Herrmann: Hofstra football's demise a big loss for LI

Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University. (December 3, 2009)

Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University. (December 3, 2009) (Credit: Mario Gonzalez)

Mark Herrmann

Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,

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Hofstra football always was like that nice painting in your living room. It never was the center of attention, but it sure did make the place feel like home. You didn't notice how pretty it was until it was gone and you saw the empty space.

So there is a little less of Long Island today because Hofstra doesn't have a football team anymore.

The announcement from yesterday morning came like a blindside hit. "It was devastating to hear the news. It took the air out of me," said Bill Fowler, a wingback in the early 1970s who works in the financial industry on Long Island.

Tom MacDonald, the quarterback on the 1959 squad that went 9-0, said, "Personally, I think it's terrible." The retired teacher laughed a little when he said, "The only positive thing is that our undefeated, untied and uninvited record will never be matched. But they're so busy building and everything that they said the hell with the basics."

That is the heart of it. College football is one of the basics on just about every campus, something that makes a school a community and helps the surrounding community embrace the school. It is the quintessential American game, born 140 years ago. And now Long Island just lost its deepest tie to it.

It is unfortunate that Hofstra football lost its way and its sizzle. But wouldn't it have been better to have given it one more try to improve the team, even scaling it back?

This was not just any football program. This was 72 years old. It was Howdy Myers and John Schmitt (on his way to the Super Bowl Jets). It was Wandy Williams, Wayne Chrebet, Joe Gardi and Marques Colston. It was the Tiny 20, the iron-willed 1956 team that went 7-3 despite having only 20 players.

Hofstra was one of the first programs in the country to have an AstroTurf field. Hofstra football was the Thanksgiving morning game against Post in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the great social events of the year on the Island.

Hofstra football helped attract the Jets, who were mainstays on Long Island for decades. Hofstra football built the stadium in which the high schools have their big championship games.

All of this is part of our family story.

"I can understand it, financially. You're always going to have a couple of trips in which the travel costs are going to be considerable," said Jack Wilkinson, a quarterback in the late 1960s and a longtime sportswriter and author who lives in Atlanta - in big-time football country.

He knows Hofstra's netherworld of non-major conference play doesn't bring in revenue the way Georgia Tech does. "But," Wilkinson said, "it is sad." Sadder than going 0-10, which his team did in 1969.

Shame on the administration for letting the program go to seed. Shame on the students for showing up only 500 strong at games. Shame on the rest of us for not stopping in every once in a while.

Credit the university for not wanting to drain money from academics.

Still, if Harvard can field a team, why can't Hofstra?

Thursday just felt like another loss for a public that has said goodbye to Grumman, A & S, drive-in theaters and downtown shops. This isn't progress. In the words of MacDonald, who always could read the field as well as anyone, "This is a very, very sad day."

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