Skip to main content
Original Issue


The big boys from Syracuse have made a shambles of five good football teams, and now the Orangemen are bowl-bound

The color of hell has been variously described, but to the West Virginia football team last Saturday it appeared to be orange—the Orange of Syracuse. With a shocking display of speed and power and finesse, the unbeaten Orangemen razed the Mountaineers 44-0—and it could have gone higher. When the game was over, people were saying that this was one of the great teams of eastern football history, and—in 1959—it might even be the best in the land. Whether it is either or both of these things, Syracuse incontestably is a superlative piece of machinery—a hand-crafted engine that took 12 years to fashion.

At the beginning of the 1948 season Syracuse University won a football game from Niagara University, an event which left seismographs intact as far away as Ohio and Texas and California but created quite a stir at the two schools involved. Niagara eventually threw up its hands and abandoned intercollegiate football altogether, reasoning that if you can't even beat Syracuse why bother? Syracuse, on the other hand, clutched the Niagara victory to its breast like a drowning man, primarily because Syracuse had nothing else to clutch. The Orange didn't win another game all year.

The realization that only Niagara had saved Syracuse from its first victoryless season since 1892 sent officials of the school scurrying off in all directions. A new coaching staff was brought in, headed by a gravel-voiced little ex-paratroop major from the coal fields of West Virginia named Floyd Burdette Schwartzwalder. The recruiting program was accelerated, which means that the new coaching staff went out and dug up some halfbacks. Teams like Michigan State and Army and Maryland began to pop up on the schedule in place of Lafayette and Temple and John Carroll. And before long, there were those among the Syracuse opponents who were wishing that Syracuse had quit football, too.

Last Saturday, going into its game with West Virginia, Syracuse was unbeaten, untied and unable to work up a sweat. The team from Piety Hill (Syracuse was founded by the Methodists in 1870, and occasionally someone—maybe Schwartzwalder—still prays up there) had flattened Kansas, Maryland, Navy and Holy Cross, scoring 138 points to 33. It was leading the nation's major colleges statistically in scoring, in both rushing defense and total defense, and was third in yardage gained.

It is a big team, tall and quick and lean and mean, like something Bud Wilkinson might have brought to town, and it has unusual depth. In fact, it doesn't look like an eastern football team at all. The line, led by a deceptively gentle-faced tiger of 230 pounds named Roger Davis, simply eats up opposing lines. In the backfield there is both speed and agility. One halfback, Gerhard Schwedes, looks and acts like a younger brother of Jack Armstrong, the All-American boy, only Gerhard was born in Germany and didn't see a football until he was 11 years old. Still, he seems to have caught on to this foreign game very well. The fullback, Art Baker, is intercollegiate wrestling champion, with muscles on his muscles, and doesn't mind bumping into people a bit. The left halfback, a 205-pound sophomore of some promise named Ernie Davis, has been called another Jimmy Brown. He isn't, but he'll do.

On Saturday, Syracuse demonstrated how it had earned its rating as one of the best in the U.S. West Virginia did not figure to be too tough a test, but the Mountaineers had upset Pitt just a week before and Pappy Lewis' teams are always primed for Syracuse. At the best, Syracuse was expected to win by three touchdowns. Syracuse won by six.

The big Orange line kept relentless pressure on West Virginia's passing game and smothered Mountaineer ball carriers like a swarm of praying mantises. On offense their charge almost drove the West Virginia line off the field. And how those Syracuse backs did go.

They slashed 73 yards in 10 plays the first time they had the ball, Baker setting up the touchdown with a 24-yard run and Schwedes scoring from the two. In the second quarter they went 78 yards in five plays, a pass from Quarterback Dave Sarette to End Gerry Skonieczki covering 60 yards, and again Schwedes banged over, this time from three yards out. Then it became a rout.

