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Like comic Rodney Dangerfield, Manhattan College football got 'no respect'

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Manhattan College 1973 football team: First row, left to right -- John Stangenberg. Danny Caruso, Brian Smith, Tony Sabatelli, John Bruckner, Joe Casella, Greg Davis, Bernie Drury. Second row -- Mike Conway, Chuck Weth, Rick Connelly, Mike Gulino, Tony Ruffino, John Thomas, Dan Kelleher, Vinnie Riverso, Tom Lenkiewicz, Scott Carey. Third row -- Bill Abeltin, John Kemple, Steve Roccuzzo, Frank Smyth, Vinnie Pizzi, Steve Holmes, Jim Gailhard, Jim Irish, Bill Vogt, Chris Jamison, Bill Peck, John Danaher. Fourth row -- Ken Joseph, Jack Cahill, Pat Boyle, Bob Furlong, Jim O'Brien, Paul Fitzpatrick, Edward O'Donnell, Larry Kalkstein, Peter Neville, Doug Dowd, Kevin Glennon

By Jim Irish

Courtesy photos

Manhattan College football athletes in battle attire walked through the bar of Gaelic Park to enter the adjoining playing turf with sparse grass. Bar patrons may have been knocking back some cold brews on that early Saturday afternoon of Oct. 13, 1973.

Going to the dogs

As we entered the stadium at West 240th Street and Broadway in the Bronx to face St. John’s for homecoming, dogs roamed the field on leashes. Their owners followed, using scoopers and small brooms to collect the droppings. This wasn’t in our contract.

In an effort to maximize profits, John “Kerry” O’Donnell, the influential and longtime manager of Gaelic Park, had scheduled a canine act before our football game. It had run into overtime. During warmups, we ran, inspecting the field and hoping to evade any leftover detritus. St. John’s, unfazed by the intruders, beat us 14-6 before a couple of hundred stalwart fans. It was the third of five consecutive losses.

Sharing the field with dogs. That was the inglorious state of Manhattan football half a century ago.

Manhattan’s glory years in football

It hadn’t always been so. Founded in 1853 by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Manhattan College, a Catholic institution, had formed a football program in the early 1890s and achieved a high-water mark in the 1930s.

In 1932, the Jaspers — named after Brother Jasper who started baseball at the college and is credited with introducing the seventh-inning stretch — proved to be a bonafide collegiate program, defeating North Carolina State and Kentucky and losing narrowly to Texas A&M 13-6. During that era, it played before crowds of 20,000 at Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and Yankee Stadium. In 1938, Manhattan lost to Villanova 20-0 before an astonishing 50,000 spectators at the Polo Grounds.

Football returns as a club program

Manhattan, like other colleges, suspended football in 1942 because of World War II. It was resurrected as club football in 1965. The program, funded meagerly through student activity fees and fundraisers, never gained varsity status.

Larry Kelly, who had achieved success coaching post-high school sandlot football in Brooklyn and Queens of New York City, was hired to direct the program. Mike D’Amato, one of Kelly’s former sandlot athletes, would later play defensive back for the New York Jets in the Super Bowl victory over the Baltimore Colts in 1969.

As a member of the team, I seldom interacted with Kelly, choosing for the most part to go about my business and keep my mouth shut. However, I once offered a suggestion to advance our cause. Kelly, who looked more like a college instructor with a round face and glasses than a football coach, replied smugly, paraphrasing Alfred Tennyson in “The Charge of the Light Brigade:”

“Yours is not to reason why; yours is but to do or die.”

Season starts with a bang

Manhattan’s 1973 season opened on a high note in a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Marist 25-22 at Gaelic Park on Sept. 22. After trailing most of the contest, Manhattan gained momentum behind quick, shifty tailback Steve Holmes.

Playing wide receiver in the I-formation, I caught the winning touchdown against Marist late in the fourth quarter on a two-yard out pattern from southpaw quarterback Brian “Smitty” Smith. I celebrated my Andy Warhol “15 minutes of fame,” jumping into the arms of guard Jack Cahill.

In that era, quarterbacks took the snap under the center. Smith, a pint-sized but pugnacious quarterback at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, called his own plays.

