Not much is known about the early years of football at St. Thomas College (now the University of Scranton). Athletics at St. Thomas College had an early and precarious beginning. The first recorded football game was on November 24, 1892 (Thanksgiving Day), when St. Thomas College defeated Carbondale High School. In 1893, the College’s Dramatic Society held a fundraiser, with the proceeds from a performance of "Nevada, or The Lost Mine" going towards the College library and football uniforms. There appears to have been a couple games played in 1893, but there was no regular schedule.
In 1897, the Scranton Tribune reported that the College football team was reorganizing and predicted that it would be "one of the strongest teams in the city." The team’s manager was Frank Lally from Taylor.
The first full football schedule occurred in 1898, when the "Tommies" went 8 and 1 and shut out all of their opponents after losing the first game of the year 6-5 to Keystone Academy. The 1898 season also featured a 0-0 tie with Villanova on Thanksgiving Day. The 1899 season apparently featured a 12-6 victory over Fordham on Thanksgiving. Apparently, there was no football played in 1901.
Information about the football team during the first decade of the 20th century is difficult to obtain. Some information can be gleaned from the Scranton Times, but sports reporting was sporadic, so it is difficult to know whether one has located every notice concerning the football team or whether every game was covered. In fact, sometimes a newspaper covered a game that wasn't played. The October 7, 1902 Scranton Times reported that one of the Scranton morning papers stated that the St. Thomas football team had lost to Bloomsburg 58-0. The Times stated that no game had taken place: "There is but one St. Thomas college team in this city, and members of that team were at their studies at the college yesterday, and were not out of town."
According to available information, gleaned from Scranton newspapers, the team played at least three games in 1902 under Coach Gilbert. The team lost to Keystone Academy but defeated Old Forge and Tunkhannock. A junior athletic club football team fielded a squad in 1903 playing teams under 14 years of age. There is a record of two more games in 1904.
W. J. Fitzgerald, class of 1903, reminisced in 1931 about the early days of St. Thomas College team, which ran a "flying wedge" offense. The offense featured a center and quarterback in the middle of the field, with the other players lined up further away and behind the line on both sides of the center. The other players would then run toward the center, and as they reached the scrimmage line, the center would snap the ball to the quarterback. The wedge, with running momentum, would plow into the defense. Defenses eventually learned to counteract this attack by cutting the oncoming offense players off below the knee.
A 1935 alumni reunion featured some stories about the Tommies' first football game. Unfortunately the players could not remember the name of the opponent, and the year is not given in the article about the reunion. The reminiscing players (Hugh Ruddy, Charles Webber, Jim Cooney, Joe Weir, and Richard Miller) related that the Tommies were being so badly beaten at halftime that there was no more room on the score sheet for figures. Richard Beamish, former secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, volunteered to coach the team during the second half. Under his coaching the team was not scored upon. The game was called on account of darkness before the Tomcats could mount a comeback. They did, however, defeat the same opponent a few weeks later. Unfortunately there is such scanty information about these early years that it may prove impossible to pinpoint either the year or the game.
In 1908 the Tommies went undefeated and unscored upon. Only one game was played in 1909 before the College suspended the sport, apparently due to concern over injuries. In 1910 the College removed the ban on playing football, revising some rules to reduce the likelihood of injury. The 1910 season featured an October 29 contest with Lackawanna Business College, during which the St. Thomas team walked off the field because of a disputed call by a referee. The game was rescheduled, and St. Thomas defeated Lackawanna Business College 5-0. After the 1911 season, football was dropped again.
Football was officially reinstated in 1916, but too late to form a team for the 1916 season. The Aquinas tersely noted in its October issue, "On account of school opening so late, (October 9), it has been decided to abandon starting football this season." In late October, however, a game was played between the junior and sophomore classes, resulting in a 18-0 victory for the sophomores. The Athletic Board also arranged a Thanksgiving Day game with Technical High School. More than 3,000 people watched a muddy 6-6 tie game at Athletic Park. On Dec. 9, 300 fans sat in the cold rain to see St. Thomas lose to Central High School 6-0. And so ended the season. But football had been reestablished and would remain a varsity sport through 1960.
