With three wins already, Towson State is far cry from dead football program

The Inside Stuff

October 27, 1992|By Bill Tanton

Coming into this football season, there were people close to Towson State's program who wondered if the Tigers could win a single game.

The school's ills were well known. Financial problems nearly killed football last fall. There are no scholarships being offered beginning this year. Longtime coach Phil Albert retired.

Towson won only one game last year, and two the year before. Now look what has happened.

"We've won three games," says happy first-year coach Gordy Combs, "and we may win some more."

Towson has beaten Bucknell, Hofstra and, last Saturday, James Madison. That's as many wins as the Tigers had in the last two seasons.

What's more, reports that come to me say the players are enjoying themselves, though their 3-5 season has not been without its difficulties. They are playing with enthusiasm, as anyone who has been to Minnegan Stadium to watch them knows.

"James Madison was a big win for our program," says Combs, who was an assistant coach at Towson for 19 years. "Madison has a full complement of scholarships and coaching staff and we're cutting back."

One of the main reasons Combs and his staff are getting better results than most expected is Tony Vinson, the running back transfer from Purdue. Vinson ran for a school-record 264 yards in the 28-21 win over James Madison. In seven games, he has gained 1,029 yards, also a school record.

"We thought we could control the football against Madison," Combs says. "We wanted to give Tony Vinson the ball 40 times."

They gave it to him 41 times.

"Tony welcomed that," says Combs. "He's a big back [221 pounds] and he wears opponents down. In the third and fourth periods, that's when you see him break a lot of tackles."

None of Towson's three remaining games will be at all easy, starting with Saturday's visit to Indiana of Pennsylvania.

"They're 7-0," says Combs, "and we're the only Division I-AA team on their schedule [IUP is No. 2 in Division II]. They'd love to beat us.

"Their defense is very good. In the last three years, we've scored a total of 10 points on them. They shut us out twice."

After IUP, Towson has an open date, then finishes with Northeastern (4-2-1) and Delaware (6-1), which pasted Navy last week, 37-21.

Look for Towson to win at least one of these three games. If they win two and wind up 5-5, Combs and his staff will have accomplished something no one thought possible a year ago.

* Henny Youngman's definition of mixed emotions is seeing your mother-in-law drive over a cliff in your new Cadillac.

Mine is seeing coach Ted Marchibroda win a big game -- for a team owned by Bob Irsay. That's what happened Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts upset previously undefeated Miami, 31-20.

Like most Baltimoreans who still seethe over what Irsay did to pro football here, I hope he never wins another game. But I know Marchibroda from the years he coached the Colts in Baltimore (1975-1979) and he's a good man.

Marchibroda is also a better coach than most Baltimoreans remember. He won three division titles ('75-'76-'77) and lost in the playoffs to Pittsburgh and Oakland when those teams were the best in the NFL. In fact, Marchibroda's Baltimore Colts did very well until quarterback Bert Jones was hurt.

Marchibroda's erred when he referred to Jones as The Franchise. When Bert went down, Teddy seemed to feel that all was lost. That had a terrible effect on the rest of the team.

Marchibroda, at 61, is getting a second chance. You can't begrudge a good man that.

Sunday night on their arrival back in Indianapolis the Colts had a hard time getting home because of the crowd that greeted them at the airport. It must have reminded Marchibroda of the days here when Sunday night airport celebrations were routine.

Since America loves an underdog, the national TV audience must have been thrilled by the Colts' victory in Miami. In our town the emotions probably were a little bit mixed, which is friendlier than I ever thought Baltimore could be to an Irsay-owned team.

* Note to swimmers: Though this is the end of October, you don't have to go indoors. The Maryland and Delaware Atlantic Ocean beaches were crowded with swimmers last weekend. It takes ocean water a long time to get cold.

* Johns Hopkins ended fall lacrosse with the best varsity-alumni game in the school's history. The alums led at halftime, 6-3, but the undergrads came on to win in overtime, 11-10, on a goal by junior Brian Piccola.

Don't take that to mean the varsity is weak. The alumni -- featuring 26 All-Americans -- not only were loaded but, because of year-round lacrosse, with summer and indoor leagues, they were in good shape. A new Blue Jays player who's going to help in the spring is midfielder Casey Gordon, transfer from Virginia.

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