game specifically. The team will be trying to win them all, naturally. But the law of averages says we've got to lose sometime and I'm just saying that the sooner we lose, the better."