Cardella: The Year They Played For Pride

It was a terrible season. It was a wonderful season. It was the season St. Joe’s College (now University) sought redemption on the hardwood courts. And found it. Those of us who were even just a small part of that 1962-63 season will never forget it.

To understand what I’m talking about, you have to return to the season before. The St. Joseph’s Hawks had finished third in the 1961 NCAA Tournament. Coached by future Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay, St. Joe’s had stunned the college basketball world, almost winning the national championship. But a point-shaving scandal was discovered. Three St. Joe’s players were implicated in the mess. The Hawks were stripped of their ranking. The team photo of the Hawks team was removed from its honored place in Fisher’s Restaurant. Instead of basketball glory, the school was reminded of its shame by the conspicuousness of the blank space on the wall where the team photo had once been displayed. That’s where the three of us came in.

We were three Temple grads. We had no particular loyalty for St. Joe’s. We had tried to sell a broadcast package of Temple games, but were rejected. We had asked La Salle, but they were no more interested than Temple. That’s why sometime after the 1961 season, Ed Goldman and I were knocking on doors trying to sell the St. Joe’s package to ad agencies. Ed and I weren’t exactly aggressive in our sales approach. Frankly, we couldn’t have sold deodorant to a sweaty tribe in the middle of the desert. We called on the third member of our group — Barry Rosenberg — for help. He proved to be our closer. We called our three-person sales team, MARVEL Sports. Don’t ask me why. There wasn’t a Billy Batson fan among us. Goldman became Ed “Golden.” Rosenberg became Barry “Ross.” I kept my surname. It was the unseemly tradition of the times that Jewish surnames were not considered “American” enough in the broadcast world.

We almost lost the broadcast rights to the games when we played our audio ”audition” tape for Joe Pascucci, who represented the school in negotiations with us. The taped “highlights” of our call of St. Joe’s win over St. Johns contained numerous instances of the fixers deliberately missing shots or creating turnovers. Of course, no one knew it at the time the game was played. Pascucci winced at the unpleasant reminder.

We enticed radio station WHAT to carry the games and Al Berman Clothing at 54th and City Line Avenue to sponsor the games. The only problem was there was no room in the broadcast package for us to get paid. Among the three of us, we agreed not to tell anyone that we weren’t receiving anything to do the broadcasts. We pretended to our friends that we each were getting five bucks a game. Was that too much, one of us asked?

We shared the play-by-play and color commentary. The Palestra Sports ID guy felt we were overstaffed so we received one free Coke to split among the three of us during the broadcasts. We missed getting on the air for the first couple of broadcasts. But on Dec. 14, 1962, Tom “Satch” Sanders came to town with heavily favored New York University. The Hawks were ready. So were we.

St. Joe’s went into the 1962 season determined to erase the memory of the shameful basketball scandal the year before. Its cheering section always had a noisy, fanatical core base. All male. Straw boaters. And a huge bass drum that pounded opponents into submission. If you got the lead on St. Joe’s that season, they responded by screaming at you, THE HAWK WILL NEVER DIE.

Pretty soon, you believed it. There was never a cheering section like that one. Not ever. Not for a small school. And that cheering section in 1962-63 was “the sixth man.” They were too much for NYU that night. Too much for lots of teams that season. Teams that were often more talented. I don’t know how many times that Hawks team would fall behind and then rally back. A lot of the success was due to Coach Ramsay’s use of a stifling style of defense. He called it the “zone press.”

The Hawks did not have a deep bench. The late Jake Boyle, who went on to become a coach, was their sixth man. And a good one. They had Steve Courtin, Harry Booth, and Bob Dickey.Their biggest starter was Tom Wynne, who was maybe 6-5. Running this fiery bunch was Jimmy Lynam. With Lynam, it was like having a coach on the floor. No surprise that he later became one. St. Joe’s was picked to finish in the middle of th pack in the Middle Atlantic Conference.

The Hawks battled their way into the lead in the conference. On Feb. 23, 1963, St. Joe’s was scheduled to meet Big 5 foe La Salle. Word had leaked out that Boyle would miss the game, hospitalized from what was described as appendicitis. And then shortly before the game , the Rev. Joseph F. Geib, faculty athletic moderator, approached us at courtside. Boyle had been spotted in the Palestra crowd. Apparently, he had sneaked out of the hospital. Geib asked us not to say anything about it lest we upset Jimmy’s parents, who were unaware of what he had done. It was the stuff of movies. Boyle couldn’t play, but he could be there in spirit.

St. Joe’s went on to crush La Salle that night. Went on to win two games in the NCAA Tournament before powerful Duke ended their magical run. Our magical run ended also, but with the end of the regular season. One of the major radio stations gained exclusive rights to the tournament and we were out on our butts. Marvel Sports was no more. Just a magical place in our minds that still exists in our minds.  A place more than an idea. Where Ramsay kneels at courtside with a program clenched in his fist. Where Lynam calmly dribbles out the clock to seal a win. Where that delightfully annoying Hawks rooting section still pounds a big bass drum. Where three pudgy guys at courtside are bathed in a glory they would revel in the rest of their lives.

And where a small school on City Line Avenue found respect that they thought had been squandered and been irretrievably lost.