Morgan aims to answer call Homecoming: The cry went out for more alumni support. It has and, in return, the team hopes to produce its first win at Ravens stadium tomorrow.

October 23, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Stump Mitchell wanted to deliver for the Morgan State alums who have answered his challenge of providing more scholarships, a bigger staff and better facilities.

In return, the school's football coach offered a winning season -- the first in 19 seasons -- and tomorrow was to be its showcase, homecoming against Delaware State at a new and sparkling Ravens stadium. Instead, when the game kicks off at 3: 30 p.m., Morgan State will be looking for its first win of the year and its first homecoming win since 1980.

In a microcosm of what's gone wrong for the Bears in 1998, an interception stopped one scoring drive and a fumble recovery led to a North Carolina A&T touchdown during a 19-16 loss Saturday, the team's ninth in a row.

"There shouldn't be much that needs to be said, we're 0-6," Mitchell said. "There's not much left for us to accomplish, but there are some things left, and one is to start winning. This is a chance for us to improve on our play and show that we're not as bad as our record indicates."

Even if the team falters, however, Morgan alums should deliver again. Around 30,000 people are expected to attend the first college game played at the new Camden Yards facility, well above the 20,000 organizers say is needed to break even.

So far, fans have bought approximately 15,000 seats, with school officials expecting a heavy onslaught of same-day ticket buyers. Plus, all 20 available luxury boxes have been sold for the game.

"[Morgan's record] hasn't affected [homecoming] at all," said Floyd Taliaferro, '74, in charge of student programs for homecoming. "The alumni will come back whether you are 0 and whatever. Homecoming is homecoming."

As Taliaferro attests, a fair segment of the alumni see the progress of the football team at the school in Northeast Baltimoreas having little connection to homecoming. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan have been coronated. The black-tie gala event will go on as planned. And in keeping with precedent or tradition, depending on your viewpoint, a loss may be part of the package.

"Morgan State hasn't won a homecoming game in 18 years, so it doesn't affect me," said James Waddy, '66, who sees losing the Colts as a much greater wound. "But I would like to see a win. We'll be rooting Morgan State on, and hope for the best."

This year's game is a good news-bad news proposition.The good news is that Delaware State (0-6, 0-3) is more than beatable. The Hornets are on a 12-game losing streak, having fallen to Liberty University last week, 53-21.

On the other hand, the Bears have beaten the Hornets once in 13 meetings since 1979.

"Our kids are going into this game thinking that they have a chance to win a game for a change," Delaware State coach John McKenzie said. "Going into each of our games so far, we knew that if we played a perfect game, we'd have a chance. We know we still need to play a perfect game, but they're struggling."

For alums like Waddy, the result matters little, since he sees Morgan as having improved itself in other ways, like increased enrollment and course offerings, and in the renovation and construction of academic buildings.

"Morgan State has been trying to get academics together more than the sports aspect," Waddy said. "You have people who are disappointed, but the big thing is the education, then what kind of employment you can get."

Some take the losing harder than others. Pete Pompey, '62, played football for Morgan besidefuture NFL Hall of Famers Leroy Kelly and Willie Lanier.

Pompey, speaking of the placid acceptance of the Bears' current state, said: "That's what's got to stop. You can love 'em, but you don't have to love 'em being 0-6."

The residue of this embarrassment has washed into the email of Garnett Purnell, Morgan State's athletic director.

"I've gotten some [messages] in regards to how they [critics] would handle the situation," said Purnell, in his third year as Morgan's athletic director. "I tell them we have made some inroads in how we're playing football. Let's take a look at how the program is now in comparison to where it was two or three years ago."

To the delight of those watching closely, Morgan's losses this season have made one want to gnash teeth instead of putting a bag over the head. The Bears have beaten themselves with inopportune penalties on offense, poor tackling and blown coverages on defense.

The losses still trouble Mitchell, the team's third-year coach, who remembers his first team having a 3-2 record at one point in 1996.

"We have a much better team [than in 1996]," Mitchell said. "Not only am I disappointed, but so are President [Earl] Richardson and everyone else associated with the program."

But hope seemed to be alive among players on Tuesday as all of the offensive line filed into the football office at various times to watch film of Delaware State's game against Bethune-Cookman.

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