Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Tradition of Champions-

Before 1985, Ferrum's football program competed at the Junior College level. Between 1955, when the program started, and 1984 Ferrum won four Junior College National Championships. In 1977, Ferrum won its last of those four.

I enrolled at Ferrum in 1978, and many of the players from the '77 championship team were still there. I saw Ferrum have a great '78 season, but cannot report directly as to the '77 championship team, because I was not there. Rich Moscarello was the Equipment Manager at Ferrum at the time, and I as a Freshman, worked with Rich as a student equipment manager. This was my work study assignment. During the '77 season, Rich also wrote sports articles for the Iron Blade, the Ferrum College newspaper. Below is an article that Rich Moscarello wrote about the 1977 season. (This is printed with permission of Ferrum College, and Rich Moscarello.)

by Rich Moscarello
Team Equipment Manager

Ferrum had had three great National Championship teams in the past (1965, 1968 and 1974 ) but none had more character than the 1977 National Championship team.
In a year that for the first time in recent memory saw not a single team in the nation go undefeated, and saw the Number One ranking change hands eight times with eight different schools holding the coveted position and only two of them, (Navarro Texas and Golden Valley Lutheran from Minnesota) holding it as long as two consecutive weeks, the Panthers had character.
In an interesting bit of polling, Ferrum was ranked 10th in the NJCAA pre-season poll which was higher than any other Coastal Conference school, but was not considered the favorite to win the Coastal Conference Football Championship.
Each week found the Panthers getting stronger and stronger with opening victories over Newport News Apprentice, 21-0, and 53-0 over the same Nassau team that beat Ferrum 19-0 the year before. In their third game of the season the Panthers handed Wesley, a school which hadn't suffered a defeat since the waining games of the 1975 season, a 24-6 setback. Then came the straw that was to have broken the camel's back, but did it?
A fluke touchdown in the last minutes of the game gave Grand Rapids Junior College a 16-14 upset victory over Ferrum which seemingly shattered all hope the Panthers had of winning a National Championship, and more certainly shattered their quest for an undefeated season.
The Panthers, knowing only a major miracle would give them a chance at winning all the marbles for the national title, bounced back and showed their true character. Instead of cracking, which they could easily have done, they came back and carved out the Coastal Conference Championship for themselves by dumping high scoring and then undefeated Chowan 16-0. They then proceeded to topple Hudson Valley, Potomac State, Lees McRae, and Liberty Baptist by margins between 14 and 47 points.
As the Panthers opponents fell, so did the national powers of junior college football as they all tried their hand at being the undefeated Number One team in the nation. All were unceremoniously defeated the same week as their No. 1 rating.
By now the Panther machine was nearing the end of a season that would see them score six shutouts (one shy of of the NJCAA record held by the 1965 Ferrum National Championship team), allow only four touchdowns (again one shy of the record held by the '65 Panthers), yield only 36 points (second in school history to the 19 points yielded by the 1965 team), set a school record with 2751 yards rushing offense, and set new NJCAA and school records by allowing on defense an average of only 32 rushing yards a game and 95 yards of total offense. But the day of reckoning had come.
It was a cold snowy day that November 12th in Baltimore, and the Panthers were about to take on the undermanned but brave Baltimore Red Devil team that hadn't won a game all season.
The Panthers knew they had to win and win big to have any chance at the National Championship. They knew they had a bonifide shot at a national title since the Number One team of the past two weeks, Golden Valley Lutheran of Minneapolis Minnesota had to play an in state championship game against a team that wouldn't play dead for them. The team was Normandale from Bloomington.
So the Panthers played like champions, and had Baltimore down 33-0 at halftime. Everybody was experiencing a good feeling, despite the bitter cold.  Ferrum slacked off a little bit in the second half, scoring only 23 points, but came up with the big must victory in true style. Panthers 56  Baltimore 0.
On the bus coming back home, there was only one question that was going through everybody's mind a thousand times. "How did Golden Valley do?" It's hard to tell how many might have thought Golden Valley had won based on the fact that the Ferrum team bus ran out of gas 40 miles from home in the middle of what was then early Sunday morning, but as the song in the Goodyear tire commercial starts "Don't you know there's good news round the corner..."
The next morning we all found out that Normandale most certainly didn't play dead as they whipped Golden Valley Lutheran, 31-0, to win the Minnesota State Championship. We had to wait two more days for the official word from Hutchinson Kansas (NJCAA Headquarters), but when it arrived, there was two minuets of the most deafening hollering and shouting like the weight room at Swartz Gymnasium had never heard before.
Call it what you will. How about with a song, Englebert Humperdink's "I Believe In Miracles" or Barry Manilow's "It's a Miracle" or how about comparing it with the feat of the 1967 Boston Red Sox who were counted as being down and out from the beginning of the season, but when that day of reckoning came, that final day, they won and claimed the championship that would be called the "Impossible Dream."
Another important thing which will probably go unnoticed in history about this great Panther team is that eight of their ten games were played in inclement weather, either rain (like the monsoon experienced at the Liberty Baptist game), or extreme cold (like at Hudson Valley which turned the bubble gum the team chews into jaw breakers), or cold and snow (like at Baltimore). Now it wouldn't be correct to say that anybody could win the national title with ten perfect playing days weather wise, but when you consider that only two games were played in what could be called ideal conditions, that is another example of the Panthers' great character.
Who knows? Maybe it was the prayers of our fans and faculty. Maybe we can say what Paul Newman said in the Rocky Graziano movie he made "Somebody Up There Likes Me." What ever the case, it was the true character of our team that got us where we are, and hopefully it will keep us on top next season.

No comments:

Post a Comment