Danowski was known for being an all-American halfback on the 1933 team that featured the proto-"Seven Blocks of Granite" line that would become legendary, and the following year was famously photographed putting on sneakers at halftime of the championship game versus the Chicago Bears. Played on a sheet of ice at the old Polo Grounds, the story goes after going into halftime with a 10-3 deficit, the Giants changed to sneakers which gave them the extra traction to come from behind to win the game 30-13.
The article then mentions: “He always said the sneakers were a good story,” [his son] said, “but the real story was that the Bears were arrogant and went for a first down in their own territory and the Giants stopped them.”
The story is a good one - and, oddly, has some parallels to Fordham's improvement of the program this offseason. One part of the improvements - offering athletic scholarships - is a "good story", but the real, more important, part of the story is about something else. (more)
Last year, Fordham announced that they were breaking with the six other teams in the Patriot League in that they would start offering athletic-based aid in football, starting with the class of 2014.
Reaction from that bit of news varied wildly: some thought it was the first step in putting Fordham athletics back where it belonged (in FBS football, mind you), some lamented that it was "too little, too late" to save their athletics program (that had fallen so far from the Danowski days), and others thought it was exactly the wrong thing to do: dropping athletics to D-III, to save money, made more sense.
My reaction was that it was a decision with "plenty of fudge room" for both Fordham and the Patriot League, while also intimating that Fordham's first scholarship class would be one that is looked at very, very closely. The Rams will need a great incoming class, too, with a slew of high-profile players to replace and none bigger than QB John Skelton, who this April started to "make the big jump" to compete for the NFL Cardinals' backup QB position.
Fast forward to February, and Fordham announces their incoming class. Did the Rams, who lost nine starters and nineteen seniors, get the dream haul that many proponents of football scholarships may have hoped?
The haul was different in one significant way: of the fourteen members that were announced as part of the Rams' incoming class, three of them were transfer students. Two of them, RB Carlton Koonce and WR Nick Talbert, are speedsters who transferred from Hofstra, the FCS school who had just pulled the plug on their program, and another was QB Blake Wayne who came from Diablo Valley Community College out of California. As students from two-year or disbanded programs, they were able to transfer immediately and play in the spring sessions for Fordham.
Looking at the list of the incoming freshmen, the only thing that seemed extraordinary was the fact that it looked relatively... ordinary. Aside from freshman OL Kai Brusch, who came from Germany via Salisbury Prep in Connecticut, the athletes on the list seemed like they were largely the same types of kids that would come to a Patriot League school anyway, scholarships or no.
So the "good story" of how football scholarships would give Fordham an immediate edge may be just that, a good story. But it's the "real story" - just bubbling below that headline of football scholarships - that may go a lot further towards making Fordham an athletic powerhouse in football and elsewhere.
The big news this offseason, as it often is with Fordham, didn't come from football but from men's basketball. There is a Hofstra connection, though: Pride head coach Tom Pecora was hired away by the Rams after their dismal season. The opportunity to lure Pecora away from Long Island came after Fordham's Board of Trustees agreed to pour more money into the basketball program.
The move to shore up Fordham's Atlantic 10 basketball program to allow them to better compete against schools like Temple, Dayton and Xavier in hoops may not seem to affect their standing in Patriot League football. But spending money is a funny thing, when you spend money to improve one aspect of the athletic program, it seems like all programs are affected.
Whether coincidence or not, Fordham shortly thereafter may have announced the "real story" in regards to improving their program:
Construction of the football team’s new locker room, slated to open for the 2010 season, began on April 5. The locker room will be located in the basement of the Rose Hill Gym .Rose Hill Gym, a historic but old (and sweaty) facility, still houses the football team but the Rams had to share their space with other teams, something they won't need to do anymore. With the demolition of the old pool (and some wealthy donors), Fordham was able to create a state-of-the-art locker room in the midst of their gym, across the way from Coffey Field.
The new space will feature a number of amenities, including over 90 lockers, a number of wide-screen televisions and a theater-type viewing area where the team can study film. The locker room will have approximately 4,800 square feet of space, which is over four times as large as the current football locker room.
“The new locker room is a tremendous addition to our program,” Head Coach Tom Masella. said. “It’s important for our players and everyone here to be able to identify themselves with having an excellent locker room facility of their own. Having our own locker room year-round for the first time will help our competitiveness extensively.”
It should be a good recruiting tool for Fordham, too, especially if you take a peek at some of the artists' renditions of the new facility. It's a facility that should make other members of the Patriot League - with the possible exception of "that school in Easton" - drool. And their new addition also has opened up new sponsorship opportunities: folks can sponsor a locker as well to benefit Fordham Athletics.
While it's impossible to say that the athletic donations and new locker room were a direct result, certainly the announcements of resuming football scholarships and the announcement of a bigger financial commitment to the basketball program couldn't have hurt.
That could be the "real story" about Fordham Athletics' winning in the near future.
The spring season for Fordham featured something new as well: a position by position breakdown of position battles for the 2010 season. Like many other Patriot League schools, the Rams are seeing a battle at QB: aside from Wayne from California, junior QB Criag Papy and sophomore QB Ryan Higgins seems to be in the mix for the starting position as well as two other players from the junior varsity last year. Wayne appears to be an interesting X-factor, bringing speed and mobility to the position like a Steve McNair-type player, while Papy is more of a dropback passer and Higgins is more of a "tweener".
What isn't in doubt is the receiving corps, headlined by 5th year senior WR Jason Caldwell and junior TE Stephen Skelton, brother of John. Four of the starting five receivers from last year return, as is senior RB Xavier Martin and junior RB Quasand Lewis. The trio Koonce, Martin and Lewis in the backfield look like an interesting group of players to watch.
On defense, junior DE Anthony Lubischer makes the transition from linebacker to defensive end, while senior LB Nick Mageria returns in the middle for the Rams as well. In the defensive backfield, senior CB Isa Abdul El-Quddus remains a lockdown corner for Fordham.
Even the coverage of the spring game, where the offense beat the defense 78-72, seemed extra upbeat.
"This was one of the best spring practices we've had since I've been here" said Martin after the game. "Everyone seems to be clicking, both the offense and the defense. I was lucky that the coaches put me in the right spots today to come up with some big plays and lead the offense."Like it or not, there's genuine excitement about Fordham's athletics. Whether it comes from the new basketball coach, the new lockers, or the deep pockets of alumni it's impossible to be sure. But it will be sure to help their chances at making the FCS playoffs in 2010 and beyond.