Jane Fonda plays dual roles as anti-war activist and sexy actress

While we focused on winning football games that season, America was experiencing a tumultuous period in its history. Vietnam, an undeclared war that deeply divided the country, was drawing to a close with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on Jan. 27, 1973. Still, sixty-three Americans died in the conflict in that year alone.

As far back as 1969, Manhattan had encouraged open debate on the war. Late that year, a lecture series entitled “Confrontation in America: What Does the Future Hold” at Smith Auditorium included anti-war activists Timothy Leary, a Harvard professor known as the “high priest of LSD”; and black comedian Dick Gregory.

I don't know how persuasive Gregory was as an anti-war speaker, but he had a wicked sense of humor. During a routine at a comedy club in Chicago in 1961, he remarked: “Last time I was down South, I walked into a restaurant, and this white waitress came up to me and said, ‘We don’t serve colored people here. I said, That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.’ “

Anti-war activist and actress Jane Fonda spoke to an overflow audience at Smith Auditorium on Sept. 21, 1972. The guys I knew who attended were more interested in her as the hot babe in Barbarella than as an anti-war activist. Two months later, Fonda earned the moniker “Hanoi Jane” for an iconic photo of her in the capital of North Vietnam seated on an anti-aircraft gun and wearing a North Vietnamese military helmet. That photo has haunted her for fifty years.

Students take breaks from rigors of higher education

During the early 1970s, many Manhattan students, like others across the country, relaxed from the pressure of schoolwork and exams by partaking of alcohol and drugs. Jaspers frequented the bars on Broadway on weekdays and weekends and stumbled back to the dorms. The corridors of Overlook Manor, the off-campus apartment complex also known as Overdose Manor, reeked of marijuana.

In a major event in 1973, Manhattan officially became a coeducational institution, although women had been enrolled as full-time students for years. Seventy-one women registered that year. Today, women comprise 46% of undergraduates.

Because of the scarcity of women on campus, we had few romantic distractions. But it didn’t translate to success on the gridiron.

The start of a five-game skid

Our season-opening victory and emotional high ended quickly. We lost against Mattatuck Community College 37-28 on the road in Connecticut on Sept. 29. My only reception of the game occurred on the sideline seconds before halftime. Rather than push me out of bounds, the defensive back turned all 145 pounds of me upside down like a two-by-four and slammed my head into the turf.

Next, we were homecoming cannon fodder 52-0 for the varsity program of the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point on Oct. 6. The midshipmen attracted quality athletes from across the country. We were just a motley crew from New York and a handful from New Jersey.

“I remember getting our asses handed to us,” defensive back and punt returner Paul “Fitz” Fitzpatrick says.

"I remember getting our asses handed to us.”

-- Defensive back Paul "Fitz" Fitzpatrick on lopsided loss to Merchant Marine Academy

Fullback Frank Smyth suffered a season-ending compound fracture of the leg against the Merchant Marines. Offensive tackle Pat “Whale” Boyle said Smyth told him later that in the ambulance en route to the hospital, he heard a cannon blast after each Kings Point touchdown.

“I never thought they’d run out of gunpowder,” Fitzpatrick says.

"I never thought they'd run out of gunpowder."

-- Fitzpatrick describing the cannon blast after every Merchant Marine Academy touchdown

Defensive end John Danaher knew the Merchant Marines would be a force because they had scrimmaged Division I West Point.

“They were physically superior to us,” says Danaher, whose father, also named John, played football at Manhattan in 1938 and ‘39. “That night, I hurt all over.”

Manhattan was no match for a varsity team with excellent facilities — courtesy of the U.S. government — and 10 coaches, including head coach George Paterno, Joe Paterno’s younger brother, on the sidelines.

In comparison, Manhattan had only three coaches. First-year assistant coach Bob Baker had arrived only a week before the start of the season after New York Maritime College, where he was head coach, dropped its club program.

"You again."

-- Manhattan assistant coach Bob Baker upon recognizing defensive tackle Tony Mosca

On his first day of practice, Baker, who had played and then been an assistant coach at Iona, recognized defensive tackle Tony Mosca, a transfer from Iona.

