"University of Dayton"





By Dr. Ken


In the 1960’s, University of Dayton football was mentioned in the same sentences as Cincinnati, Miami, Bowling Green, Toledo, and the other MAC schools. They were far from an afterthought and were considered to be an always-tough opponent with a history of sending players to the NFL and CFL. Many of the great Ohio-bred coaches could trace their time and ascension through the ranks of the profession through this Catholic university. I knew the names of some of the players and had actually seen a few of them play. My pre-teen and adolescent habit of memorizing the NFL rosters, including heights, weights, and college affiliation made Dayton a familiar-sounding location although I had no idea that it was in Ohio until I arrived at Cincinnati and spent the first night lying on the floor, feet propped up on my bed, studying our football media guide. The one pro I was at least familiar with was the N.Y. Giants’ Jim Katcavage. On a team that was a perennial contender for the NFL championship, Kat was an unsung hero, an-under publicized defender who toiled in the shadow of Rosey Grier, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff, and the other big-name defenders of the Giants.


I always liked Katcavage though because he looked like a guy who was doing his job. My iron worker father impressed upon me at an early age that a man goes to work, a man doesn’t complain about his work, a man keeps his mouth closed and does what’s expected of him. Good lessons even today and you never saw Kat’s name in the papers and he was rarely if ever heralded. The others got the headlines but Kat played hard and consistently well. He was a Dayton guy, I knew that, just as I knew almost everything that was public information regarding each Giant player. Another Dayton product was Emil Karas and like every other NFL player who lifted weights and publicly admitted doing so, I knew a lot about him. As there were so few players that were weight trained in the early sixties, Karas stood out, not for his muscular size, but for his high degree of muscularity, a reputation for eating “health foods”, and for being one of the very active linebackers and defensive ends for the AFL Champion Chargers. When they won that title in 1963, Karas was one of the under rated players and I was always trying to emulate the under rated men in the trenches, guys like Charley Tolar who did not get the recognition that others did, yet always played well. Karas had been a star at Dayton also and was a lean, tough, hard-nosed player. His death at an early age later raised speculation about anabolic drug use because he took such terrific care of his body that no one believed he would pass away until he was a very elderly man.


Bob DeMarco, the center for the Cardinals, and one of the Browns former linebackers and guards, some guy named Chuck Noll whom I recalled got decked by Chuck Bednarik of the Eagles was definitely a Dayton guy and of course, Noll was the Chargers’ assistant coach who ran their weight training program so I was very much aware of him. He sort of did pretty well a few years later as the head coach of the Steelers! One final Dayton player had been a linebacker who I noticed in the Giants camp. A few of the older fellows that I knew would take a day off from work and drive to Fairfield University in Connecticut once during every summer and watch the Giants practice for the entire day. I would tag along and they would usually make me run for sandwiches and beer and make fun of me, comparing my supposed prowess as a “high school Harry all star” as they called me, to the huge and talented pros just yards away. The Giants brought in linebacker Tom Costello who I thought might be related to the Browns great Vince Costello but one of the guys I was with informed me that he was a local guy, “Costello played at Holy Cross High School, don’t you remember him you nitwit.” I did but had lost track of him as he had finished his high school career at one of the Catholic League powerhouse teams near us when I was just beginning my attempt to play high school football.


Dayton was considered big-time in Ohio, and they attracted All State caliber players who might have been a step too slow or a hair too short to attend Ohio State or another Big Ten school. In part, the great coaching staff they had attracted players who wanted to learn from the best. Miami University produced so many excellent players who later became excellent coaches, it was inevitable that many would eventually become the head men at the MAC schools, Xavier, and Dayton. John McVay was their head coach when we faced off against him and he had come out of the vaunted Miami program after honing his skills on the high school level in Ohio during the fifties and sixties, and that was a very high level indeed. McVay later went on to fill the head coach position with the World Football League Memphis Southmen and then the N.Y. Giants before becoming the team executive who put the 49’ers into their first number of Super Bowls. In this, his first season at Dayton having inherited a 3-7 team, he also brought with him a number of top-notch assistants although I didn’t realize it at the time. We had players on our squad who had played for or against almost everyone on McVay’s staff and these men were supposed to be among the best in the country. Time bore that out:


Backfield Coach Tom Moore was successful as an assistant in many places and has been the offensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts, developing quarterback Peyton Manning and piling up huge statistics in the past few years; Jerry Hanlon had played at Miami with McVay, under Ara Parseghian and later served as the line coach under Bo Schembechler at Michigan for twenty-four years where he produced eighteen first team All Americans; George Perles coached the Super Bowl Pittsburgh Steeler defense and later was the head coach at Michigan State; Joe Eaglowski served under McVay in the pro ranks before returning to Dayton where he came out of retirement to serve as an administrator for the Cincinnati Reds minor league affiliate Dayton Dragons.