The 1917 St. Thomas football season was quite successful. St. Thomas was undefeated enduring only a 3-3 tie with Union High School of Endicott, NY. With the exception of a field-goal and a safety, St. Thomas was not scored upon by the assortment of high school and pickup teams the college contended with during its six game schedule.
St. Thomas would continue playing similar schedules into the mid 1920s. Since there were no other neighboring two-year colleges, the team continued to play high schools, normal schools, and business colleges. The team was coached by Bill Moore, who was "physical director" of the Catholic Club. Moore apparently coached the Tommies without remuneration. Even with good game attendance, football was not bringing in enough money in Scranton.
During the mid 1920s there were a couple significant changes in athletics at St. Thomas College. First, the College had been accredited as a four-year, degree-granting college. Secondly, in 1926, Scranton native and University of Pittsburgh graduate Jack Harding became football and basketball coach. Hiring Harding was a major move for the College, if only because the school would have to pay him. Harding, who had only graduated in 1926, had been offered assistant coaching positions at larger schools and even had the opportunity to pursue a baseball career.
During the next decade Harding, reportedly a student of University of Pittsburgh head coach Pop Warner but certainly a student of a Warner disciple, raised the level of athletics at the College. No longer would the football team contend against high schools and 2-year colleges; St. Thomas would compete against other small four-year colleges.
Harding was not instantly successful in revamping the St. Thomas football squad, however. The team had started by winning its first four games, tying its next game, then losing its next four. In 1927, an extended editorial in The Aquinas criticized the College and the student body for not supporting the team properly. Apparently, most of the teams St. Thomas was playing, and specifically those it was losing to, had training quarters dedicated to the football team. According to the editorial, St. Thomas players suffered from not spending enough time together, not eating together, and not bunking together. According to a survey conducted by the editorial's author, many of the players lived outside of Scranton, some commuting more than 20 miles to school. All this commuting took a toll on the team's stamina, which showed during the second half of the season. Coach Harding echoed this desire for a training camp during the annual awards banquet in April 1928.
The 1928 season opened at Camp Coffee, the new football training camp, at Lake Lodore near Carbondale. The team lost its first two games, including a narrow loss in its September 29 opener to powerhouse Temple. The team won its third game but followed this with three consecutive scoreless ties and ended the season with three victories for a 4-2-3 record.
In 1929, St. Thomas scheduled a nine game season featuring all strong teams and eliminating its weaker opponents from previous seasons. The football team paid a price for its boldness by starting the season with three consecutive losses, but the team rebounded with five consecutive victories before losing its final game of the season and ending with a 5-4-0 record.
In a preseason interview, Coach Jack Harding promised to bring "showmanship" to the 1930 Tomcats: "We will concentrate on timing, speed and flash, in fact, the essentials of a musical comedy will be sought here in the St. Thomas camp." Unfortunately, the season started off as a tragic comedy. The Tommies lost the first game to Lafayette 7-0 because of penalties that ended Tommy scoring drives and a penalty that gave Lafayette its scoring opportunity. The team then lost an away game to Temple 28-2, playing under the lights for the first time. This game's showmanship was closer to the Keystone Cops rather than a musical comedy. Temple used a white football which blended in well against their red and white jerseys. In the poor incandescent light, the Tomcats had trouble finding out which Temple player was carrying the ball and wasted much effort tackling the wrong players. The Purple and White rebounded with 20-0 victory over St. Vincent but then lost 14-0 to Bucknell. But the Tommies turned the season around and won their next four games before losing their Thanksgiving Day finale to Canisius 2-0. They finished with a 5-4-0 record.
The 1931 season proved to be quite disappointing, as the team only managed two wins against six losses and one tie. The team suffered quite a few injuries during the season, including the loss of star tackle Cyril Gallagher, who sustained three broken ribs during the St. Bonaventure game. He was elected captain for the '32 season. The season also saw the debut of the St. Thomas College marching band during a pre-Thanksgiving day game parade. Again, the team lost the Thanksgiving Day game to Canisius.
The 1932 season started with two losses, but St. Thomas turned it around and won all but one of the next eight games for a 7-3-0 record. St. Thomas routed the Notre Dame "B" squad 24-6 and also defeated La Salle and the University of Baltimore. But the sweetest victory came on Thanksgiving Day, when St. Thomas defeated Canisius 26-0, snapping a six-year jinx whose bright spot had been a tie in 1927. The students celebrated by parading a Canisius casket through town. The successful season was capped by the selection of tackle Leo “Ram” Ratamess to play in the North-South game under coach Jock Sutherland of Pitt. Ratamess was the first St. Thomas player to be selected for an all-star team.
