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CONFESSIONS OF A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WALK ON

I thought that the BTSC community might find this of interest because of its historical perspective on the college game, and references to a Steeler with four SB rings, Bill Cosby and the 1971 World Series.

 

I kept looking at the scoreboard as I stretched on the thick, cool grass of Temple Stadium. Temple 0  Navy 0. It was a perfect Friday night in October, and I was about to participate in my first college football game. It’s difficult to describe the emotions that I was trying to manage at that moment. Suffice to say that I had not expected when I had begun this quest that I would dress for a game with the expectation to play. My performance the previous two weeks had remained high. And if the scrimmage we had last week against Division 3 Glassboro State (now Rowan College) was any indication, I could expect to play between 30 and 50 percent of the time. We gather in the locker room for the pre game meeting. Decked out in game uniforms for the first time, nearly a month’s worth of work coming to climax, Coach Frank is about to give a speech. Coach Frank is no Knute Rockne though, and I suspect that most of us would have preferred to skip this part. But he surprised us, both with the words he spoke, and how he was able to motivate us that night.

 

Coach announces that a plane that was carrying the Wichita State University football team had crashed earlier, killing everyone on board. He’s crying as he says this. The team is in shock. It is the first we heard of this. It is the first time we had heard of anything like this ever happening. An entire college football team! He adds that we are about to do what the players of Wichita State will never be able to do again. We surge out of the locker room at an emotional level that I doubt most of us had ever experienced before.

 

We ride the emotion and the hard work of our first unit ‘2’ back Ray Murray to a quick 14-0 lead. I begin to believe that I’ll be able to get into the game by the 2nd quarter. We haven’t given up a score, but there have been few if any three and outs. The defense is struggling. I was partially correct. The blue defense is called up in the second quarter, but they decide to put in only the LBs and DBs. Seems a strange thing to do since the line would fatigue first. I spend the rest of the first half suppressing dark thoughts.

 

I finally get the call about midway through the third quarter. The situation has gotten serious now. Our lead has been cut to seven. Ray has been injured. The first unit QB is a solid leader, but a bit on the short side with a weak arm, so despite the presence of players like Grossman, the passing game is anemic. On my first play I easily defeat the man assigned to block me and make a tackle for a two yard loss. I know I’m playing well, but am too focused to understand the full extent of what that means. Three things I do know; we’re getting off the field quicker, they have stopped running to my side of the field and I play every defensive snap for the rest of game. On the offensive side of the ball, blue ‘2’ back Don Spiller has replaced Ray admirably. He is the Pennsylvania State Champion in what was then known as the 220 yard dash. At 5’7” and about 150 lbs, he’s a bit on the small side, but is only relevant if you can catch him. He scores and extends our lead to 14 again. Late in the 4th quarter we give up another touchdown.

 

On the scoring play, I suffer a mid foot sprain. I can’t flex my foot and put any significant weight on the ball of that foot. If the game were safely in hand I would have played through it. I know because I had suffered the injury in high school. But momentum had changed with the score. Teams associated with the service academies never get tired or give up. I inform my position coach of the injury and am immediately escorted to the bench by two trainers. It is now that I discover how well I’ve been playing. As they examine my foot, we are soon joined by the head trainer of the University sports program. He says three words; “Is it broken?”

 

No.

 

“Tape him up and get him back on the field now!”

 

As I was being taped, the Linebackers coach has gathered his group together and is exhorting them. “You need to go out there and be like Cole (me). Cole hits!”

 

I was experiencing a strange feeling that I had never had before, at least not in athletics. If I had time to reflect upon it at the time I would have been terrified. They are counting on my performance in order to win this game. Now, even at being considerably less than 100% I was up for the challenge, but it was so far from where my head had been in the beginning of the evening where I was literally just glad to be there. Fortunately, Don Spiller eased the pressure considerably when he scored another TD. We then went out and stopped them on downs. 28-14, Game over. As I hobbled to the locker room I was congratulated by teammates I barely knew, saluted by their parents and friends (the only people attending the game) and acknowledged, reluctantly it seemed to me, by our top level coaches. My brother who was a senior at Temple and on the Track team was my only fan at the game. Afterwards we go to a frat party where he brags on my performance.  I should have been ecstatic all things considered. It was only the second time my brother had actually seen me play, the night went better than I had hoped and we won the game. But my foot hurt, and all I really wanted to do was go some place and lay down.

