WESTMINSTER -- Football has a way of looking its appealing best when played on a fall day in the glorious environment of a campus regarded as one of the most scenic in America. There's the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains serving as a backdrop. Spectators rim the field, some seated in the permanent grandstand but others casually sprawled on the sloping hillside. It all provides Western Maryland College with a vista of striking proportions.
This is the 100th anniversary of the sport at a school that has, for most of that time, charted a course of wise perspective. Actually, the game has been played here for 97 seasons, not 100, and this is with good reason. In 1895, there was a suspension of football because too many parents disapproved of their sons risking injuries via the mayhem they had to endure.
So Western Maryland was forced to call a necessary "time out." Another interruption came during World War II. Military calls depleted the male student body as athletes and coaches suited up to help win a conflict that was more important than beating Johns Hopkins.
Western Maryland, known as the Green Terrors, was once regarded as an Eastern power. It reached its zenith in 1934, an undefeated season, including eight shutouts in nine games and a ranking as the 17th leading team in the country. Yes, two behind Notre Dame and rated ahead of Texas, Purdue, Army and Michigan.
Its standout performer was Bill Shepherd, who led the nation in scoring with 133 points, and went on to excel in the East-West Game and the College All-Star spectacular when Gerald Ford, later to be the 38th president of the United States, centered him the ball. Shepherd, a native of Clearfield, Pa., later played in the National Football League for the Boston Redskins and the Detroit Lions, where he gathered additional recognition.
An intra-state rival during that time frame was the University of Maryland, a giant in size when compared to Western Maryland, which then had a total enrollment of 350. But from 1926 through 1933, the Terrors won four of six meetings between them. Coach Dick Harlow, destined for the College Football Hall of Fame, gained such renown that Harvard hired him away.
His successor was a remarkable human being, the amiable, considerate Charlie Havens, who played for Harlow, coached under him as an assistant and then guided the Terrors from 1935 through 1956. In Havens' first year, he lost to Penn State, 2-0, and the next week saw his team fall to Bucknell, 3-0. Losses don't come much closer than that.
Harlow and Havens contributed some momentous moments to Western Maryland football. Under Harlow there were undefeated campaigns in 1929, 1930 and 1934. Havens went unbeaten in 1951, with an explosive running game, led by Joe Giannelli, Mitch Tullai and Henry "Hank" Corado. An invitation was extended to play in the Glass Bowl but it was politely declined.
"What is known as the 'H and H' era [for Harlow and Havens] represented the highest point Western Maryland ever reached," said Jack Molesworth, a former player and later a coach. "Then Bob Waldorf came on to do an excellent job, followed by Ron Jones and Jim Hindman. The school is in Division III and bases scholarships on need. My opinion is it's an ideal arrangement."
It's difficult to isolate names from the past but certainly Carl "Molly" Twigg, Nate Weinstock, Harry "Monk" Campbell, Bruce Ferguson, Bernie and Lou Kaplan, Nick Campofreda, Frank Sillin, Harry Benson, Jack McNally, Pete Mergo, Orville "Greasy" Neal, Eugene "Stoney" Willis, Carroll "Shorty" Long, Harry Lawrence, Stan Benjamin, Al Sadusky, Tony Ortenzi, Steese Brubaker, Lou Lassahn, Joe O'Leair, Cliff Lathrop, Mike Phillips, Vic Makovich, Havens and Shepherd, qualify as important contributors to the success Western Maryland attained.
But, among any lineup of the elite, Shepherd stands out. He may have had some problems in the classroom, but when it came to comprehending "X's" and "O's" in the playbook there was no difficulty -- and the same with running over tacklers. After the 1935 East-West game, the eminent sportswriter Grantland Rice watched the show he put on and offered a written apology.
He told America's readers of the sports pages that a serious mistake had been committed in giving so much attention to Fred "Buzz" Borries of Navy while from the same state so little focus had been placed on this remarkable representative from Western Maryland. No doubt, Shepherd's standard of football excellence is a mark for others to be perpetually measured.
Tomorrow, Western Maryland celebrates homecoming against Randolph-Macon and Eric Frees, who has gained more yardage (4,248) than any back in the history of the state, will be on view. But always the individual comparisons will be to Shepherd, whose achievements in the early decade of the 1930s give him an extraordinary identity.
He stands alone as the best in 100 years of football at this college, with Shepherd showing the way, to exalted heights it has never approached before or since.