When the Colonial Athletic Association football schedule came out in July, Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore wasn't surprised to see his team matched against Albany in the finale because the league wants each season to end with rivalry games. Knowing that 76-year-old Great Danes coach Bob Ford was retiring, Priore realized he'd be coaching against a man he played for and coached under in the final game of his 44-year career.
Before the game, Priore asked Ford to come up to his office at the west end of LaValle Stadium. "His mom and dad were there," Ford said of Priore's parents, Ray and Camille. "We coached Chuck, and we coached his brother Ray. They were both captains for us, both stayed on [as assistants]. His mom and dad gave me a cigar case and a cigar cutter and a box of cigars. Years ago, he gave me a box of Punch cigars, and they darn near killed me."
Back on the field before kickoff, Priore said he wished Ford good luck. With a smile, Priore said Ford replied, "You don't really mean that."
Delivering the punch line, Priore added, "I said, 'Well, I gave you some cigars. Hopefully, you don't have to smoke the victory one today.' "
If nothing else, Priore proved what a good study he was, beating his mentor for the third time in four career meetings, 24-3. But as an Albany alum, Priore said he was proud of the way the Great Danes fought back after falling behind 21-0 early. When it was over, Priore was one of many former Ford players who lined up to give the venerable coach a hug.
"The first time I really cried was after the ballgame was over," Ford said. "There were so many of our ex-football players that came down on the field . . . There were a couple from 1970-71 . Most all of them are retired. I don't know how they can do that at so young an age."
That last line deserved a rim shot, given the energy and sense of humor Ford always brought to work those many years. Last season, Albany finally got a new stadium named in Ford's honor, and this season, the Great Danes joined their sister SUNY school in moving to the CAA, one of the most prestigious and competitive conferences at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
Albany was undermanned because it was adding scholarships to go from 35 to 54. The Great Danes will go to 61 scholarships next season and reach the FCS maximum of 63 in 2015. Stony Brook has been at 63 for several years.
Reflecting on their first CAA season, Ford said, "For Chuck and ourselves, the introduction this year into the CAA, a very competitive conference, a very physical conference, it's been a physical year for us."
Both schools suffered widespread injuries, including several to key players. That contributed to Albany's 1-11 record (0-8 CAA), the worst by far of Ford's career, and to Stony Brook's losing ledger (5-6, 3-5), but Ford predicted good things ahead.
"I think both schools will do well, and that's a great conference," he said. "I was shocked at how good they were on a weekly basis . . . For us, it will be a process. Even for Chuck, while he was at 63 scholarships, I don't know if he was able to recruit all CAA-type kids. Now that he's in the CAA, I think he'll get a little better kid."
In Priore's view, SBU's injuries were more a matter of chance than change. The important thing to him was that the Seawolves fought through it to win their final two games.
"We handled adversity," Priore said. "I think the lesson this team learned is that if you prepare correctly, good things happen. We learned to finish the last two games."
So it was a good ending for Priore and simply the end of the line for Ford, who said, "Boom! That's it, folks, in more ways than one."