The 1933 season turned out to be Jack Harding's best as coach. The team had a 7-1 record, losing only to Davis-Elkins in their last game by one point. The team only allowed 21 points in the entire season, and 13 of those points were scored by Davis-Elkins on Thanksgiving Day. Canisius had been dropped from the schedule, and Davis-Elkins took over the Thanksgiving slot. The West Virginia team came into the game undefeated but was out-played by the Tomcats. Nonetheless, the visitors squeaked by with a one point victory.
Harding began the 1934 season stating that he was fielding a tough squad but that he doubted it could match the record of the previous year. The team had lost too many starting players to maintain the same high quality of performance on the field. Harding was right: the team struggled to a 3-4-1 record with a notable 42-0 romp over Brooklyn City College and a 14-0 Thanksgiving Day victory over Davis-Elkins providing the season's only highlights. The most unusual game of the season was a 2-0 loss to North Dakota at home. North Dakota may have been the most distant opponent St. Thomas ever faced.
A .500 season was all the Tomcats could manage in 1935 during an injury plagued season. Another Western opponent appeared; this year the University of San Antonio handed the Tomcats a 7-6 defeat. The Aquinas complained about poor student turnout for home games and encouraged the cheerleaders to come up with some new cheers that might rev up the student body.
The 1936 squad started slowly with a sluggish victory then a scoreless tie and two losses, the last coming to San Antonio. The Aquinas published a somewhat critical editorial on the team's performance in its October 16th issue. The October 23rd Aquinas featured a dogged defense of Coach Harding signed by the football team. This little joust with the school newspaper may have increased the team's determination, because the second half of the season found the team undefeated, suffering only a scoreless tie during the Thanksgiving Day game with La Salle. The Purple and White ended the season with a 5-2-2 record. The November 1st victory against Mount St. Mary's became a newsreel feature. Fox News filmed the game and showed the highlights in Fox theaters around the country. Another first for the school arrived when students were allowed to bring their girlfriends into the student section of the stands for games.
St. Thomas College was stunned in February 1937 when Jack Harding resigned his position to become head coach at Miami University, saying, “This is an opportunity that I can't afford to miss." He had, however, been offered the position before and but turned it down. Instead, the Aquinas speculated that continuing financial problems in the athletic department may have been the cause. Harding completed his tenure at St. Thomas with a football record of 53 victories, 36 defeats, and 8 ties.
Tom Davies became the new head football coach and Robert "Pop" Jones became his assistant, moving up from his position as freshman coach. The groundwork established by Jack Harding in turning St. Thomas into a real college football team was built upon by his successor. Tom Davies was a University of Pittsburgh graduate who came to St. Thomas with 15 years of coaching experience, including nine years as head coach at the University of Rochester.
Davies started the 1937 season by closing training camp to visitors. Although the team included a substantial core of veteran players, Davies was cautious and stated that he only found the team's prospects fair. The season proved that Davies was being overly cautious, as the Tomcats marched to a 6-1-1 record including, finally, a victory over San Antonio. The team suffered one tragedy during the season when team physician and professor of anatomy, Charles Thomson, died from a heart attack shortly after the St. Joseph game in Philadelphia. He had complained of indigestion the night before, but performed his duties during the game, then collapsed outside the players' dressing room after the contest.
A major change occurred for St. Thomas College prior to the start of the 1938 season: the school would now be referred to as the University of Scranton. This had little impact on the football team, which continued using its traditional team names: Tomcats, Tommies, and Purple and White.
Davies had reason for concern at the start of the 1938 season, since twelve seniors had left the team, but the team came roaring out of the gate and defeated St. Francis 32-0. Davies was concerned about the quality of play in the opening victory, however, and warned that the team would have to perform at a higher level to beat perennial nemesis Canisius. The team beat that old rival but lost to St. Bonaventure, another team that often spoiled Tomcat seasons. The Purple and White did turn in a 7-2 season in spite of continuing complaints about the lack of school spirit and poor cheering during games. School spirit did increase during the course of the season; perhaps the students sensed something.