“You again,” he said to Mosca.

Is this any way to run a football program?

The Manhattan program operated as no frills.

The unstriped practice field with far more dirt than grass was adjacent to the old gymnasium and tennis courts on the 22-acre campus. Dan Kelleher, a freshman defensive back, fell on a shard of glass in practice that season and sliced open his forearm.

Players walked from the practice field to the locker room located in the dilapidated recreation hall in West Hill. It couldn’t accommodate everyone on the team. The few available lockers were shared. Most players hung their clothing on a hook on the wall or dropped them on the floor.

The team had no trainer. John Bruckner, the team captain and two-way starter at center and middle linebacker, and other physical education majors taped players’ ankles.

During two-a-days practices before the season, we were only allowed after practice to drink a mysterious concoction labeled “Jasper juice” with a ladle from a metal bucket. Everyone survived.

We purchased our own cleats and home and away jerseys and washed them ourselves. I remember carrying my shoulder pads from class to class.

The football program boasted no weight room. This was the era before steroids. No one on the team weighed more than 225 pounds. Strength training consisted of 12-ounce curls of draft beer at the Pinewood, Greenleaf, and Terminal student-frequented bars on Broadway near the 242nd Street subway entrance.

Our motto: We are spartan.

Disappearing behind the goal post

On the roster, I was listed at 160 pounds but actually weighed a burly 145 on a 5-11 frame. Kevin Glennon, a defensive end, said to me as I stood bare chested in the locker room, “You’re the skinniest person I’ve ever seen in my life.” I didn’t argue with him. If I turned sideways, I became invisible behind the goalpost. My name for four years at Manhattan was “J.K.,” the initials for James Kevin. A more accurate name would have been “Stick.”

Some players were tagged with unusual nicknames. Chuck “Animal” Weth, a small 5-9, 175-pound offensive guard, was a mild-mannered civil engineering major off the field but a raving lunatic on it.

How to remain afloat with no finances

The program was forever one misstep from financial calamity. Kevin Kearney, the student president of the program and my roommate for two years, said to me after the fact that he had received an invoice from a supplier for several thousands of dollars during the season. He met with then-athletic director Ken Norton, who was dumbfounded.

“I think you should pay it,” Kearney said with boldness beyond his years.

Norton paid it.

"I think you should pay it."

-- Club president Kevin Kearney speaking to athletic director Ken Norton about a bill in 1973

From the outset, the club football program had no budget, no decent facilities, no support from the administration, and as comedian Rodney Dangerfield often proclaimed, “no respect.”

Playing for the thrill of battle

But none of the hardships mattered. The athletes practiced and played year after year for the thrill of battle. We strapped on our shoulder pads and helmets and banged bodies on Saturday afternoons with little fanfare or recognition. Make no mistake, we left it all on the field.

Manhattan played only two home games in 1973 because opponents refused to enter decaying Gaelic Park. Georgetown, which gave the thumbs down to a game at Gaelic Park, whipped us 42-14 at Mount St. Michael’s Academy in the Bronx for our fourth consecutive loss.

Enter the ‘concentration camp’ at your own risk

First owned by the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1926, the park catered to Irish immigrants. Hurling, which resembles field hockey, and Gaelic football, which is a cousin to rugby, were the primary attractions.

Manhattan quarterback Brian "Smitty" Smith (left) releases a pass against the backdrop of graffiti-sprayed subway cars at Gaelic Park, which boasted little grass

The view from Gaelic Park was a dichotomy between beauty and beast. Directly across from the home side of Gaelic Park was the parking station for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) graffiti-sprayed subway cars. Looking up from the same vantage point was Manhattan’s white spire of the Chapel of De La Salle high on a hill.

In 1941, Gaelic Park tottered near bankruptcy. O’Donnell, himself an Irish immigrant, leased it from the city, preventing the purchase by developers. With supporters and detractors, he managed it as his personal fiefdom for the next 50 years. Later, O’Donnell recognized the demand for outdoor rock concerts and signed popular bands, including the Grateful Dead, which performed before a record crowd of 15,000 Deadheads at Gaelic Park on Aug. 26, 1971.

