Have you been missing college football?
Oh sure, you can watch games on television, but the pandemic has ruined the fall for fans like those at Lafayette and Lehigh, who have seen their Patriot League fall season blown up and who have been waiting for some kind of answer about the possibility of league games in the spring.
I’m pretty much retired as a contributor to The Morning Call, which is short on staff and news space and has made some drastic changes. I’m learning to live with it, but it’s not fun. I was looking forward to seeing Leopard home games from one of Jack Bourger’s chair-back seats in Fisher Stadium.
Then I remembered something. Did you know that 90 years ago – on Oct. 25, 1930, to be exact – the first indoor intercollegiate football game on a regulation field was played in the then-one-year-old auditorium on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J.?
The teams: Lafayette College vs. Washington and Jefferson.
The final score: W&J 7, Lafayette 0.
According to the story that appeared in The Morning Call the next day, the game attracted 16,000 people.
The building, according to a Morning Call advance, was about 500 feet long, 300 feet wide, with the ceiling 135 feet above the surface. It was built in 1926 and opened in 1929.
Six inches of topsoil and clay were laid down in the auditorium as the playing surface. A Morning Call story three days before the game reported that “40 freight cars carrying 2,500,000 pounds of dirt” would be used.
“The normal lighting equipment in this great chamber consists of 600,000 watts of electric power, but in addition to this, there will be special lighting used during the game and these units are in themselves capable of furnishing more light than would be used for night football or baseball. In this way the light in the structure … will closely approximate the sunlight.”
The newspaper account, which was not bylined, said the temperature inside the building was between 60 and 65 degrees “as benumbing cold winds blew down the boardwalk outside with furious rage.”
The only score of the game came in the third quarter, and here’s how the newspaper explained it.
“The ball was on Lafayette’s 45-yard line when Stewart Wilson, the giant W and J fullback, dropped back to kick. …the ball sailed deep into Lafayette territory and to all intents and purposes was destined to cross the goal line.
“The Lafayette safety man watched it closely, but just a foot or so from the goal, the ball struck some slight impediment and bounded several feet into the air, but kept in the playing area.
“At the same time, it took a hop against the Lafayette safety man (Socolow) and then rolled away. The wide awake Demas, of W and J, made a dive and obtained possession of the white oval within a foot of the goal.”
Three times, the Lafayette defense stopped the Presidents from scoring, but on fourth down “the oval was snapped to the herculean Wilson, who rammed through centre for the winning touchdown.” Wilson also kicked the extra point.
Lafayette’s Cook missed a field goal in the first quarter; Lafayette got to the W&J 35 in the second quarter; and in the fourth period, the Leopards recovered a fumble and then used a Wilcox-to-Mundy pass to get to the Presidents’ 6-yard line. But Lafayette was unable to score.
Lafayette and W&J were familiar rivals. They first met in 1898, and they played a 1922 game in the Polo Grounds in New York City. Lafayette took a 13-0 lead in the first half, but W&J rallied in the second half to win 14-13.
But this game was deemed as even more impressive. Fans traveled from Easton by what the newspaper reported as “special excursion trains and bus lines” and car. Many didn’t leave to return home until Sunday.
Lafayette had played Penn State to a 0-0 tie the previous weekend on Lafayette’s March Field.
Now called Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, the building has been used for a number of sports. Former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes of Easton fought and lost an on fourth-round TKO to champion Mike Tyson in 1988. That was one of seven times Tyson fought in Boardwalk Hall.
Lots of college football games have been played there, including the 1964 Liberty Bowl. Monica Seles defeated Martina Navratilova in 1995 in what was Seles’ return to tennis after being stabbed in 1993.
Interestingly, the long article on the Wikipedia online history of the building does not include the Lafayette-W&J football game. That could soon change.
I keep track of the contributors to the Lafayette Sports Fan Forum, hoping to get some information. A post just the other day caught my attention because of the posters posted a link to a Twitter post featuring Lafayette athletic director Sherryta Freeman. I found it interesting and I looked for a release on the college website. Not finding one, I decided on the next best thing: transcribe Freeman’s remarks and get them out via blog. So, here they are. I broke up the comments into paragraphs.
“As the director of athletics, I have been able to witness and participate in the process of addressing diversity and inclusion within our community. I am proud of the work of our student-athletes, our coaches, our staff, whether it be through individual teamwork or organization work or larger forums to engage in discussion. All of those things are so important.
If I go back to the start of the summer, it was important for us to have timely conversations to help our community process what was happening nationally. We had open dialogue with our student-athletes, coaches, staff about their emotions, their experiences, their past and also what they believed needed to happen on our campus in order to move the conversation around systemic racism forward for positive change.
We support the formation of the Athletes of Color organization. Our student-athletes have already done incredible work, including leading student-athlete conversation, the design and production of a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and a video launch. We have also increased the presence and input of SAAC and Athlete Ally as we recognize how critical their leadership will be around diversity and inclusion work.
Coaches and staff participated in extensive educati0n around systemic racism, realizing that you have to fully comprehend issues and history of racism before you can take action against it, And those sessions were very powerful and productive.
We also implemented staff education in partnership with the office of intercultural development All staff will participate in a series of workshops utilizing the power of eight identities, and let me see if I can get them all -- gender, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, religion and age. How all of those identities correspond and intersect with that of the student-athlete. I firmly believe that as educators our staff needs to be well versed in diversity and inclusi0n issues.
Throughout our conversation and dialogue, we have developed the Lafayette athletics commitment to fight against racism in the area of representation, education, awareness, support in programming and resources and pledges.
We publicly released at the end of the summer some of the steps we plan to take, and we are well on our way. We have already implemented the educational component and promoted awareness for our own Black Lives Matter initiative with the fantastic work of the Athletes of Color organization. Our next steps are underway as we have established a task force to formalize a diversity, equity and inclusion plan to ensure follow-through and accountability to all of those commitments.
Ultimately, Lafayette athletics shall be the program that embraces diversity, personifies inclusion and is the destination for people of all backgrounds to come together as one team. I love what Lafayette athletics is doing so far and there is so much more to come.”
Freeman could have given us a little insight into what the league was doing to address the unresolved sports issues
A Leopard shares his concern, too
I know lots of people are wondering where they stand. In fact, I received a communication from a member of the 2020 Lafayette football team recently, too. He shall remain anonymous for some obvious reasons, but he has agreed to allow me to use his comment. Here it is.
“I don’t think the college is doing much to make us have a season. It’s easier for them to say no. I don’t believe we will have a season (we should find out this week). It puts older guys like me and the seniors in a tough spot because we would have to some back for a 5th year which is not ideal. Some guys might go use their eligibility at a graduate school. … I wish I had more insight on this whole thing.”
A lot of people thought a league meeting scheduled in October might provide some closure to the issue. It didn’t.
I feel really bad for every senior – not only those at Lafayette, either. It must be killing them to watch these games on TV. I also felt terrible for Lafayette defensive lineman Malik Hamm, who was selected as a first team pre-season All-America. Well, forget it.
And, I’m wondering what the college will do for these seniors. I’m also wondering if all the coaches are receiving their full pay for not coaching. And finally, a lengthy statement from the director of athletics that touches on eight areas of concern – not one “identity” that addresses a sports issue. Do athletics matter at Lafayette? Just wondering.