The 1939 team once again suffered from a lack of veterans. Nine starting players had graduated, including the center and both starting guards. Davies provided a typically cautious, if not to say pessimistic, assessment of his team’s prospects: "We hope to win half our games this year, but...I don't know. Our best bet is to build for the future, next year and the year after, and not expect too much from the squad this season." If Davies truly believed this, he was in for the surprise of his career. The Tommies began the season playing a night game, a 33-0 rout of St. Francis, but followed that with a 0-0 tie with Canisius. The team defeated La Salle and then went to New York. The University’s October 14 game against the City College of New York was televised by NBC. According to the Aquinas, this was only the third football game ever televised. Fortunately for the Tommies, although perhaps not so fortunately for most television viewers, the University of Scranton squad overwhelmed CCNY 31-0. The team squeaked by Toledo then roundly defeated Marshall 20-0. Snow, a muddy field, and the stubborn St. Vincent team - who had lost to the Tomcats in each of the past five years - almost derailed the University of Scranton's try for an undefeated season. The Tommies hung on to a 7-7 tie in a game characterized as a punting duel. The Purple and White rounded out the season with a 28-0 rout of St. Bonaventure, an old jinx team, and a 21-20 victory over Niagara. The Tommies had finally completed an undefeated 7-0-2 season, and the student body celebrated by skipping class on the following Monday. Walter Stascavage proved to be the high scorer of the season even though he had missed two games due to injury. He was chosen for the second team of the All-Lithuanian team picked by Tiesa, the newspaper of the Association of Lithuanian Workers, Inc. Carl Tomasello and John Rogalla were signed by the New York Giants.
Although eleven seniors had graduated before the start of the 1940 season, the biggest problem the team would face would be integrating a new head coach into the lineup. Davies had resigned in March with a 20-3-3 record and had been replaced by his assistant Robert "Pop" Jones. Davies’s resignation was somewhat mysterious. He had a tendency of leaving jobs of as soon as he had reached a pinnacle, but he had also apparently made some enemies in Scranton. His resignation letter, however, simply noted that he wanted to pursue business opportunities in Pittsburgh.
The five-week spring 1940 training season was quite busy attempting to fill gaps left by the previous year's graduates. Jones also selected new assistant coaches, including recent graduate Les Dickman as a backfield coach. Finally, the team was planning to play in the new Scranton stadium. The Tomcats started promisingly with a 13-0 victory over Davis-Elkins followed by a 20-19 victory over St. Ansel. Old rival St. Bonaventure beat the Tommies 10-7, but the Purple and White came back the next week to beat Toledo. After that, disaster struck. The Tomcats were routed by Marshall 50-6 in one of the worst defeats they had ever suffered. The team would not win another game that season, losing two and tying two to end the season with a 3-4-2 record. Once again, school spirit was also a problem. An early season pep rally held by the Chamber Of Commerce attracted only five students.
Initially the 1941 team thought that it would take the field having lost seven graduating seniors. But as the war in Europe got hotter and conscription started in the United States, the team lost two players to the National Guard. On top of that, the team also lost a couple of men to injuries before the season started. Nonetheless the team started well, winning its first three games but then the season fell apart as more injuries hurt the squad. The Tommies lost two in a row, beat La Salle, tied Niagara, and lost the final game of the season. They finished with a 4-3-1 record.
After America entered the war many colleges began dropping sports. In 1942, Frank O'Hara stated that "if opponents can be booked there will definitely be a football team." Three teams on the 1942 schedule, La Salle, Niagara and St. Francis, dropped football during the spring of 1942 leaving the University trying to set up games with military camps. Colleges that did not drop sports allowed freshmen to compete on varsity teams in order to make up the manpower shortage. The football team suffered another problem when a flood that swept through the Lackawanna Valley flooded Athletic Park, where the University's football equipment was stored.