"... A concentration camp with corrugated metal walls topped with barbed wire.'

-- New York Post sports writer Dick Klayman describing Gaelic Park in 1973

The problem was Gaelic Park never underwent renovation under O’Donnell’s management. In an article in the New York Post on Oct. 25, 1973 — two days before our clash with Fordham in the Battle of the Bronx — sportswriter Dick Klayman described the park as a “concentration camp with corrugated metal walls topped with barbed wire.”

Take no prisoners in the Battle of the Bronx

After Manhattan’s 14-6 loss to Fordham in 1970 at Gaelic Park, bottles were allegedly hurled at Fordham players, and windows were shattered on the Rams’ bus. After that brawl the games were shifted before more civilized crowds at Fordham’s Jack Coffey Field.

The Battle of the Bronx always attracted a vocal, sizable crowd. There was never any love in the air, only brutality and all out war on the field. Manhattan’s last victory over Fordham 21-14 had been in 1969. The 1971 version — a 28-7 Fordham victory — attracted 10,437 spectators. The following year, 8,322 spectators witnessed another Fordham victory 34-18.

By 1973, Manhattan was weary of three consecutive losses to Fordham, which had transitioned to varsity status in 1970. As a Division III program, Fordham offered scholarships to five football athletes each year. As a club program, Manhattan offered nothing.

No attendance record exists for the Fordham game on Oct. 27, 1973, but it approached the 8,000 of the previous year.

Manhattan players anticipated the clash with relish. Bruckner, a four-year starter and a solid 5-11, 195 pounds, had injured his shoulder against St. John’s but was determined to play. Unable to lift his arms over his head, he played only at middle linebacker the remainder of the season.

“I didn’t go for X-rays ‘cause I knew my season would be over,” says Bruckner, the only married player on the team. “I remember playing Georgetown and Fordham in unbelievable pain. Reaching over my head was torture. (But) I wanted to beat Fordham and Georgetown.”

Two years ago, Bruckner received treatment for a broken collarbone. The X-ray clearly showed that he had played the final five games of the 1973 season with another broken collarbone.

Film of Battle of the Bronx preserved for posterity

A team member “borrowed” from the football office the 16 mm film of the Fordham game, which was later transferred to CD. Viewers are transported back 50 years ago. The 34-minute black-and-white film was stopped and restarted after each play to save on the cost. The grainy film occasionally skips. Nevertheless, it presents an accurate visual but no audio record of that long ago titanic battle.

On that mild fall Saturday afternoon at Jack Coffey Field, Fordham’s run-oriented offense grabbed control from the outset. Quarterback Brian Murray called his number on touchdown runs of 4 and 1 yard in the first quarter for a 14-0 Fordham lead.

If the Rams thought it was the start of a rout, they had miscalculated. Manhattan owned the second quarter. The Jaspers’ ferocious tackling on defense caused three Fordham fumbles.

The first fumble deep in Fordham territory resulted in a 1-yard diving plunge by Holmes for a touchdown to slice the lead to 14-6.

On our next drive, I contributed a 9-yard reception on a slant over the middle in which I leapt, was hit in the solar plexus, and had the air knocked out of me. The Fordham tackler removed his helmet and gloated over me.

Two plays later, with no defenders near him, Holmes caught an arced Smith pass coming out of the backfield for a 27-yard touchdown. Slotback Greg Davis snagged the pass for a two-point conversion. Just like that, the score was tied at 14. At that moment, Fordham realized their opponents were the real deal.

But Manhattan wasn’t finished. After the third Fordham fumble, Manhattan capitalized on a 7-yard burst for a score by freshman Mike Conway, Smyth’s replacement at fullback. Lowly Manhattan led 20-14.

Dowd takes on the Fordham secondary

Earlier in the second quarter, tight end Doug Dowd, a 6-4, 225-pound junior, slipped behind the Fordham secondary and hauled in Smith’s short pass over the middle. For a big guy, Dowd motored quickly with four defenders in pursuit and reached Fordham’s 4-yard line for a 66-yard gain. But we failed to punch it into the end zone.

