"Small School....  Big Memories  Part 3"



Small Schools Can Hold Big Memories,  Part 3


By Dr. Ken


As each Sunday evening’s BCS rankings become the focal point for the obsession of many college football fans, the recent HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS columns that have discussed “Small College” football played in the suspension helmet era have received excellent critical comment. My first exposures to collegiate football as long time readers of this column know, came from the small black and white Dumont television set that flickered in the corner of our living room. Army, Auburn, and the Big Ten teams were those that drew the most coverage in the mid to late-1960’s so it was natural that my allegiance and interest went to schools at that level.

One of my cousins rightfully earned the reputation of being one of New York City’s premiere basketball players. In the five boroughs that comprise New York City, this was and remains, “big stuff.” Often the playground games and intra-City tournaments attract the very best professional players and just as often, many are sent home with their tails between their legs, the victims of slam-dunks, helicopter spins, and other-worldly play by an unknown former high school and street phenomenon that never made it past his high school education nor stepped further than the street courts due to drugs, family problems, or legal entanglement. An All City High School player in Brooklyn, my cousin had a collegiate career, earned a degree, and became a respected teacher and coach. His basketball travels introduced him to many other athletes, some from out of state and one of them was Joe Iacone. While most college football fans would say, “Huh?” those with a sense of history and especially those from the Philadelphia area still speak of Iacone in revered tones. A high school All American out of Radnor High School who played shortly after former Wichita State and Philadelphia Eagles halfback Ted Dean [ see HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS February 2009 ] Iacone was a three time Little All American at Pennsylvania’s West Chester State College. Iacone is listed on a number of “All Time Great” types of teams for Pennsylvania high school football players, deep in the company of a long listing of All Pros and some of the most iconic names in the sport. The September 18, 1961 issue of Sports Illustrated described both “small college football” and Joe Iacone as follows:

“By the somewhat arbitrary decree of the Football Writers' Association of America, there are this fall 112 ‘major college’ football teams in the country. All the rest, some 624 of them, are ‘small college,’ a misleading phrase that provides a convenient catchall for enrollments ranging from 300 to 15,000. The small-college category has, in fact, nothing at all to do with a school's size but only with the quality of football competition it schedules.

One need only watch some small-college games to know there is nothing little league about the football. The NFL certainly didn't think so last winter when it drafted 50 athletes from the small colleges on the reasonable assumption that a few of them will prove as worthy as predecessors like Roosevelt Brown and Andy Robustelli of the Giants; Ed Brown, Willie Galimore and harlon hill of the Bears; and John Baker of the Rams.

This year they will be drafting more. In fact, Guard Doug Brown, a 1960 Little All-America who has a year to go at Fresno State, has already been selected by both the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Texans. There are three other Little All-Americas (second team) returning this fall who will bear close watching—West Chester (Pa.) State Fullback Joe Iacone, for instance, the stubby, broad-armed young man shown above. As a sophomore Iacone crushed the bid of Northeast Missouri's Dale Mills to win his third straight national rushing crown. Last fall he gained nearly a mile (1,438 yards, to be exact), finishing the season with a wild, 199-yard day against Lock Haven.”

West Chester State College was typical of small college ball in the late 1950’s and early-‘60’s with most of its players coming from the surrounding locales. New York City area players often made their way to West Chester, Wilkes, Lock Haven, and the other “small” schools that dotted the football friendly environs of Pennsylvania. Iacone however, stood out and when my cousin introduced me to what looked like a short mound of muscle, I was a bit overwhelmed. Still in junior high school, my fortuitous meeting with this Little All American came at a time when having a football hero served an extremely positive purpose. That he gave me a “gee whiz, work as hard as possible, and do everything right” lecture only served to make my admiration for him stronger. Needless to say, I became a follower not only of his career which eventually wound its way through the Philadelphia Eagles as their eighth round draft choice and camp with the Patriots, but also of small college football and those who made the Little All American team. He served as a long time coach at The Haverford School and was a revered member of the faculty until his retirement in 2008. This one player was the spark that made me aware of small college football and that expanded to an interest in the local Long Island schools. That Hofstra and C.W. Post Colleges played an excellent brand of football throughout that same time period, opened up an entirely new and unknown world.

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point tussles with Hofstra in early-1960’s Long Island game

With the birth of the American Football League that featured many “small college” players that I had not previously been aware of, and I became even more interested in these little known schools.

Northwestern State of Louisiana’s Charley Tolar starred with the early Houston Oilers

My usual form of leisure time activity was to memorize entire team rosters. I began doing this for the twelve National Football League teams as soon as I figured out the distinction between college and professional football. I knew the vital statistics of the collegiate stars I was aware of or as these were discussed in the weekly broadcast of college games. The AFL had so many “lesser known” players that this was a fertile field for exploration which enhanced my awareness and knowledge of small college players. For every Billy Cannon, Charlie Flowers, and Bob White that entered the league, there was a Charley Tolar of Northwestern State of Louisiana, Lionel Taylor of New Mexico Highlands, and Gene Mingo who did not attend college at all. What for me was the new world of small college football, grew exponentially larger, more interesting, and exciting.