In spite of all these problems, the Tommies were optimistic at the beginning of the season. They defeated Canisius in the opener (the first of two victorious meetings with their old rival) but then lost to the Army team of Fort Monmouth. Among their new military opponents, the Purple and White tied the Lakehurst Naval Station and beat Fort Totten 13-6. November 21 brought a 34-7 victory over Marshall in a game played in Huntington, West Virginia. The Aquinas and the Scranton Times describe a 27-0 loss to the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard team on University Day, November 22. Lt. Jack Dempsey, former heavyweight boxing champion and Manhattan Coast Guard director of physical education, had been scheduled to appear at that game to speak at halftime. This expected appearance had taken on the aura of a public celebration with an official welcome planned. Dempsey's failure to show without warning disappointed fans as much as the loss did. According to the Coast Guard, he had been transferred to the West Coast; members of the team said it was a "naval secret." The Tommies won a 34-7 victory over Camp Kilmer on November 28. The tenth game of the season, a victory over Camp Joyce Kilmer on a muddy snow covered field, was an unofficial post-season game to support a war relief fund promoted by the West Side Lions Club of Wilkes-Barre.
In March 1943, football coach Robert "Pop" Jones resigned his position to accept a job on the YMCA recreational staff. He departed with an 11-11-4 record and a reputation for having been a hard driver with a brusque manner. Pete Carlesimo, hired the previous year as assistant coach, now became head coach. Carlesimo was a 1940 graduate of Fordham, where he played guard and served as a replacement for captain Mike Kochel on the "seven blocks of granite." He would become the University's longest serving head coach. In 1943, though, Carlesimo was unable to field a varsity team. The official season was canceled, but the team did play several games on an unofficial schedule. Scranton lost to Wyoming Seminary 7-6, defeated St. John's of Pittston 7-6, beat St. Dominic's 13-0, and lost again to Wyoming Seminary 20-6.
Football returned to the University of Scranton in 1944. Carlesimo fielded a 29 man squad, including Tommy Flanagan, possibly the University's first African-American athlete, who was the star of the season. Carlesimo also introduced the "T" formation to Scranton in the 1944 season, which began with a 6-0 upset victory over Franklin and Marshall. Besides only fielding fewer than 30 players against Franklin Marshall's 55 players, the Scranton team was also one of the few all civilian football squads playing in college football that year. Most teams were a combination of civilians and military inductees. The Tomcats then lost to Villanova 13-7 and to Michigan State 40-12. The team rebounded with a 39-0 trouncing of the Bloomsburg Naval Unit but then lost to the Atlantic City Naval Air Base squad 21-7 and to the Naval Academy Plebes 18-6. Although the Tomcats lost to the Naval Academy, they were the first team to score on the Plebes in Annapolis in five years. Unfortunately, the Tomcats were then trounced by the Sampson Naval Training Unit 39-0. Although the team lost in a landslide, Tom Flanagan provided much of the Tomcats’ offense and prevented the rout from getting any worse by single-handedly preventing three touchdowns. The team finished the season with a 32-6 victory over the Bloomsburg Naval Unit for a 3-5-0 record.
The 1945 season saw the team back up to normal strength, fielding 40 players. Once again the University played a mix of colleges and military service teams, ending the season with a 4-4-1 record. The low point was a 42-0 trouncing by the University of Detroit, but the Tommies did manage to beat the City College of New York 27-0. The team also featured the services of Anthony Capone, who weighed in at 315 pounds and played tackle. Bob Streeter of Bucknell University wrote to the department of athletics at the University of Scranton inquiring about Capone "Am I seeing things, or does your reserve tackle, Capone, actually weigh 315 pounds?...If he actually is that big, would you please send me a collect wire confirming that fact." Team captain Len Modzelesky, left tackle, was named to the Associated Press All Pennsylvania College Eleven.
One major change occurred prior to the 1946 season. Even though the school had been the University of Scranton for almost a decade, the team was still being called the Tomcats as they had been during the days of St. Thomas College. The University held a contest to solicit new names for the team, promising a prize of twenty-five dollars and two season tickets to the winner. Of the approximately 100 submissions, however, none were approved by the administration. Instead, Director of Athletics Rev. John J. Coniff, S.J., announced that the new title would be "THE ROYALS, significant of the Royal Purple of the old college and the present University." Coniff named five runners-up (Royal Purple, Pioneers, Knights, Laurels, and Warriors) and awarded each a five dollar prize.