Sometimes the rain came down in sheets, sometimes the sun popped out, but even the elements had no chance of slowing down Syracuse. Ernie Davis bolted 57 yards for the game's third touchdown; he slipped through the right side on Schwartzwalder's pet scissors play and went past the West Virginia safety man so fast that the defender appeared to be nailed to the ground. At this point the second-and third-stringers took over, without noticeable loss of efficiency, and made the score 30-0 at the half. Tackle Bob Yates, who kicks left-footed and had already made good on two extra points, booted a 35-yard field goal. And Mark Weber, who came into the game and ran like he was after Ernie Davis' job, completely confused the already befuddled Mountaineer defense by connecting with End Ken Ericson on a 19-yard touchdown pass.

After that, Syracuse eased up. Davis, a beautiful runner with great poise and unusual speed for his size, personally accounted for 61 yards in an 81-yard Syracuse drive. He scored from 29 yards out on the same play as before, only this time he threw such a fake at the West Virginia safety man that this long-suffering soul fell fiat on his face. Weber got the last touchdown in the fourth quarter from in close.

In all, Syracuse accumulated, by various methods, 589 yards during the afternoon and held West Virginia to 109. Baker gained 49 yards in seven tries and Weber 72 in nine. Davis, however, outgained the entire West Virginia team all by himself, rushing nine times for 141 yards. He may be another Jim Brown after all.

Syracuse is an unusual school, and its emergence as a football power is the result of unusual circumstances. One of the largest privately endowed universities in the country (it is the enrollment, 9,500, which is large, not the endowment), Syracuse is located less than a mile from the downtown business district of the city of Syracuse, about where the Onondaga Indians, a branch of the old Iroquois nation, used to hang out. Educational opportunities are adequate and varied, with some 19 colleges and schools available for those who prefer to study; and campus life is friendly and informal, full of sweaters and skirts and corduroys, sneakers and white buck shoes.

It is best to approach the university during daylight hours, for then the green grass and towering maple trees and lazy beauty of the central campus quadrangle tend to obscure the architectural hodgepodge of the buildings themselves, some of which, if stumbled onto unsuspectingly on a dark night, might well put an innocent observer to headlong flight. There is a dark and forbidding and ancient castle of a structure known as the Crouse College of Fine Arts and a tired old horror of stone, erected in 1873, called the Hall of Languages. But most of the buildings are only middle-aged, and the ivy which crawls over them softens the effect.

Archbold Stadium, where West Virginia suffered on Saturday, was built in 1907 with money donated by John D. Archbold, one of Rockefeller's old Standard Oil crew. It was the first oval stadium in America, and both Roman gladiators and the Dodgers would recognize the style. With steel stands rising above the original concrete structure on one side, wooden stands on the other, and bleachers built over the running track, Archbold Stadium now seats some 40,000 fans.

On certain Saturdays of the past, however, there was little need for about 30,000 of those seats. Although Syracuse had fine football teams in the 1920s and even into the '30s the opposition was frequently of a type to numb native hope. Even Syracuse students looked on football weekends as an excuse for a party rather than as an occasion to howl themselves hoarse in support of the Orange. The Ivy League changed all that.

The decision by the Ivy League in the early 1950s to begin working toward a round-robin schedule threatened to cost Syracuse its good games with Columbia and Dartmouth and traditional foe Cornell. Then Fordham dropped football, and suddenly Athletic Director Lew Andreas had to decide whether Syracuse was to go up or down, to retrench and play a low-pressure, low-income schedule or shoot for the big time; there was no longer a middle course. So Andreas, gambling that Syracuse could develop the teams, turned his back on Rutgers and Lafayette and John Carroll. Schwartzwalder and the New York State Thruway (which opened just in time to transport big-time crowds from all over the state into Archbold Stadium) and Jim Brown did the rest.

The first smell of success came to Schwartzwalder in 1952, but there wasn't anything sweet about it. The Orange Bowl Committee, unable to find anyone else, decided that the seven Syracuse victories over teams such as Temple and Colgate and Boston University qualified the team for a bid. Alabama showed Syracuse how unqualified it was; on New Year's Day of 1953 the Orange was humiliated 61-6.

