Fordham was once the biggest football team in New York
All aboard the Wayback Machine. A Fordham victory over Georgetown on Saturday would mean the Bronx school's first 7-0 start since 1930, a ticket to ride through some of New York college football's most celebrated history.
Today's Fordham players, who pounded Lehigh last week before a standing-room-only crowd of 7,000 at their Rose Hill campus, can't possibly realize how big Fordham football was before World War II. Most living souls, in fact, can't comprehend how Fordham regularly packed Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds with crowds in excess of 50,000 and played the sport's elite.
Giants president John Mara went to Fordham's law school in the late 1970s. He heard stories from his father, Wellington, a Fordham grad, "about how Fordham football was such a big-time program and was more popular than our [Giants] games -- Fordham-Army, Fordham-Notre Dame -- which was inconceivable to me," John Mara said.
Wellington Mara, before he inherited the Giants from his father, Tim, was a Fordham classmate of Vince Lombardi, now familiar to current college players mostly because his name is on the Super Bowl trophy. In the mid-1930s, Lombardi was an undersized member (5-8, 180) of Fordham's storied offensive line nicknamed the "Seven Blocks of Granite," central to a 24-3-7 record over four seasons, including 20 shutouts.
When the last Seven Blocks survivor, Al Babartsky, visited Fordham's spring game before his death in 2002, he admitted he didn't recognize the place, partly because his teams never played games on campus, always at big-league stadiums.
When Fordham defeated Temple this year at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia (the Eagles' home stadium), it was the first time the Rams had beaten a team from the NCAA's highest division since their 1954 opener against Rutgers.
In 2008, Fordham erected a granite monument to the Seven Blocks, who also are depicted on a large mural. In the Fordham locker room is a locker with Lombardi memorabilia -- his No. 40 jersey and so on, though they are replicas, sports information director Joe DiBari noted, because Lombardi was one of the lesser lights among the Seven Blocks.
Anyway, there is no getting around the history. "You see it all over campus," said coach Joe Moorhead, who was a quarterback for Fordham in the mid-1990s. "It is sort of abstract history, but you understand it matters, in the sense that we want to become nationally relevant again."
In 1941 and 1942, Fordham played in the Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl (a loss to Texas A & M, a win over Missouri), but a three-year suspension of football during World War II led to weaker teams and dwindling crowds. In 1954, Fordham dropped the sport, not to be revived on the club level until 1964, never again to escape the shadow of the NFL's growing dominance of New York football.
From 1970-1989, Fordham played in Division III, then joined the Patriot League -- non-scholarship, Division I-AA -- in 1990. Four years ago, Fordham returned to the scholarship model, ahead of the rest of the Patriot League by two years, which is why the Rams' league games won't count until next season.
Moorhead, a former UConn assistant, took the head coaching job last season and turned a 1-10 team into a competitive 6-5 outfit. He has begun to bring in transfers from Division I-A (FBS) -- quarterback Michael Nebrich came by way of UConn, as did wide receiver Tebucky Jones, son of a former NFL player.
Because of the league's scholarship inequities, Fordham isn't eligible for a conference championship. But, taking nothing for granite, Fordham is ranked No. 10 in FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA) and could earn an at-large berth in the national tournament.
"I'd like to get to a game," Giants boss John Mara said, "and maybe see a team I'm rooting for win a game."