The newly named Royals struggled in 1946 as they slowly returned to an all-college schedule. The season started on a good note with a 26-6 drubbing of Lock Haven State Teachers College. This however was followed by a 32-13 defeat at the hands of the University of Detroit and a 33-7 defeat to St. Bonaventure. The team rebounded with a rout of Fort Monmouth and a solid defeat of Albright. Unfortunately the Royals lost all but one of the remaining games, a 13-13 tie with Canisius. They ended the season with a 4-5-1 record.As had often been the case, fan turnout and school spirit was low throughout the season. An Aquinas column chastised the student body for its low turnout and condemned fans who spent the game berating coach Carlesimo.
One wonders whether the 1947 schedule, which only featured three home games as opposed to six away games, was a response to the negative fan reaction of the previous year. The Royals lost their first away game convincingly to Dayton University 28-6, but then turned the season around quickly. They routed American International 54-6 and Niagara 39-6 and defeated the next two opponents, Youngstown University at home and Canisius away. The next home game featured a 43-0 rout of Albright. Unfortunately the team had a letdown near the end of the season, losing two of their last three and ending the season 6-3-0.
But school spirit had picked up. The Youngstown victory helped turn the school's Homecoming Celebration into "the greatest display of college spirit ever witnessed at the University of Scranton" (according to the Aquinas), and a large pep rally preceded the Royals’ destruction of Albright. Although the season ended with two losses in their last three games, the Royals had four players nominated for All-American honors on the American Football Coaches Association squad: Frank Messoline, Mike DeNoia, Tony Capone, and Len Modzelesky.
While the 1948 team put in another good 6-3-0 season, the team didn't catch fire until the middle of the season. They only won two of the first five games before finishing 4-0. This season started with a victory over Moravian but that game was followed by a 13-0 defeat at the hands of Boston University and an 18-14 defeat by Muhlenberg. The team rebounded against Lebanon Valley but lost to Canisius before finishing the season with four consecutive wins, including shutouts of St. Vincent's and Albright. Team captain Len Modzelesky was nominated as a first string tackle on Pennsylvania's All-State eleven. Even more impressive, Modzelesky and quarterback Mike DeNoia signed contracts with the San Francisco 49ers.
Spring training season in 1949 offered something new for Royals fans: the team played full-fledged scrimmages against other college opponents. The Royals traveled to Colgate where they played to a 32-32 tie. Syracuse visited Scranton and played a three and a half hour, seven period, scrimmage which resulted in a 24-18 Syracuse victory.
The 1949 season was a so-so affair. The team ended the season with a 5-5-0 record and was outscored by its opponents 211-150. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the season was a 33-13 loss to Fordham, Carlesimo's first game against his alma mater, on homecoming day. The only highlights of the season were convincing victories against Niagara, Lebanon Valley, and perennial punching bag Albright. The team suffered its most lopsided loss in recorded memory a 54-0 defeat at the hands of Dayton. On a brighter note, the school inaugurated a "Dad's Day" game which fortunately turned out to be a 33-6 defeat of Albright. Guard Al Applegate was selected as a number of the Associated Press All-Pennsylvania Second Team. Halfback Tony Orsini and tackle Jim McHale were given honorable mentions. Fullback Pete Mondati was drafted by the Chicago Bears but then traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 1950 season would prove to be much more inspiring than 1949, although Coach Pete Carlesimo initially looked at it as a year full of question marks. The Royals started the season with four convincing victories before bowing to the Quantico Marine squad 41-21. The team rebounded and scored three more victories before losing the Thanksgiving day game to Niagara 12-0. Overall, the Royals outscored their opponents 202-107 in a very successful 7-2-0 season. However, the type of teams that Scranton played had changed. Most opponents were smaller schools now, and the Royals would no longer face traditional rivals like St. Bonaventure, Canisius, Lebanon Valley, Niagara, and Albright on a regular, yearly basis.
In 1951, as the conflict in Korea heated up, conscription returned to American college campuses. Once again freshman would be eligible for varsity competition. Seventy men turned out to try for a place on the Royal squad, but only 13 of these men were returning letterman. Nonetheless, the team roared out of the gate winning their first four in convincing fashion. In fact, the first three games were shutouts. But the season went downhill as the team tied its fifth game and then lost the next three before beating Waynesboro 12-0 in the finale for a 5-3-1 record.