Manhattan tight end Doug Dowd (88) wreaked havoc on the Fordham defensive backfield with five catches

At some point, Dowd recalls catching a pass and a Fordham player hammering his left wrist with his helmet. Dowd came out for a few plays because of pain but returned. Two years later, he learned that he had broken his wrist on the play. At age 50, he was unable to brush his teeth with his left hand. A competent surgeon on Long Island repaired it, and Dowd has been pain free since.

Dowd broke a 41-yard gainer after a

reception in the fourth quarter. My most vivid memory of the game was Dowd rumbling downfield with three tacklers clawing at him.

Dowd bedeviled Fordham defenders, catching five passes for 154 yards, but he says a dropped two-point conversion after a touchdown “still haunts me.”

A transfer from Villanova where he had played rugby, Dowd along with Holmes were, by far, the best athletes on the team. Holmes, 6-3, 200-pound chiseled athlete, had run the quarter mile on the Manhattan track team in his freshman year. Cliff Bruce, a Manhattan All-American in the middle distances, says Holmes could have been a track All-American if he had worked at it.

Talented Holmes says adios to practice

Holmes departed track and landed on the football team. Dowd practiced; Holmes did not, at least not his senior year.

“That annoyed me,” Bruckner says about Holmes’ unwillingness to practice. “He didn’t have the greatest attitude.”

As the head coach, Kelly was responsible for establishing the ground rules. He thought Holmes was too valuable to require him to practice. It was a character flaw on Kelly’s part.

Tailback Steve Holmes (32) had unlimited ability but saw no point in practicing

Smith and I agreed to step into the breach where Kelly had abdicated. Returning to the locker room after a practice during the course of the losing skid, Smith and I approached Holmes and asked him if he would practice in the spirit of unity.

“Xz#^!*%,” Holmes shouted at us.

The team was secondary for Holmes.

Against Fordham, Holmes scored two touchdowns, but he ran outside the tackles to avoid the brutal tackling inside. As a result, Manhattan managed only 37 total yards rushing.

Enjoy the lead while it lasts

The Manhattan defense dominated in the second quarter. The Fordham offense looked dazed and confused. Glennon’s quarterback sack of Murray was an exclamation point.

Manhattan, a poverty-stricken club football team, held a 20-14 halftime advantage over Fordham’s varsity, whose history dated to Vince Lombardi and the famed Seven Blocks of Granite in the 1930s. The Rams realized they weren’t lining up against the Sisters of Charity.

"There was so much energy and excitement at the possibility of upsetting Fordham.”

— Boyle recalls the rush of adrenalin at halftime

“We were decided underdogs,” Boyle says. “There was so much energy and excitement at the possibility of upsetting Fordham.”

Manhattan unable to corral Fordham tailback DeMeo

Fordham inserted some adjustments at halftime, and, because of the turnovers, coaches replaced Murray with Donald Hammel at quarterback. After intercepting a Smith pass early in the third quarter, the Rams turned to hard-nosed freshman tailback Dennis DeMeo, a 5-11, 190-pound runner who glided through the open holes for big yardage. His 18-yard scamper for a touchdown and extra-point kick put Fordham up 21-20.

DeMeo would prove our undoing, eluding our grasp for 189 yards on 38 carries and being selected the game’s MVP.

Bruckner plays with abandon

Stacking eight defenders close to or on the line of scrimmage, Manhattan continued to pound Fordham runners, who coughed up two more fumbles in the second half. Bruckner added an interception early in the third quarter. Despite a broken collarbone, Bruckner, ever the warrior, would finish with 13 tackles.

“I was fired up,” Bruckner says. “They kept running those draw plays. I made a lot of tackles.”

Our downfall was not capitalizing on more of the six turnovers.

Game turns on blocked punt for touchdown

The outcome of the slugfest was decided on one play early in the fourth quarter. Deep in our zone, John Thomas’ punt was blocked by Fordham linebacker Tom Phelps and scooped up at the five-yard line by defensive end Mike Ajello who ran it into the end zone. It was Thomas’ only blocked punt of the season.

A potential victory over our arch rivals slipped through our fingers like motor oil. It had gone down as a clean, hard-hitting contest. Nevertheless, it was a depressing loss, the fifth consecutive. We were unaware at that moment that it was history’s final version of the Battle of the Bronx.

