Dave still looks good. Even at 74. Being 6 feet, 6 inches tall is a clue that he was a basketball player, but there’s more to it.
He’s trim, dresses well and carries himself with enthusiasm and a smile. I know... I ran into him a few years ago and enjoyed the long talk we had.
He probably has a lot of stuff. But I know he has a scrapbook with several Des Moines Register articles. Many of them about his senior year at Drake and the exciting games his basketball team played.
Mulligan still gets around. Even at 71. He might have been 5-9, but probably lost an inch.
He’s too jumpy to eat much so he hasn’t put on much weight since the days when Drake was a national basketball power... which has been awhile. I run into him once in a while also.
Mulligan doesn’t have a lot of stuff.
No newspaper clippings.
He just remembers things. A lot of things. And he can tell you that a good memory is just as often a curse as it is a blessing.
On this day in February 2017, Dave decided to take in the blues concert at the Botanical Gardens in Des Moines. The weather was good. Lunch and music sounded like a good idea.
As it happened, a few of Mulligan’s friends and Drake classmates decided to do the same. By chance, they struck up a conversation with Dave as they all awaited the concert. They discovered he had been a Drake basketball player. One even realized he was a freshman when Dave was a senior and had seen him play.
Knowing Mulligan loved his basketball, they sent him a group picture and asked if Mully remembered him.
Did he see him play? What did he remember?
“Saw him. Remember a lot.”
Dave mentioned the Wichita game. What about that?
Mulligan took a deep breath and typed his reply: It was a cold day in mid-February of 1964. He had to stand in line for two hours to get into the freshman game that was played before the big show.
It was “first come” with the seats, but he got row 2 across from the Drake bench.
The freshman game was terrible. All the young Bulldogs who could play had flunked out of school at the semester.
The varsity game began at 8. Best game in the country that day.
Wichita (before they were Wichita State) was ranked No. 7 in the nation, Drake No.10. The Missouri Valley was the premier conference.
Those two, plus Louisville, Cincinnati, and Bradley were very good. Cincy was coming off three straight trips to the NCAA Championship Game.
The game was shove and push. Tuck and nip. Forth and back. Velveeta and Rotel. All of that.
Then the Shockers’ Dave Stallworth hit a jumper to put Wichita up by three. Drake hustled down court, and Gene West got foolishly fouled with :07 to go. Both ends of the one and one went down and the Shockers called time out.
The boys from Wichita had a tough little point guard named Kelly Pete, two bookend All-American forwards in Stallworth and Nate Bowman... and a future Hall of Fame coach in Ralph Miller.
They came up with a plan to kill those last seven seconds, jump on the bus, and head for Kansas.
Drake coach Maury Johns deployed his defense: Gene Bogash, the JuCo transfer with a very awkward jump shot that got a lot prettier as it ripped the nets. West, the 6-4 shooting guard from Ames.
McCoy McLemore, one of the Valley’s greatest players and an incredible athlete.
Billy Foster, the spring-loaded point guard from Des Moines’ first family of basketball (his brother Jerry proceeded him). And Dave. Dave was a backup center/forward who often played more as the game got later.
Coach Miller’s plan was a good one. Bowman would break deep and Stallworth would fake to Pete and throw the bomb. A 70-foot pass sailed toward an open Bowman. Dave jumped the route and leaped (as much as a 6-6 farm kid from Iowa can leap). He got a finger on the ball and it fell to his feet.
It hit Dave’s foot and started to roll toward the half-court line. He dove on the ball and called timeout. Oh my! Mulligan was 18 years old and aging quickly. 14,000 fans took a breath and released personal expressions of excitement. Four seconds remained.
Maury didn’t try to trick anyone. They could have announced it on the P.A. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please be advised that the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow and Billy Foster is going to take the final shot.”
Foster took the inbounds pass from Bogash, dribbled three times to the top of the key as he was backing into Kelly Pete, rose up and turned in the air.
Mulligan is no different than other sports fans. He’s got his favorite memories and he’s got his heartbreaks. The Good Lord knows that he’s got his heartbreaks. He knows you can’t say “I was there” unless “you was there” so he’s always tries to attend big games... full well understanding the risks.
Up until that moment, it had been everything a college basketball game should be. But then, it took on a whole new life.
As the buzzer sounded... as that 21-foot shot hit nothing but cotton... as 14,000 went from silence to explosive glee... Mully leaped (as much as a 5-9 farm kid from Iowa could leap) onto the floor. A cheerleader (who obviously couldn’t do any better) jumped into his arms and kissed him.
The night was memorable. All the male students roamed the campus and chanted for the coeds to come out of their dorms.
They couldn’t. In those days, they were locked in after 11 on weeknights. The next day, classes were canceled. Not that Mulligan would have attended.
Mully’s friends know he has a flare for the hyperbole. They suspected he told them that story because nobody could challenge the details. So they called his bluff. They sent his email to Dave.
Dave had a simple response. “Good memory. That’s how it happened. More accurate than the newspaper article in my scrapbook.”
Dave was a good player. Personal encounters tell me he’s a good guy who still enjoys life. The pictures and stories in his scrapbook tell a story about the memories he built for himself and the moments he created for others.
Mulligan is simply a fan of the game. These next two and a half weeks are like a vacation in Tahiti for him. The miles from his basketball trips could have taken him around the world. Twice.
He’s never clipped out an article. But he remembers a lot. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, he’ll give you the words instead.