 

******************************************

 

I grew up in Pittsburgh and played high school football for Taylor Allderdice High School in the late 1960s. These were the golden years for the Dragons. We won the City Championship in ’67 - the only one in school history to my knowledge - and were a power to be reckoned with for the next half dozen years. Despite the team’s overall success, I experienced plenty of personal setbacks. I had no idea at the time, but such setbacks would play an enormous role in how my football career would play out at the collegiate level. My primary obstacle was an injury suffered at the midpoint of my senior year. This might not be the end of the world if I already had my scholarship lined up, but unfortunately, I had attracted little substantive interest from colleges prior to the injury. I would learn a few years later that at least one school, Brown, had been interested but pulled back after my injury. But generally speaking, it was clear that I would have to make it on my own at the next level, with none of the built-in advantages college players enjoy that are heavily recruited.

 

As my high school playing days came to a conclusion, I could not escape a question that had been troubling me. City League players in Philly did not receive as much attention from colleges as other local athletes from the suburbs, surrounding townships, and parochial leagues. Why?  Was the talent disparity as great as the scouts might lead one to believe?

 

I decided to find out the answer for myself. I spent the summer of 1970 working out furiously. I would be attending Temple University in the fall, and I planned on walking onto the football team. I may have been determined, but my expectations weren’t high. Though I felt I was a good player, my attitude was one of curiosity more so than defiance. I wanted to experience what football was like at the higher levels and was prepared to accept that it may have been beyond my capabilities.

 

I

SETTING THE SCENE

 

When I recall this time of my life, I’m of course nostalgic for personal reasons. But, I’m also interested in remembering and thinking about just how much college sports has changed. Many of the site’s younger readers will find aspects of the following story to be quite strange, when viewed through the prism of the college athletic landscape of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

 

The Temple Football program had just begun a major transition when I enrolled in 1970. The program had just been elevated to Division I, and athletic department had hired a new head coach to lead the program as it ventured into the far more competitive waters of the D1 level. Temple hired Wayne Hardin, who had previously completed a very successful tenure at the Naval Academy. Navy, as well as Army for that matter, was as relevant and competitive as anybody at that time in college football. In fact, one of Hardin’s Navy teams had finished as high as second in the nation. Hardin had also coached two Heisman Trophy winners: Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach. 

 

One of the most distinct differences between the game then and today was that college programs were structured a lot like high school programs are set up today. There was a varsity squad, a junior varsity and a freshman team. But that is where the similarities end. For example, in high school talented freshman athletes are quickly absorbed by the varsity or JV squads leaving the freshman team as a mostly developmental unit. Back then, the only place you might find a blue-chip freshman recruit was on the freshman team, regardless of whether he’d be better off competing against bigger, faster, stronger, and older players on the JV or Varsity squads. NCAA rules at the time simply did not permit freshmen participation in varsity football or basketball. No exceptions. As a result, freshman teams could be rather formidable. In an example that 5020 is probably more familiar with than I, a UCLA freshman team led by Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar) defeated the UCLA varsity. At the time, the varsity unit were the defending NCAA national champions.

 

I believe the NCAA lost a lot of credibility when it revoked the freshman ineligible rule. Freshmen practices did not commence until late September, two weeks after the beginning of classes. By then everyone had gotten acclimated to their classes and the rhythms of college life. We played a tidy five game schedule beginning in early October and ending by mid November. Bonding came easily. On the field there were no veterans or newbies. It was not difficult to identify the highly recruited from the walk on (the coaches knew their names and their backgrounds, and had high expectations in terms of performance). But nobody had proven anything yet, so there was little in the way of hierarchies or cliques. All of us were facing the challenge of adjusting to a higher level of the sport (more about that in a moment). For many of us it was the first and strongest group association in the sometimes very lonely process of adapting to college life. I became and remained strongly connected with a number of guys from that team throughout my undergraduate years and beyond. One is the godfather to my daughter.

 

That fall at Temple, the varsity and JV were the players that Hardin had inherited. The freshman squad I would be joining would be his first class of recruits. NCAA rules at the time gave new coaches great latitude in putting together their initial teams. Consequently, the Temple freshman team had an initial roster of 111 players, 75 of which were on some sort of full or partial aid related to football.