Four years later, when Syracuse got another chance, it was ready. It had Jim Brown, and if anyone thinks that Brown is a remarkable professional fullback at Cleveland they should have seen him back with the college boys on Piety Hill. The Orange lost to TCU in the Cotton Bowl, but they lost honorably, 28-27, thanks to three Jim Brown touchdowns. When it was over, no one sneered at Syracuse football any more.

Since then, Schwartzwalder's recruiting has been much easier. He found enough good boys to produce last year's Orange Bowl team, and the 1959 squad is quite apparently the best yet. Syracuse has never had an undefeated season; there is still Pitt and Penn State and UCLA ahead this year; bowl is a forbidden word around Schwartzwalder until the season is over. Still, Syracuse thinks—and dreams.

Syracuse is far from a wealthy school despite its bowl revenue, and it has never been able to buy a great football player. Legally entitled to offer tuition, room, board, books and $15 a month laundry money under NCAA rules, Syracuse gives only tuition. "At some big state-supported schools," says Andreas, "tuition is worth only about $200. Here it is worth $1,200, and we think it is not too much to ask that a boy work at jobs we provide in order to pay for his room and board." Partly because of this (Schwartzwalder merely shakes his head and grins when the subject comes up), Syracuse is still unable to compete with Big Ten teams for the exceptionally talented boy ("I have never had a quarterback," says Schwartzwalder, "that as many as five schools were after"), nor with the Ivy League for the special type they seek, nor with the glamour of Army and Navy, nor with some of the southern schools whose entrance requirements are not so stiff. But by digging hard in football-poor New York State and in parts of football-rich Pennsylvania not dominated by Pitt and Penn State, and by making an occasional foray into Ohio when Woody Hayes is looking the other way, Syracuse seems to do all right. Roger Davis, the big guard, came from Ohio, and although Ohio State was uninterested at the time it is quite likely old Woody could find a spot for him now. Maryland was the only other college interested in Schwedes, who went to high school in New Jersey. If there is an exception on the squad it is Ernie Davis, who could have gone to colleges almost anywhere. But Ernie Davis idolized Jim Brown, and when Jim suggested Syracuse, Ernie went.

If the material seems only average, however, Schwartzwalder and the veteran staff he has had around him now for more than 10 years bring out whatever talent there is by skillful coaching and a shocking amount of physical labor. "We make up for inferior numbers and sometimes inferior material," he says, "by conditioning. We believe in hard work."

Ben Schwartzwalder (only his mother calls him Floyd) is one of the nation's finest coaches, and in a part of the country which has never produced great teams he has done a remarkable job. He came out of the University of West Virginia, where he played center at 152 pounds for Greasy Neale, to coach winning high school football teams at places like Sisterville and Parkersburg, W. Va. and Canton, Ohio. During World War II he jumped into Normandy with the 82nd Airborne and again across the Rhine. He was hit in the hand by shellfire and returned home with a handful of decorations, including a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. "I always told myself," he says, "that if those guys would just quit shooting at old Ben I'd never be scared of taking a football team onto a field again."

At Muhlenberg he coached with such success that he had to leave; the administration was unhappy that some of Muhlenberg's oldest opponents were threatening to quit playing Ben's teams. Syracuse, which wanted to scare somebody for a change, was happy to get him.

Some of the tactics and techniques Schwartzwalder has devised—and which have sometimes been credited elsewhere—are now copied across the country: a system of punt protection, drills involving a large blocking machine, jump switching in the line on defense. Perhaps Schwartzwalder even invented the wing T with the unbalanced line; at least, he discovered it for himself 12 years ago and has been using it ever since. "Like Topsy," he says, "it just growed."