At the same time, while the team had put in three successful seasons and had won the Middle Atlantic conference title for the past three years, game attendance was dropping. The Aquinas blamed the growing popularity of television. Many football fans were staying home or spending the afternoon in the neighborhood tavern watching big-name college teams play on television. The Aquinas suggested that the University start playing its football games on Sunday afternoon. In the mid-1950s professional football was not yet a major television sport.
Carlesimo was not optimistic about the 1952 season. The squad was slow, inexperienced, and had little depth. As Carlesimo told the Aquinas, "We have only one full back, two guards and one center with varsity experience." Carlesimo also was concerned that the team did not have enough experienced players to field a two-platoon squad (the use of separate offensive and defensive teams had become a trend in college football). The Aquinas also noted that some fans were complaining that the schedule was too easy. The team did have an easy time with its first three opponents winning by a total score of 98-19, including a 33-7 victory over Bloomsburg, which had come into the game with a 12 game winning streak. As a result school spirit and game attendance picked up. But for the rest of the season, the team faced competitive opponents and lost two games to end the season 6-2-0. During the season, halfback Jim Lavery set the school record for rushing piling up 1,094 yards in 114 carries. Lavery also led the East in rushing. He would graduate in 1955 as the all-time leading rusher at the University with 2,346 yards and an average of 7.14 yards per carry.
Carlesimo characterized the 1953 squad as a "representative team." The team started with a loss before winning the next two convincingly. After that it was a win one, lose one, tie one kind of a season. The team finished 5-3-1 which was, more or less, a representative year. The high point of the season was a 32-7 victory over St. Vincent's, a team that had defeated the Royals the previous two years. The low point was a 19-0 loss to Albright, a team the Royals had defeated the previous two years.
Although the team had been having successful seasons, game attendance remained low. In the spring of 1954, the Aquinas featured an article titled, "Must Football Sing Its Swan Song so Soon?" According to the columnist, Joe DiNicola, "They tell us that next year football must practically pack the park or else pack and depart." DiNicola suggested that the University team up with the ROTC and both the University and Marywood bands to stage "spectacular half-time shows." He also suggested constant citywide pep rallies and that the school dump the the "sissified name of Royals and officially re-adopt the name Tommies." DiNicola conceded that Scranton might be a "ghost town" when it came to sports, but he wanted football to go down fighting.
Carlesimo was optimistic going into the 1954 season: "Our prospects for '54 look bright, with a veteran backfield and a good line, though weak in spots." He qualified his optimism by saying that the team was playing an "enterprising" schedule and he would consider this a successful season if they could better last year's 5-3-1 record. The season opened with a loss to Hofstra but the Royals followed with four consecutive wins, including a 40-12 rout of Franklin & Marshall. Unfortunately, the "Carlesimomen" were then shut out by Temple 20-0 before finishing the season with a victory over King's to finish the season 5-2-0.
Although 16 lettermen returned for the 1955 season, another 16 had graduated. As Carlesimo noted, "... the situation isn't too bright." Among the graduating players was Jim Lavery, who was called the "the greatest offensive star in the history of the school." To make things even worse the team faced Temple in its first game; (the scheduled opener against Hofstra had been canceled due to Hurricane Diane) and Temple had shut out the Royals 20-0 late in the 1954 season. But the team's spirits were lifted by a good scrimmage against Cornell. They went into Philadelphia with fire in their eyes and came out with the 20-6 victory over Temple. A 14-13 victory over St. Vincent's followed, but the Royals then lost to Upsala 24-6 in the deluge of a tropical storm. After that the Royals won the rest of their games, finishing the season 6-1-0.
Once again, in 1956 Carlesimo was concerned about the loss of lettermen and the overall lack of depth and experience in the numerically small squad: "It'll be tough to match last year's record. In fact, we'll be lucky to win more than we lose." The coach was right to be concerned. The 1956 season was a disaster at the worst possible time. Football revenues had been declining and attendance dropping even though the team had been achieving winning seasons. In the opening game, the Royals were trounced 31-0 by American International, and it was all downhill from there. The team lost its first six games before beating Pennsylvania Military College 34-21. The Purple and White then lost the final game to Albright ending with a 1-7-0 record. Game attendance started small and dwindled. The first game drew 2,593 fans, the second, 1,020. By the Royals’ fifth loss, a 14-0 defeat in by Muhlenberg, attendance was down to a mere 263 fans.