 

Anyway, for those not familiar with the school, Temple is an urban university. The football practice facility was approximately two city blocks in size located in the middle of a community that had the highest rates of gang activity and homicides in the nation. Within this green oasis about 200 players and an entourage of trainers and managers were being guided (terrorized) by a platoon of coaches. Air horns and whistles direct traffic; run/stop, block or tackle/pause/resume, change stations, take a break/get your lazy asses back on the field. Hoarse voices are alternatively yelling and cursing and sometimes both for efficiency’s sake. The older coaches tend toward crew cuts which look somewhat anachronistic in contrast to many of the players who, in sync with the times are wearing their hair long.

 

On the first day of practice, I feel a bit strange.  For starters, I’ve never been in such a large group of players and coaches before. On a more immediate and practical level, it also didn’t help that my shoulder pads were made of leather, and that I am a lineman wearing a two-bar on my helmet. This is because of the large number of players. It would take a few days before I got up to date equipment. And did I mention that it was 97 degrees that first day, with humidity the same? Our predominant team color is cherry (red). Are we in Hell?

 

Despite all this, I actually did pretty well that first day. One thing that I understood was that the walk on was truly a stepchild. They couldn’t prevent you from trying out, but they really didn’t want you there except for the occasions that they needed cannon fodder. So, while my teammates were pacing themselves in the heat I was going all out. I began to immediately build a reputation for hard hitting and aggressive play. I was the ball carrier during a tackling drill. I decided that I wasn’t going to passively give myself up as others had been doing. I was going to deliver a blow and if possible run over the tackler. It was then that I noticed that the tackler happened to be the biggest lineman on the team.

 

Undeterred I smashed into him at full speed. The sound of the collision echoed across the entire facility and into the slums beyond. The two of us struggled in place for a couple of seconds, stalemated. And then we fell to the ground sideways. Players stir from heat induced stupors. Two coaches orgasm on the spot. Just one problem. I’ve had the wind knocked out of me in the collision. Writhing on the ground, which was my first thought, would cancel out much of the good will I has just earned.  Fortunately, one of things I learned in City League was that, if at all possible, never let your them know when you were hurt (the reason is exactly the same as why a gazelle wouldn’t want a pride of lions to know that he was lame). I pop up off the ground, slap the tackler on the rump, and move to the back of the line and when I am certain the coaches can’t see me, bend over and try to resume breathing.

 

Unfortunately, it was more of a ‘shorts’ type of day and practice, even if we're in full pads To use the designation that Coach Tomlin favors, I’m more of a ‘pads’ kind of guy. That’s how I’d make the most favorable impression. But with the pads off and hitting contained, measurables (as they’re called now) were more prominently featured than was gritty, smash-mouth play. Consequently, a less than impressive 40-yard dash time late in the practice condemns me to bottom of the depth chart. This began an introductory period of mixed blessings and challenges as the season was set to begin.

           

           

An interesting part of the process was overcoming our own stereotypes about football players/jocks. We were mostly from small towns, suburbs and rural areas of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with a sprinkling of city guys from Philly and New York.I'm the only player from Pittsburgh proper. I was surprised how bright and thoughtful most of the guys were, with a range of views and interests that extended well beyond the limits of their home communities. In fact, a number of guys would chafe against the requirement that the game consume so much of their time and attention. I got the impression that if they could afford to do so they would have sacrificed the game in favor of a more well-rounded college experience. This in no way should suggest that collectively we weren’t a strong, talented group that enjoyed playing the game. In fact, many in this group that continued on for four years lost only one game their senior year, and had gone toe to toe with and prevailed against Eastern powerhouses such as West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse.

 

What could not have been predicted at the time was that one of our members and teammates, Randy Grossman would collect four Super Bowl rings as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. At that time Pittsburgh had never been in a playoff situation in team history, and there had only been four SBs played.

 

MAKING THE TEAM

 

My original question about whether I could do this or not was beginning to be answered. I was happily discovering that I could play with these guys, by far the most talented group I’d been around in my short football career. Just about all were capable of handing you your ass on a platter if you weren’t ready to play and play hard each and every time you took the field. It seemed that everyone was bigger, stronger, and faster than the high school norm. The game itself was faster and more complex; just like the difference between high school and college classes if you’re looking for an analogy.

