Friday, November 24, 2017

Tales from the College Football Orphanage

IT WAS A LITTLE NOTICE about a team whose problem was they attracted little notice. It stung all the same.

College football is like a religion for people in many parts of the United States. From Michigan's Wolverines, to Alabama's Crimson Tide, from the UCLA Bruins to the Georgia Bulldogs. There are Huskies and Cougars, Wildcats and Nittany Lions, Badgers, Golden Gophers, Tigers, Bears, Blue Hens, Volunteers and Cavaliers. Each has their revenant retinue of students, alumni and boosters.

I'm not one of them. Despite attending two Division I-AA schools, I'm among that sad set of graduates who've been disenfranchised.

I am a college football orphan.

Twenty years ago this week, Boston University pulled the plug on its 91-year-old football program after finshing its Atlantic 10 season with a 1-10 record. The end was reported in a New York Times news brief not much bigger than an obituary which, in a sense, it was. The paper said there were tears for the Terriers, shed by players, not fans.

Though I'd been out of college for a decade, I'd actually seen them just two months earlier when they played Hofstra University's Flying Dutchmen on Long Island. B.U. touted the game as an alumni event. Having gone to both schools, attendance seemed compulsory. I took my dad. We honored my undergrad and graduate institutions by switching sides at halftime.

The Dutchmen defeated the Terriers, 24-14. I don't recall the game being that close. Like getting together with an old friend, the reunion was somewhat bittersweet and I'd no idea it would be the last time I'd see them alive.

To be sure, it's not like Boston U. football had been much of a calling card for the school (unlike Boston College, which is not in Boston). B.U.'s golden era overlapped my time there when the Terriers were Yankee Conference co-champions three years running and, in the second year, actually advanced to the I-AA quarterfinals before being vanquished by Furman University's Paladins.

The Flying Dutchmen host the Terriers
Starring for the Terriers then: wide receiver Bill Brooks, who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and enjoyed a 11-year National Football League career during which he also played for the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins.

Earlier stars had included Miami Dolphins' quarterback-receiver-special teamer Jim "Crash" Jensen and Harry Agganis -- the Golden Greek -- who starred for B.U. in football and briefly for baseball's Boston Red Sox before dying at 26 from a pulmonary embolism.

Boston University just wasn't "a football school" and so 1997's season was its last. Hofstra, however, had other plans. The two programs seemed headed in opposite directions.

H.U. hired ex-New York Jets defensive coordinator Joe Gardi as head coach, expanded their stadium and started producing National Football League-caliber players: Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet who became a bona fide NFL star, then Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston. On the 1997 squad, future San Francisco 49ers defensive back Lance Schulters. Still to come, Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon.

The Flying Dutchmen, soon renamed the Pride, made the I-AA playoffs in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001, that last appearance coming as co-champion of B.U.'s old Atlantic 10 conference.

In the end, that brief glimmer of bigger time football promise wasn't enough to inspire the dedication needed to keep Hofstra's program afloat. In 2009, a dozen years after the Terriers left the NCAA gridiron, the former Flying Dutchmen too sailed into oblivion.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

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