Sunday, November 1, 2020

A historic Lafayette game ... and what's happening in 2020


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.

 Leopard A.D. speaks out

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.







Monday, December 2, 2019

Cleaning out my notebook one last time

Jeffrey Kordenbrock kicks the winning field goal at Lehigh out of a Sean O'Malley hold.
All photos courtesy of Lafayette communications.

So, season No. 138 of Lafayette College football is in the books. The 16th time the Leopards have finished with four wins. The last time was 2011.

Breakthrough? Coach John Garrett declared that after defeating Lehigh for the first time. I think it was too soon to tell because this year was the weakest for the Patriot League overall. But it had a look of potential. And remember, it was I who said the Leopards had a shot at running the table after not winning a nonleague game!

Now as we come to the end of another football season, I am also come down the homestretch of my direct involvement with the program at Lafayette, having been The Morning Call’s beat writer from 1968-77 and more recently during my formal retirement years, 2008-2019.

With my 80th birthday staring me in the face, it’s time to take a seat in the stands, and having had some issues this year with bladder cancer caused me to alter the way I handled the beat. This season didn’t give me the same satisfaction of past years and I think it’s time to turn it over to someone else.

So, that makes this my final “official” report on Leopard football. It’s going to get wordy because I want to address the most recent season overall, the Leopards’ future, #155 of The Rivalry and some other thoughts from my notebook.

Monday, November 25, 2019

THE RIVALRY: Trivia and a mea culpa


I’ve been thinking a lot of Lafayette’s 17-16 win over Lehigh last Saturday in game No. 155 of college football’s most-played rivalry.

I have been trying to figure out how I would play it in one of my final blogs with which I plan to assess the 2019 season. Every season, after all, is in some way affected by the outcome of the Lafayette-Lehigh game.

This is a game that produces all kinds of trivia, so here’s what I think is the best addition of 2019.

This is the first time Lafayette has won the game by a single point.

It is also only the second one-point game in the entire series. Lehigh won the 1929 game 13-12 in a game where quarterback Arthur Davidowitz kicked what proved to be the winning extra point. Lehigh broke a 10-game losing streak to Lafayette in that game and the Brown and White blocked two extra point attempts and a late field-goal try to preserve the win.

Here is the second paragraph that appeared in The Morning Call the next morning, Nov. 24, 1929, courtesy of my favorite historical website these days, The sports writer is not mentioned.

“Scenes such as probably never before been witnessed in the concrete saucer of Lehigh University were witnessed in the hysterical demonstration following the final whistle of referee W.C. Crowell. Out onto the field rushed the Lehigh partisans, fairly smothering the Lehigh players in their frantic efforts to reach them, and one swaying mass of humanity ushered the players off the gridiron. Staid old grads for the time forgot themselves to join in the wild demonstration and the steel city was truly a typical college town last night in every sense of the word.” 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Reinhard: A chat with Colgate's Dan Hunt

No current Patriot League football coach – assistants included -- has spent more time in the league than Colgate’s Dan Hunt. It may be only his sixth year as the head coach, but Hunt spent another 19 years as a Dick Biddle assistant.

Hunt won league Coach of the Year honors in three of his first five seasons. He’s not getting it this year – in fact, he will finish with fewer wins this season than any other since he succeeded Biddle in 2014.

At 3-8, he’s having a tough time, but he could still have a say in who represents the league in the FCS postseason tournament. Lafayette would to well to put the blinders on this week and focus on nothing but the Raiders, who have a whopping 45-13-4 advantage in the head-to-head series.

I caught up with Hunt the other day to get some comments for my Morning Call preview of the game. But before we hung up, we talked about lots of other things as well. So, I thought I’d simply post the interview in full.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Lehigh-Holy Cross-Gilmore: A flashback

When Kevin Higgins left Lehigh to becomes quarterbacks coach of the Detroit Lions in 2001, he gave Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett three recommendations for the head coaching position.

Pete Lembo, Higgins’ assistant head coach.

Dave Cecchini, the offensive coordinator.

Tom Gilmore, the defensive coordinator.

Together, those four guys had put their talents together to make Lehigh virtually unbeatable. In Higgins’ last three seasons as head coach, the Brown and White lost only one regular-season game. Won 32.

Sterrett got Higgins’ decision on a Sunday. On that same day, Sterrett met with the entire coaching staff and learned that, if he was willing to stay inside for Higgins’ replacement, all of Higgins’ coaches were committed to staying to maintain the momentum.

Sterrett met with each of Higgins’ recommended staffers for about an hour apiece.

A paralyzing snowstorm the next day kept Sterrett from doing anything on Monday, but he did call the college president. He had a decision, he told Dr. Gregory Farrington.

On Tuesday, he met with the coaches as a group again.

On Wednesday, he announced that Lembo would become the head coach.
During the press conference confirming all the decisions, Sterrett told us that the three coaches “never viewed [the interview process] in competitive terms, so this is not a case of one winning and two losing. I told them none of them was good enough [to replace Higgins] but together they have a chance.”

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Leopards replay: The start of something good?

Selwyn Simpson celebrates his winning touchdown. Photo courtesy of Lafayette Sports.
I got a bunch of grief when I came out with my Lafayette-Leopards-run-the-table prediction for the Patriot League portion of the schedule.

They had a bit of a stumble in the opener against Georgetown, a game they might have won.

But the tables turned for them big time on Saturday against Bucknell – in a game they just as easily might have lost.

My point is this: the 2019 Patriot League has no such thing as a lock to win or lose.

Proof? Look at league leader Lehigh. A win Colgate on a last-minute TD … a win over Fordham in overtime … a win over Georgetown on the final play.

Can what took place on Saturday be contagious for Lafayette?

Can Lafayette use that rare touchdown-off-turnover victory over a Bison team that has to be stunned today be the “breakthrough” we haven’t heard Coach John Garrett talk about for several weeks?

Until that fourth-quarter rally against the Bison, the lead to my Morning Call game story was probably going to be about the Bucknell punter.

My story was trimmed in several places, including my last paragraph. Here’s a piece of what wound up on the cutting-room floor.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Lafayette FB: A QB shakeup, scouting the Hoyas

I admit to getting a bit nit-picky. One of my favorite targets is the depth chart released by Lafayette football coach John Garrett.

I have come to accept the fact that the two-deep list that usually comes with sports information director Phil LaBella’s weekly game notes may not be an accurate indication of who will or won’t play in that week’s game. Garrett is super protective of information concerning injuries.

Last week was the worst. The notes for the Leopards’ game with Princeton came with no depth chart page. To compound the dilemma, Princeton Coach Bob Surace also provided no two-deep for the Tigers. Garrett and Surace are long-time friends, so I don’t know if they were playing some kind of mind game before the undefeated Tigers and the winless Leopards met last Friday night.

When I arrived at the weekly media luncheon on Tuesday, the first thing I wanted to see was whether Garrett would again be withholding information, fearful, perhaps, that he was giving Georgetown Coach Rob Sgarlata some secrets in advance of Saturday’s game in Washington.

I’m happy to say depth charts for both the Hoyas and the Leopards were handed out. I immediately began looking for names of previously injured players who might be making a return for what Garrett would say “almost feels like a second season” consisting of all six Patriot League contests.

(NOTE: I’m not going to address the “almost” remark, except to say that if what’s about to begin this week doesn’t feel “exactly” like a second season, the next six Saturdays won’t be much fun for Leopard fans. No one should be happier than the Leopards to have a clean slate and something to play for.)