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50 years ago, Terps ruled

Time has smudged memories of '51 team, but not even '01 UM is match for its feats

College Football: 1951 Terps

November 23, 2001|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Left guard Bob Ward, Maryland's first All-American, talked about how Shemonski got his nickname. "The guy stood right in front of me in the huddle and never said one word the whole time we played together."

Ward and linebacker Dave Cianelli were both 24 - having seen military service - and they were chosen co-captains.

Ward, a rock of a man at 5-10 and 182 pounds, was often described as the "best player, pound-for-pound," in the country.

Later, as Maryland's head coach in 1967 and 1968, Ward won only twice and resigned. He now lives in Annapolis.

Dick Modzelewski credits Ward's skills on the field in 1951 with helping prepare his teammates. "The games were easy for me after Bob Ward beat ... me in practice," he said.

"Little Mo" got his nickname because he was a year younger than brother Ed. But Dick actually was bigger (6-0, 235) than "Big Mo" (6-0, 210).

The Modzelewskis, who were from West Natrona, Pa., were typical of the players from hard-working, blue-collar families that Tatum loved. The coach often invited their father, Joe Modzelewski, onto the sidelines during games.

The father would pose proudly for pictures with his sons while wearing Ed's No. 39 on the right side of his top-coat lapel and Dick's No. 63 on the left.

When "Big Mo" graduated and got married in his hometown, near Pittsburgh, Tatum attended the ceremony. It left a lasting impression with the family.

During the recruiting process, the Modzelewskis received enticing financial offers from schools, the brothers said, though none of them came from Maryland.

Tennessee recruiters laid $5,000 on the Modzelewskis' kitchen table in an attempt to lure "Big Mo" to the Volunteer State. It didn't work, Ed Modzelewski recalled, even though his mother, Martha, said increduously, "Your father only makes $6,000 for an entire year."

Dick Modzelewski said a South Carolina recruiter drove a new, 1949 convertible to West Natrona. He told "Little Mo" it could be his.

But "Little Mo" chose Maryland, putting him in a position to lead the defensive front against Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl.

Besides "Little Mo," the finely tuned unit consisted of Paul Nestor, Ed Kensler and Bob "Blubber" Morgan. During the regular season, Tatum had employed a five-man defensive line, but changed it to confuse Tennessee in the bowl game. As a result, the Volunteers did not make it into Maryland territory until midway in the second quarter.

The Terps' offensive strategy in the game was to run straight at a very quick Tennessee linebacker, Ted Daffer. Tennessee's triple-threat, All-America halfback Hank Lauricella, said last week the 10-0 Volunteers were surprised by the Terps' tactics.

"By the time we figured out what they were doing, it was too late. We were well into the second half," he said.

It was a Sugar Bowl that would have far-reaching ramifications since the Terps' appearance led to the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Maryland was suspended by the Southern Conference in 1952 because Byrd had defied the league's ban on playing in bowl games by accepting a bid to the Sugar Bowl. That prompted Maryland to play an independent schedule in 1952 that included five Southeast Conference schools.

Then, in 1953, Tatum and his close friend, South Carolina football coach Rex Enright, joined forces to lead a drive that would result in the birth of a seven-team ACC. The schools were Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Duke and Clemson.

Ward was the only first-team All-American on the 1951 Maryland team, being a consensus selection after he was a first-team All-American choice in 1950.

The Modzelewski brothers were second-team All-American picks in 1951. Of course, the voting was done before the Sugar Bowl.

"Little Mo" was a consensus first-team All-American and Outland Trophy winner as the top lineman in the country the next year.

The NFL drafted 12 seniors from the 1951 team, with "Big Mo" being the only first-round pick. Cianelli (sixth round) and Ward (24th round) went to Texas, and Shemonski (30th round) to Chicago.

Three underclassmen on that 1951 team would later be first-round picks. They were quarterbacks Scarbath and Bernie Faloney and fullback Dick Bielski.

"Little Mo" and Chet "The Jet" Hanulak would go on to be second-round selections in 1953 and 1954, respectively.

After Ed Modzelewski was drafted in the first round by the Steelers, he played for the hometown team for two seasons before being traded to Cleveland.

The Browns would later draft Jim Brown, and "Big Mo's" pro career ended after five injury-marred seasons. He then opened a steakhouse in Cleveland and now spends three months a year there and the rest of the time in Arizona.

Dick Modzelewski now lives in New Bern, N.C., where the fishing is good. He played 14 years in the NFL for Washington and the New York Giants.

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