They played in an era when a change of possession also meant a change of position. Few weighed more than 200 pounds but they were giants on the gridirons of Long Island.
Some were true Hall of Famers. Imagine a Manhasset team that featured Jim Brown at halfback or a Hempstead team with John Mackey at tight end. There were future Super Bowl stars, too: Carle Place's Matt Snell and Sewanhaka's Paul Rochester will be long remembered for their roles with the Jets in Super Bowl III.
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So without further ado, and in alphabetical order, Newsday's pre-1960 all-time Long Island football team:
Lawrence, HB/LB, 1924
He was one of the first great players on Long Island. He holds an 85-year-old Nassau County record for touchdowns in a single game, scoring eight times in a 101-0 victory over Southampton in 1923. (Different rules of the era led to such scores, as the team scoring got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff. ) Barbuti was an All-Scholastic selection as he led Lawrence to a 5-1-3 record and led the county in scoring. He was a football and track star at Syracuse and won track gold medals in the 400 meters and 1600-meter relay at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.
Manhasset, RB/LB, 1953
Many say he was the greatest running back in NFL history. It is hard to debate whether anyone loomed larger on Long Island playing fields. Manhasset went undefeated as Brown rushed for 20 touchdowns in seven games as a senior. He earned the Thorp Award presented to Nassau's top player. Brown was an All-American in football and lacrosse at Syracuse. He had a Hall of Fame career for the Cleveland Browns (inducted along with Vince Lombardi in 1971) and still owns the highest rushing average of any player in NFL history.
Riverhead, HB/LB/P, 1930
He was Suffolk County's first great athlete. He was a three-sport All-Suffolk star for the Blue Waves. The speedy halfback was a two-time All-American at Fordham before joining the New York Giants. He was named the to the all-NFL team twice and led the Giants to two NFL titles. In the 1934 NFL championship game, also known as the "Sneakers'' game, Danowski, playing on both sides of the ball, ran for a score, passed for a score, and intercepted a pass in a 30-13 win over the Bears. After the pros, he came back to his LI roots, where he coached high school football for many years.
Hempstead, RB/E, 1959
The awards never stopped for Mackey. Not only did he win the Thorp Award in 1958, make numerous all-star teams and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, but he has a major award named in his honor: the John Mackey Award, presented annually to the best collegiate tight end by the Nassau County Sports Commisssion. Mackey was both an end and a halfback at Hempstead and went on to have a brilliant career at Syracuse. He played in the NFL for the Baltimore Colts and San Diego Chargers.
Baldwin, 1955, C/LB
Reifsnyder won the Thorp Award in 1954 and was an All-Scholastic selection. Reifsnyder led the Bruins to a 7-0 record in his junior season. His versatility at the Naval Academy enabled him to capture the Maxwell Award as the most outstanding player in the nation, not to mention All-American honors. Reifsnyder played two seasons with the New York Titans, the forerunners of the Jets.
Sewanhaka, OL/DT, 1956
Paul "Rocky" Rochester earned the Thorp Award in 1955 and went on to play for Michigan State. He played defensive tackle for the AFL Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs and then the Jets. He was an AFL all-star team selection in 1961 for Lamar Hunt's Texans and recorded two sacks in the Jets' Super Bowl victory in 1969. He is one of only20 players who played the entire 10 years of the AFL's existence as a separate league.
Carle Place, RB/LB, 1960
Snell, who earned the Thorp Award in 1959, was drafted in the first round by the Jets in 1964. The bruising Carle Place fullback went on to play at Ohio State, where he was Woody Hayes' MVP in 1963, and was later named to the Buckeyes' all-century team as a defensive end. But to Jets fans, he'll always be the guy who scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl III.
Mepham, FB/MLB, 1953
Sandie was an All-Scholastic selection at Mepham and led the Pirates in scoring for two seasons. He earned the Thorp award in 1953. He went on to play for the Miami Hurricanes.
Lawrence, RB/LB, 1945
Wilson won the Thorp Award in 1943 as an underclassman at Lawrence. The powerful Wilson earned 16 varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball, track, and boxing. He became a semi-pro star in three sports.
Amityville, RB/LB, 1957
Wyatt set the Long Island single-season scoring record with 170 points which stood for 31 years. He was All-Scholastic while wearing the Tide's famous No. 31. Wyatt had an outstanding career at the University of Iowa, where he was the 1960 team MVP and was an All Big-10 selection. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1961. He was an assistant coach at several major universities.
Baldwin, RB/LB, 1935
Zachmann led the Bruins to three consecutive league championships. Baldwin lost only two games in his three-year career. The Bruins were undefeated in 1934, Zachman's senior year. By all accounts, the punishing runner was considered the best high school player until Jim Brown came along.