Kelly disillusioned after five consecutive losses

The losses took a toll on Kelly, who lived in a bungalow by himself in West Hill. He spent more time in the bars.

Larry Kelly directed the program for nine seasons but never coached again after departing in 1973

“He became disillusioned,” says Dowd about Kelly. “He checked out at the end of the season. He became despondent.”

Most of the Manhattan players knew that Kelly frequented the bars when he wasn’t coaching.

“I always wondered if (Kelly) was drinking or not,” Danaher says. “I’m a 21-year-old kid, and I’m worried about (him) drinking.”

Two games remained. The next week, we ended the five-game skid, beating Brooklyn College 20-0 at Boys High in a tough area of Bedford Stuyvesant on a Friday night under portable lights.

I injured my hip tackling a Brooklyn player after an interception against Smith and was unable to run the next week in the final game at Iona.

Season concludes on a sour note

I stood on the sideline in a daze and watched Iona manhandle us 34-0.

Baker, the former Iona player and coach, remembers “how disappointed I was to lose that game to many of the people I played and coached with on that staff.”

He was upset after Boyle intercepted a pass on a two-point conversion attempt by Iona at the goal line and then pranced.

“I berated him for celebrating his play while we were losing so badly,” Baker says. “He reminds me (to this day) how mad I got at his stupid dance.”

A relic from the battles of 1973

One of the few highlights of that Iona game was Fitzpatrick’s three interceptions. In his final two games, he had five picks.

Manhattan ended the season with a disappointing 2-6 record. We achieved little on the field. A victory against Fordham would have salvaged the season and given us a measure of satisfaction. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

There was, however, success off the field. Thirty-seven of the forty-three athletes on the roster that season completed their degrees for a graduation rate of 86 percent. We were students first, athletes second.

In 1973, we played three varsity programs — Merchant Marine Academy, Georgetown, and Fordham. Four other opponents — Marist, St. John’s, Brooklyn College, and Iona — later transitioned to varsity programs. For nebulous reasons, none legitimate, Manhattan refused to embark on the journey to varsity status.

Kelly era ends

In the spring following the 1973 season, Kelly resigned. Baker succeeded him.

In nine seasons, Kelly compiled a decent 34-31-1 record. He never coached again. Without a college degree, he was not eligible to coach at a college varsity program. He could have earned a degree during his tenure at Manhattan. But for whatever reason, he chose to not pursue that path.

After Manhattan, he relied on charity, living with his former sandlot players and family, according to “State of Grace,” a coming-of-age memoir by Robert Timberg, who played on a Queens sandlot team under Kelly.

Kelly struggled to remain employed. He finally moved to Albuquerque, N.M., living near his sister. He contracted throat cancer and died in 1995 at age 61.

Dowd comes to the rescue of 1974 season

In the spring of 1974, Dowd accepted the “privilege” of becoming the student president of the football program. To his dismay, he learned immediately that the program was $10,000 in debt.

"Give us one more chance. We'll raise the money."

-- Tight end Doug Dowd pleading with Brother Francis Bowers in 1974

Brother Francis Bowers, the faculty advisor to the program, told Dowd, “You’re not that good, and we really can’t afford it.”

Dowd pleaded with Bowers, “Give us one more chance. We’ll raise the money.”

Under Dowd's impetus, the football team held three mixers at Thomas Hall, charging an entrance fee of $5 and offering unlimited free beer and live music. They were a smashing success.

“We dug out of that hole,” Dowd says.

Fordham’s Carlesimo curtails Battle of the Bronx

But another obstacle appeared. Then-Fordham athletic director Pete Carlesimo, Lombardi’s teammate, wanted a meeting with the Manhattan football club president. Dowd met with an arrogant Carlesimo at Fordham.

“You guys are going to get destroyed,” Carlesimo admonished Dowd. “Why do you want to play us?”

"You guys are going to get destroyed. Why do you want to play us?"

-- Fordham athletic director Pete Carlesimo to Dowd

Carlesimo had forgotten that Fordham escaped with a narrrow 28-20 victory the previous season.