 

I realized quickly that I had a psychological advantage. I knew coming into the situation that I would have to play at a much higher, more intense level in order to have any chance at all. That’s a harder case to make in the minds of guys who come in with lots of accolades and always the top dog at Anywhere H.S. Problem is, at this level, nothing that is accomplished before means shit, and the coaching staff was pleased to remind us of that whenever possible. I come to this realization during a scrimmage. I was lined up against an O-lineman from a prestigious football program, a legitimate Big 33 All Star. And (I swear I’m not making this up) I’m beating the crap out of this guy, all the time saying to myself ‘You’re Big 33? You gotta be kidding me!’ For some guys the light never comes on. For others they honestly don’t know how to access that next gear. They never had reason to do so before. I know that explains a lot of flameouts at the college and professional levels. In some cases there is no next gear. High school (or college) will be their highest level of competence. This is the issue that vexes recruiters and scouts; does a prospect have that next gear or are we seeing the absolute best he’s capable of?

 

That reality, however, is often muddled by politics. I learned very quickly that much of the talent selection process, particularly for all star teams, the Heisman Trophy, etc. are, in the main PR campaigns. Coaches can easily manipulate matters to make one player look terrific. The running back that gets all the carries, the basketball players that takes all the shots. Everybody else’s game is subordinated to make one person look super. Why? Besides the obvious benefits to that particular player, reputations of programs and coaches are also enhanced; booster activity and alumni giving increases and so forth when the spotlight is on the program because of individual accomplishments. Ultimately though, that player goes to the next level and the support system they enjoyed dissipates. The player is on his own against some very good opposition.

 

In spite of my sunny self assessment, for more than a week I was stuck in the purgatory of fifth string. Teams were designated by scrimmage vests; red (1st), blue (2nd), green (3rd) and gold (4th). The fifth unit (and below) did not get vests. Not only was my vest less condition a source of shame, but only the top four units participated in training table. My status was literally costing me my supper. Fortunately, there was soon another evaluation day. Every spot on the team was up for grabs, only this time the method of evaluation  would be ‘pads’, an all out scrimmage. I was hungry, literally and figuratively, to play well and ascend the depth chart.

 

At the next practice I find a blue vest in my locker. I would eat dinner with the team for the first time later that day

           

While I was clearly grateful for the upgrade in my status, I realized that I was a bit ticked off as well. My horizons and goals had shifted. It was no longer about whether or not I was good enough to make the team. I now believed that I was good enough to start. The issue was certainly debatable. My maximum weight at that time was 225lbs. The guys ahead of me outweighed me by an average of about thirty pounds. (Just as a point of reference, in those days there may have been one player in the NFL that weighed in at over 300lbs) There was also a rising sense of desperation that was driving me as well. I knew coming into the situation that I already had one strike against me (walk on). I was coming to realize that it was probably two.

 

If any of the younger readers saw the movie Glory Road you were probably surprised by how black athletes were viewed in the 60’s and how limited their opportunities were. The southern conferences SEC, ACC, SWC (Southwestern Conference) were all white until the early 70s. And even in the East, Midwest and West methods were employed to limit the number of blacks who made it onto the field (or court). Of the 111 players who began with the freshman team exactly 11 were black. Today that would seem like a small number. At that time it was probably average. The systematic exclusion of blacks from predominantly white institutions was just beginning to end. When I got my blue vest I joined two other black players on the second unit. Larry Bracey was an inside linebacker from Philly’s Dobbins Tech who was on a partial. He would leave the team when he was offered a full ride from Drake University. Fred Johnson was a walk-on from The Bronx, a defensive tackle like me. And like me they were both a bit undersized, but compensated with quick, aggressive play. The situation on offense was another matter altogether. There was a split end that was recovering from knee surgery and would not play that year. The other five players were all running backs. Temple ran a two back system featuring a ‘3’ or fullback, and a ‘2’ or halfback. All the white backs regardless of size or ability were ‘3s’, all the blacks were ‘2s’. The practice was called “Stacking”. Sports Illustrated had run an expose on that and other practices two years earlier. By placing all the black backs in one position a quota system was established. One would play. The only way the others saw action would be as the result of injury, poor performance or assassination. Let me quickly add that from my perspective, this was isolated. I had seen or heard nothing like it in high school. It was not how our own varsity team operated. The previous regime before Coach Hardin was known for similar practices, and our head coach and his top assistant were carryovers from that group. This was one of the reasons that Coach Frank was disliked so much. And it was why I had to wonder whether I would be permitted to play regardless of the quality of my performance.