He is a short man of 50 years with light blue eyes, close-cropped gray hair and a strong jaw. Wearing glasses and smoking his pipe, he looks more like a Dutch banker than anything else. The veterans of his coaching staff—like Bill Bell, who played under Ben both in high school and at Muhlenberg, and Ted Dailey, who once broke Ben's leg playing against him in a Pittsburgh-West Virginia game, and Rocky Pirro, once a pro with the Steelers and Buffalo Bills—insist that Schwartzwalder has mellowed with age. Yet he is still a fighter, a tough coach, and he works his boys hard. Only a brand of folksy humor helps smooth the rough edge.

"On the field," he says, "horse play is out of order. Oh, maybe on Thursday before a game, we let up a little and let the kids laugh. I guess you could call Thursday levity day. But you've got to be serious because these boys are serious. You don't kid college football players any more.

"Knute Rockne was the greatest coach that ever lived, but if he tried to fight-talk a team today they would laugh him out of the dressing room. I can remember when Greasy Neale told us three Saturdays in a row that his poor sick old mother was in the stands and that a West Virginia victory might make her well. It worked twice, when we were playing in Morgantown, and I guess it would have worked again if we hadn't gone to Milwaukee to play Marquette. Good Lord, someone finally said, if the old gal's that sick what's she doing way out here in Milwaukee? Greasy never tried that again. He did threaten to jump off a bridge a couple of times, though. Now, I wouldn't want to suggest that myself, not today. The kids might be all for it. You don't fool them any more."

Whether Ben Schwartzwalder has fooled his Syracuse ball club into thinking it is one of the best in the country, or whether he has worked them so hard that they are one of the best, or whether, like Topsy, they just growed that way, no one really knows. Just how good they are, no one knows yet, either. However, five teams—Kansas, Maryland, Navy, Holy Cross and West Virginia—will be glad to testify in the Orange behalf. The Syracuse football team looked pretty good to them.





With Roger Davis (69), the 230-pound pride of the Syracuse line, leading the way, Halfback Ernie Davis (44) takes off on the run which turned Saturday's game with West Virginia into a rout. The 205-pound sophomore burst through the line, headed for the sidelines and went 57 yards to score. Later he added another touchdown and played magnificently on defense as Syracuse won its fifth in a row.


Purdue resistance was displayed by Fullback Jack Laraway (33) in tackle of Iowa's Jerry Mauren (16), who had caught a 20-yard pass. Purdue squelched Iowa 14-7 at Lafayette, Ind., and in a big second quarter Laraway also scored a touchdown, set up another.

Auburn pass completion (unofficial) at Miami eluded the stretched-out receiver, Don Machen (23), but was achieved by Auburn Team Manager Buddy Davidson, who plays in Bermuda shorts. Miami's Doug Davis (45) watches. Surprise passing show by Auburn was decisive in 21-6 defeat of scrambling Miami. No. 1 hero was Quarterback Bobby Hunt, who on Auburn's first play unleashed a stunning 78-yard scoring pass.

Air force tuneup for inaugural game with Army this week included some unscheduled low-altitude flying at Los Angeles in 20-7 upset of UCLA. Falcon Quarterback Rich Mayo dived for the Bruins' Jim Johnson (37), who had just received a pass, and held on for dear life.

Penn state invasion of Big Ten territory put Illinois over the jumps 20-9 before only 15,045 in vast Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Typical of Illinois' woe was this vault to nowhere by Quarterback Mel Meyers (17), who was nailed for no gain by the undefeated Lions' Dick Hoak (41).

Northwestern bear hug by Mark Johnston (17) broke up pass intended for Notre Dame End Mike Lodish, and Wildcats remained undefeated, with 30-24 victory at South Bend.

Stanford gain of 47 yards against USC at Los Angeles was made by End Chris Burford (87), who made one-handed catch while outmaneuvering Trojans' Al Bansavage (62). Victory pleas by Stanford pompon girls (right) failed to thwart 30-28 USC triumph.