“We’ve got a new coach, and we’re ready to roll,” Dowd replied. “Treat us like a warmup for the season. Give us a shot.”

Dowd’s plea failed to impress Carlesimo. With nothing to gain by playing a club program, the Rams permanently dropped Manhattan from their schedule.

With Dowd shifting to quarterback, the Jaspers stumbled through an 0-9 season in 1974. In fact, Manhattan went four seasons under Baker before it had a winning record, 4-3-1 in 1978. Baker’s commitment and enthusiasm, however, gradually produced results.

There were also moments of comic relief. As head coach, Baker once transported an injured athlete to the hospital after a game. It was discovered there that the player was not covered under the college’s insurance plan because he wasn’t enrolled as a student.

After completion of Draddy Gymnasium in 1977, the football team was forced to practice on the flats in Van Cortlandt Park. The blocking sled was chained to a gas station on Broadway at night to prevent theft and then dragged between traffic across the street to the park for each practice. It was one of the better perks of the program.

Baker exits on a high note

In 1982, Manhattan finished with an 8-2 record but lost to Bentley in the national club football championship game.

Bob Baker led Manhattan's program until he realized that club football was drawing near its demise

Baker resigned after that season with a nine-year record of 30-42-5 because few club teams remained in the Metropolitan New York area.

"It wasn't going to last much longer."

-- Manhattan football coach Bob Baker about the demise of club football

“It wasn’t going to last much longer,” Baker says about the demise of club football.

Rob Annunziata, a four-year starting quarterback under Baker, was named head coach after Baker’s departure. Annunziata says he was equal parts coach and fundraiser to keep the program afloat.

The end of the winding road for Manhattan football

By the fifth season under Annunziata, he says the athletes’ interest had waned. But forty-two were listed on the 1987 roster. Annunziata resigned after the 1987 season with an 18-23 overall record. He recently retired at Horace Mann School after 35 years as the athletic director.

The Manhattan administration never honestly examined the feasibility of a transition to varsity status. On a respirator for years, the program’s plug was pulled by the administration sometime after the 1987 season.

In 1991, Manhattan leased the Gaelic Park stadium from the MTA. The college spent $3 million in 2007 on synthetic turf and refurbished the stadium, eliminating the concentration camp image. Manhattan softball, soccer, and lacrosse teams now call it home.

A rebirth of football? You can’t be serious.


After Manhattan, Bob Baker spent 10 years at Pace University, the final three as head football coach. He then was an assistant coach at Fordham for one season, followed by 15 years as a high school coach. He retired after 35 years as a teacher-trainer in the South Bronx and lives in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. He was inducted into the Manhattan Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

Paul Fitzpatrick was hired by Macy’s shortly after graduation and worked 35 years before retiring as an executive vice president. He lives in Burlingame, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco, and enjoys pickup basketball.

As a CPA, John Danaher was the CFO of law firm Wilke, Farr, and Gallagher in New York City for 19 years before retiring. He lives in Wilton, Conn., where he gardens, volunteers, and travels.

John Bruckner retired from the New York Fire Department as a battalion chief after 25 years. For the past 20 years, he has been a peer counselor to fire departments across the country. After not wearing an oxygen mask fighting fires in the South Bronx for years, he contracted asthma and reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS). He spends summers in Middleton, N.Y. and winters in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in 2020.

Pat Boyle was sent by the Manhattan College placement office to an interview with New York Life Insurance Company after graduation. He retired from the company as executive vice president after 34 years. He served on the board of trustees at Manhattan from 2004-‘23. He resides in Spring Lake, N.J. and plays golf.

Doug Dowd, who deserved a tryout in the NFL, worked in commercial real estate development for many years. He is retired in Columbia, S.C. Among his hobbies is attending political rallies.

Frank Smyth, who seemed to wear a permanent grin on his face, was named a co-captain of the 1974 team and played injury free. He had a long career as a specialist trader on the New York Stock Exchange. He picked up running and completed the New York and Boston marathons multiple times but died suddenly of cardiac arrest at 60 in 2014.

Jim Irish, class of ‘74, has worked in print journalism for more than four decades. He is a freelance writer near Austin, Texas

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