 

Back to Palookaville?

 

Back to the season. If the first game had fulfilled all of my hopes, the following Monday confirmed many of my fears. We discovered that the common practice the Monday following our games would be for the players who had either not participated at all in the game or on a limited basis would scrimmage the JV. I checked in first thing in the morning and found my name on the list of those who were expected to play that afternoon. I spent the rest of the morning, between classes, in the training room rehabbing my foot. I understood that technically speaking I had only played a quarter and a half, but I figured that the impact of my play and that I was injured had earned some consideration to sit this one out. The nature of the injury is such that it does not clear up after just a few days. I had considered not practicing at all for a couple of days but felt that would be held against me and might impact whether I would play or even dress for our next game. Figuring that I had no choice if I wanted to get that red vest, I alternated cold tub and whirlpool, got a real tight tape job on my foot and continued the quest.

 

There was also an opportunity here to be seen by a wider more influential audience. The scrimmage would mark the first time that the freshman had gone against any of the older guys. Varsity coaches would be present. I felt about 80% at the beginning of the scrimmage, but I started as strongly as I had on Friday. I penetrated to the backfield, blew up the play and tackled the ball carrier for a loss. Everyone associated with the freshman team is stoked. The varsity coaches watching from behind the JV huddle are intrigued; so much so that one takes up position directly across from me, hands on knees starring intently. I glance up to see that it’s Wayne Hardin. Okay. This is what I had been waiting for. On the very next play I’m double teamed. Normally not that much of a problem assuming that I had two good working feet, but I only had one. I suddenly found myself in an awkward position and unable to recover. As I was being driven backward my right shoulder popped out of joint.

 

I’m sitting against one of the huge poles that support our field lights about an hour later. I am stripped to the waist, an ice bag held in place on my shoulder with an ace bandage. Varsity practice has just ended and several of the players and coaches stop by on their way in to see how I’m doing and to offer encouragement. I will go in a few minutes later with the first wave of trainers, be issued a sling and given an appointment to see the team physician the next day. The timing of the injury could not have been worse, but all things considered I am in pretty good spirits. This was the injury that ended my senior season in high school so I knew what to expect. I believed that it was possible that I could still come back and play later in the season. But regardless of what happened from this point forward, I had established beyond any shadow of a doubt that I belonged. That I could play with not only the freshmen, but the JV as well. All that was left was to prove that could compete with the varsity. I was sitting alone, injured, 300 miles from home, but I was not marginalized. I was where I belonged; I was part of the program.

 

Cosby, DiMaggio and Bobbi

Our next game was against Hofstra. And in that era any mention of Temple and Hofstra had to bring to mind Bill Cosby. Younger readers’ first thought about Bill Cosby is probably that of Dr. Huxtable of the Cosby Show. But in the ‘60s Cosby exploded on the scene as a young standup comic whose ‘G’ rated material brought audiences to tears of laughter just as effectively as the best ‘R’ and ‘X’ rated talents of today. In his album “Why is There Air” he does a routine on his playing days on the Temple Football team. He focuses on a particular opponent, Hofstra. He points out that Temple is not particularly good in those days (early ‘60’s). True. That Hofstra was a team of monstrous proportions, or just plain monsters; 800 lb men with one eye in the center of their heads. Umm, an exaggeration. And that this Hofstra team would beat Temple 900-0. Nothing in NCAA records of a beating that bad ever. When I arrived on the scene there were at least three men who had some connection to Cosby and/or his routine. Coach Frank was actually a teammate of Cosby’s. Cosby’s head coach was Gavin White. Gavin, who my memory says bore a mild resemblance to Bill Clinton, was our asst AD and extremely popular with the athletes. A lot of us spent many spare moments hanging out in his office. And then there was our AD Ernie Casale.  Ernie actually had a speaking part in the Cosby routine.

 

“Well men, as you know Hofstra beat us last year 900-0. I was just over in their locker room, and Christ! They’re bigger than they were last year.”

 

Ernie didn’t much like Cosby in those days. I could certainly understand why. Ernie had a distinctive voice and Cosby’s impersonation of it was so dead on that whenever he spoke, I and anyone else who had heard the routine had to bite our lips, cross our eyes, whatever just to keep from breaking out in laughter. And it seemed like every third guy had an Ernie ‘voice’. The fact that Cosby had established Temple football as perpetual laughing stock must have made his job of upgrading the program all that more difficult as well. Let’s just say that in the week leading up to the Hofstra game Ernie impersonations spiked.