After the debacle of the 1956 season, Coach Carlesimo remained cautious about the 1957 team: "If we break even this season, we'll consider it successful." Again, the team was inexperienced and numerically small. When asked what he thought the chances were that the team would better last season's 1-7 record, Carlesimo responded, "Good, if injuries are kept to a minimum." The team started well with a 20-0 victory over Albright. Unfortunately the team was quickly riddled by injuries and dropped the next two games. The team recovered with a 34-0 victory over King's College, but lost two more before ending the season with a victory over Wilkes for a 3-4-0 record.
Carlesimo was a little more hopeful concerning the 1958 season due to the return of 15 lettermen. Unfortunately, the team started off with two shut-out losses to Boston College and Juniata College. The team reversed direction with a 26-0 route of King's College and a 7-0 defeat of Temple in a mud bowl. Two more victories followed including a 21-0 victory over Waynesburg College that featured halfback Joe Belucci filling in as quarterback. Starting quarterback Ed Zelinski was injured in the game, and the second and third string quarterbacks were both already out of action. The Royals ended the season by defeating Wilkes but losing to Albright in their final game for a 5-3-0 record.
Information on the football team during its last couple years is difficult to come by. The athletic department records for the football team in 1959 and 60 consist mainly of game contracts, financial reports, and advertising solicitations. The team was barely surviving, and apparently much of Carlesimo's energy went into fundraising. In an effort get people into the football stadium, Carlesimo tried some innovative scheduling. Since national broadcasts of college football kept people home on Saturday afternoons, Carlesimo scheduled some games for Saturday morning. According to the Aquinas, Scranton was the first college or university to "try such a stunt."
The Purple and White suffered a homecoming and opening game defeat to Muhlenberg as a kickoff to the 1959 season. The team also lost sophomore halfback Nick Volpetti when he broke his ankle in the second half after gaining 58 yards in eight carries earlier in the game. In the next game the Royals managed to upset Temple and then went on to defeat Drexel before suffering an unexpected loss to King's. But the Royals rebounded with a 19-6 defeat of heavily favored Albright. The Royals split the last four games losing to Juniata and Hofstra then beating American International and Wilkes to end the season with a 5-4-0 record. Center and linebacker Leo Broadhurst was named to be Pennsylvania All-State squad for the second year in a row and was also named to the Williamson Little All-American Team. A proposal was made to retire Broadhurst's number, 52.
The Royals began the 1960 season the same way that they ended the 1959 season, losing to Hofstra. But the team convincingly beat Lycoming, King's, and Drexel in their next three games before losing to Albright in the Shriner's Pretzel Bowl game held in Reading. Unfortunately, the Royals then lost to Juniata and Muhlenberg. This season ended with a victory against Wilkes and a 4-4-0 record. Leo Broadhurst's number was officially retired at the end of the 1960 season. Unfortunately, it would not be the only number retired.
On Jan. 3, 1961, the University of Scranton discontinued the football program. The program had been losing money for more than a decade primarily due to poor attendance at the games. University President Very Rev. John J. Long, S.J. stated, "attendance at this sport, following a national pattern, continues to dwindle while the cost of fielding a team steadily increases. This can be attributed in part to the influence of television in changing the habits of sports fans who now prefer to watch top college and professional teams in the comfort of their homes instead of attending the games of their home college teams."
According to the Aquinas, the University decided to use the money that had been supporting the football program for other purposes: "The main factor is the rapid expansion of the University. The need of bigger and better buildings, and the necessity to acquire more professors to cope with the rapidly increasing student body, enhance the discontinuation decree."
While some members of the University community complained about the discontinuation of football program, the University of Scranton hung onto its program longer than many other Jesuit schools. Georgetown, Marquette, and former rivals Fordham, St. Joseph's, and Canisius had all dropped football earlier than the University of Scranton.
Pete Carlesimo remained as athletic director. He finished his career as football coach with a record of 80-60-4. The team, counting since Jack Harding arrived, had accumulated a 164-110-19 record.
Although the varsity football team would no longer compete, the sport continue to be played at the University. An intramural team had been in existence during the 1950s and that team continued to play football into the early 1970s.