The rise and fall of the La Salle football team


Bianca Abbate, Editor-in-Chief

This article was made possible in large part by the help of Catherine Carey from the La Salle University Archives.

For many college graduates, memories of football games are among the most prized of them all. An American tradition, college football is a culture immersed in family, tradition and even tribalism. Yet, for La Salle grads, most cannot relate to the nostalgic feeling of fall football games. In fact, many students at the University today may be surprised to know that — at different points in history — La Salle had its own football team that dates back to the 1930s. This week, the Collegian is looking at the chronology of the football team at La Salle and why the Blue and Gold no longer put their hats in the football ring. 

A Letter from Notre Dame

In Dec. 1930, legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne addressed a letter to Brother Francis de Sales of La Salle. In the letter, Rockne recommended that his former football team captain, Tom Conley, become the first football coach for La Salle College. A Philadelphia native, Conley was the captain and star end on the 1930 championship team at Notre Dame and was set to graduate in the spring. The college took Rockne’s advice and welcomed Conley back to Philly. Two months after signing the letter to Brother Francis, Rockne was tragically killed in a fatal airplane crash in Kansas. 

Conley, Brill and Victory

Practice for the La Salle College football team under the young Coach Conley commenced in Aug. 1931. Sep. 26, 1931, in front of a crowd of 3,000 at the old Baker Bowl (former home of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles) on Broad Street, La Salle defeated Brooklyn City College (26-0). The same year marked the beginning of the Collegian newspaper on campus; while the paper reported on the victory, the tenderfoot journalists did not report a date for this game. Oct. 17, 1931 marked the first home game in La Salle’s first varsity football season. The Blue and Gold (not yet the Explorers) came out victorious over Moravian College (18-6). Due to heavy rain, not many fans were able to witness the game. Nonetheless, the team was off to a great start, and for these newcomers, anything was possible. 

In March 1932, former Notre Dame star Marty Brill was signed as head coach of the football program. Come fall of 1934, the College registered an undefeated football season. Beating neighboring teams, such as St. Joe’s and Villanova, the La Salle football team was regarded as a premier program in the state of Pennsylvania.

The home of the Blue and Gold would be the Baker Bowl until the McCarthy Stadium opened in 1936. Named after a generous friend of La Salle College, John A. McCarthy, the stadium is a venue for sports at La Salle to this day.

The Beginning of the End 

No one knew that La Salle’s victory against the Pennsylvania Military College (12-2) Nov. 22, 1941 would be the University’s last official football game for 56 years. The grave events in American history to follow this game would be what ultimately pulled the plug on La Salle football. Dec. 7 1941 marked the attack of Pearl Harbor; the United States would enter World War II the following day. The University dropped the football program for the duration of the war. In its 11-season run, La Salle had a composite record of 51-34-8. 

A Fleeting Revival

In 1967, after a long absence from the campus, football unofficially returned to La Salle College via a club football team. In the season opener, Sat., Oct. 14, under the coaching of Frank Garfolo, the Blue and Gold defeated St. Francis College (20-0) in front of 3,000 fans. Of the five games in that club season, this game was the sole victory.

The Boys are Back in Town

Sep. 6, 1997, after a 56-year hiatus, the La Salle football team officially returned to the field, competing in NCAA football, Division 1-AA (non-scholarship). In that Saturday game, La Salle faced Fairfield University. At halftime, the Blue and Gold held the lead against Fairfield (10-7), but ultimately lost in the second half with a final score of 34-10. Nonetheless, the Explorers played for a crowd of 6,600 in the McCarthy Stadium stands. In its 1999 season, La Salle officially joined the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Football League (MAAC). 

Nov. 19, 2007, the La Salle administration announced that the University would discontinue the football program due to the collapse of the MAAC Football League (at which point only La Salle, Marist and Iona remained). The University did not have the resources to move La Salle to another conference due to traveling expenses. This announcement marked the conclusion of the La Salle football team in the modern era. So, while the Explorers are no longer attending tailgates before kickoff, they would be remiss to forget football was once a part of life at La Salle.

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