 

The game itself was anticlimactic, our easiest win of the year. However, this game provided me with something of a consolation for the pain and suffering that I had endured earlier in the week. Temple assigned two cheerleaders to the freshman games. Counter to what would seem logical to me, we got two of the most experienced and most attractive cheerleaders. One was a cute blonde who was dating the varsity’s second string QB Frank DiMaggio. That last name might sound familiar to some. And yes, he’s the nephew of Joe DiMaggio. I was impressed! Its little things like this that makes you feel that you’re a part of a big-time program. The other was an absolutely gorgeous Latina Junior named Bobbi. (As a Senior Bobbi would be the first ‘woman of color’ crowned Homecoming Queen). The problem for these two women was that our first game was held on a Friday night. All of our subsequent games would be played on Friday afternoons. Temple Stadium is located seven miles from main campus at the outskirts of town, a forty-five minute drive if traffic is good. Bottom line; there was NO ONE at this game. To their credit they did not attempt to perform cheers to empty seats. What Bobbi decided to do was chat up the one person in civilian clothes that didn’t appear to have any official duties. That would be me. We spent a delightful afternoon wandering the sidelines talking football and not football. I made a friend that afternoon, and we repeated the routine for the rest of the season.

Drexel 

The team hit bottom the following week, losing to the weakest team on our schedule, Drexel. Imagine Pitt losing to Carnegie Mellon. It’s difficult to believe that a team that talented could be so flat, but if you had been attending our practices you might understand. You hear and read about coaches ‘losing their teams’. That was the best description of what was happening. Here was a man who was bringing all of the bad practices and assumptions of a losing program to a group that saw themselves as winners. The number one topic of conversation in the locker room, the dining hall, the dorms, anywhere team members congregated was the rising level of contempt directed at the head coach (there were no problems with the assistants.) After a late rally fell short, I followed the team into the locker room unsure of what to expect. As I pushed open the locker room door it struck something or someone. Apologizing, I peered around the door to find Coach Frank sitting on the floor sobbing. Embarrassed for him I quickly turned away and couldn’t help but noticed that he was the only truly distraught person in the room. The varsity was in Cincinnati for a game against the Bearcats. Coach Frank was ordered to meet the plane when they returned the next day to explain himself. I am sure it wasn’t a pleasant conversation, but he did retain his job. And from that point on things did improve with the team.

 

Delaware

Delaware was our big rivalry game. Both varsity and freshmen would be playing them at home, it was an intense week. So much so that I decided to force my way back onto the field. I unilaterally declared myself healed, had my shoulder wrapped to restrict range of motion and was back in pads. I was coming back just in time for the punishment practice we had earned for losing to Drexel. I survived the running, but I had to concede that my shoulder was still too unstable for hitting. Oh well, back to conversations with Bobbi. (Words cannot express how much I loved college that fall).

 

The change in how we did things was apparent as soon as the offense took the field for our opening drive. There were now two black running backs in our backfield. Spiller and former number three ‘2’ back Nate Hall slashed methodically down the field and gave us a quick 7-0 lead. Unimpressed, Delaware scored 21 unanswered points and led by 14 at halftime.  In the second half we managed to shut down the Blue Hen offense, and then made another change in the 4th quarter. The blue quarterback was another Pittsburgh area guy who didn’t seem to be getting a fair shake. Marty Ginestra was a 6’3” QB from Clairton who had not gotten an opportunity to play much. I was a big fan in part because of the Western Pa connection (I was dating a girl from Clairton that summer), but also because I thought he was the best QB on our roster. In thinking why he wasn't placed more highly, it occurred to me that Marty was a pure passer in an age when college ball was dominated by the running game. Woody Hayes, the Wishbone, power I, Wing T (Temple ran the Veer) were all the vogue in those days. Only a handful of college programs regularly produced NFL caliber QBs. But now given the opportunity he and tight end Randy Grossman proceeded to put on a show. Marty moved the offense the length of the field; relying strictly on passing with most throws going to Randy. Randy didn’t drop passes. We pulled to within seven. With less than two minutes to play they repeated the exercise. A pass for the two point conversion to flanker Mike Blandina sealed the victory 22-21. It was the most exciting game I had ever been a part of.