Their staff had prepared the Dayton Flyers well. The very first college football game I saw “in person” was my frosh year and pitted the Flyers against the UC Bearcats. On the trimester system used at Cincinnati, we had been in football camp quite a while, longer than the varsity players and the team’s first game was played on September 18th even though classes had not yet begun. This night game made an indelible imprint upon me; the lights, the cheerleaders, the cheering crowd, and the varsity players, although I was on the field with them daily in practice, often head-to-head against them as we were used for fodder, all of a sudden seemed larger than life. I sat in the stands with one of the freshmen team assistant coaches and he was kind enough to explain some of the nuances of the Dayton attack and note how in this game at least, they were unsuccessful in moving the ball against us. Dayton had talent too and I was impressed with a halfback who appeared to be about my size. 5’6”, 180-pound Roosevelt Mell appeared to have ninety percent of his weight centered in his huge, muscular thighs and calves. I have no idea how they got him to Dayton from Mississippi but he had turned in almost seven hundred yards in rushing the year before and I knew that the coaches had made him a marked man for this game. One of the things I learned from Florian Smith, a native of Lima, Ohio who lived in the room next to mine, was that Notre Dame and K.C. Chief linebacker Jim Lynch was the best player to ever come out of his high school, Lima was pronounced as “Lii-mah”, not “Lee-mah” in the manner one would pronounce the name of the Peruvian city of the same spelling, and that Dayton halfback Billy Mayo, also from Lima, “ran like the wind”, carting his slight 150 pounds down the field in state-record-setting sprint time. Of course, I always looked at the fullbacks and Marty Coates was a typical Ohio performer, seemingly strong and good enough to have gone anywhere in the Midwest to play, but staying close to home. The Niles, Ohio standout ran a lot harder than his 188 pounds and despite the 28-0 shutout that was hung on them, the entire Dayton team played hard and enthusiastic football, a good lesson and reminder for a youngster like myself to note. In college ball, our coach reminded me as the score mounted, the expectation from your teammates and coaches, is that you continue to sell out at one hundred percent despite the score. The linebacker and offensive guard who was their on-the-field leader was Bob Shortal, a 6’2”, 205-pound dynamo who seemed to be everywhere the ball was. Big Tom Stangle, a 255-pounder was impressive at tackle and would make our All Opponent team the following season. Dayton struggled that year, finishing with a 1-8-1 record but they learned the system that McVay brought with him after serving on the fine Michigan State staff and improved quickly, coming back the next season to gong us 23-7 and going an impressive 8-2 in McVay’s second year. The Flyers were disciplined and technically skilled with the addition of huge fullback, Mike Wilson, who had faced our frosh team as a 245-pound tackle. At the same size, he was, as a sophomore, running out of the backfield! He later played both positions for the Flyers and spent time in the NFL with the Bengals and Bills as both an offensive tackle and guard before playing in Canada and then in the World Football League.


The Dayton uniforms in red and white were unusual. Their red jerseys had five large white stars on the top of each shoulder, and the “standard” white tackle-twill sewn on front and rear numbers and sleeve numerals. The away jersey was the same in reversed contrasting colors. The white helmet was simple in design but looked great with the unique jersey design, a white shell adorned with a red one-inch center stripe and the player’s identifying number on each side.

The rags-to-riches improvement of the Dayton Flyers was clearly a case of new, skilled, and enthusiastic coaches who later proved to be among the best at what they did, entering a program in a “down period” and turning around the attitude, levels of conditioning, and skill level of the players. Dayton continued to send a player into the pro ranks every few years even as the school chose to down size the program. Dayton remains a power in Division III and still provides an excellent Catholic-founded education, making it a desirable alternative for those who want to stay close to home and still play excellent competitive football.