 

Our season ended on a down note, or at least uninspiring, one week later when we tied Villanova 0-0. This was not the present day Division 1AA Wildcat squad, but was probably considered one of the top three Catholic college programs in the country, producing among others, Howie Long. 

 

What happened next?

Spring drills mirrored the fall in many ways. I started off strong, but faded as I re-injured my shoulder and did something I could not afford to do in my situation. I began losing weight. One day Frank DiMaggio all but ran over me on a qb sneak. I couldn’t understand how that happened until I realized that at 205 lbs Frank outweighed me. I ended up on third string. Not bad considering that the starters from the previous year were returning. But not good enough to get me invited to camp. This would have been the proper time to quit. I really had nothing else to prove. Perhaps it was just being stubborn. Perhaps it was understanding how close I had gotten. I played JV through mid-October, playing in several games. I knew I had to improve my upper body strength, and I had yet to celebrate my 19th birthday. I wasn’t happy. There were a lot of things about the college game, the business aspect of it that I didn’t like. And my football obligations were beginning to restrict a lot of other things I wanted to do at the University. My roommate, George had been a fellow walk on who gave up the quest after Spring ball. The World Series had just begun. And though he was a New York City native, George was a big Baltimore Orioles fan. In those days weekday games were still played in the afternoon. I had to choose between watching Roberto Clemente try to lead the Pirates back from a 0-2 deficit and wipe that smirk off George’s face or go to practice. I watched the game, quit the team and never had any regrets. The dream had run its course. (Pirates won the series, Clemente was MVP)

 

Temple Football in spite of its less than spectacular legacy in Division I has sent more than its share of players to the NFL and quite a few to the Steelers. From that year’s varsity, kicker Nick Mike-Mayer was the first player to make it into the league. Randy was next. Few people, me included gave him much of a chance. It wasn’t because he lacked talent or drive. He was the best receiver I had ever seen. But then as now there were parameters concerning what the ‘ideal’ tight end looked like, and it didn’t fit Randy.

 

An NFL tight end was supposed to be about 6’5”, 250-260. Randy was listed at 6’2”, generous and 215. He was a surprisingly effective blocker for his size. Trust me; I know this from personal experience. Great hands. Those who are familiar with Chuck Noll’s philosophy concerning players may not be surprised that Randy got the opportunity to make that squad. (Remember too that this was also that great draft class of 1974). I saw Randy the spring after the first SB victory. I was an administrator and teaching at the University, as well as in grad school. He was coming back to finish up his Bachelors. In spite of the fact that this man was living the dream that I suspect every Western Pa kid who ever picked up a football has had, I remember our conversation as being pretty low key and clinical.

 

The one thing that stuck with me years later was that he said that the glamour surrounding playing professional ball wears off quickly. It’s all about working to keep your job. I would see him again the following year after the second SB. We talked about him maxing his weight out at 215. Bright with a sublime wit, Randy was always good conversation. And while he won’t be uppermost in conversations about the players from that team, make no mistake this was not a guy who simply got lucky and hung around to collect some rings. In Super Bowl 10 he scored Pittsburgh’s first touchdown on a pass from Terry Bradshaw. He started at tight end in Super Bowl 13 and played the entire game. He is one of three commentators (along with Joe Greene and Rocky Blier) of the America’s Game documentary of that ’78 squad.

 

Mary Ginestra play some in the WFL with Memphis and would be the odd man out in a great quarterback battle involving Roger Staubach, Craig Morton and Clint Longley  with the Cowboys. The last time I saw him play was at Pitt Stadium. He was once again leading a comeback. This time against the Johnny Majors led Pitt Panthers. He came up a little short but he was a match for and maybe a little better than Matt Cavenaugh. Other guys that came up in the years just following our group who went pro included Joe Klecko (Jets) and Steve Watson (Broncos). The most recent contributors to the Steelers were linebacker Rian Wallace and the man who eventually replaced Wayne Hardin as coach, a former Bear Bryant assistant named Bruce Arians.

 

 A short post script. My daughter did far better in the scholarship game than her dad. She was pursued by over 80 schools for basketball. Of course the fact that her father, mother, uncle and both god parents attended Temple she chose to go to ---Delaware.

             

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