Glory Days

By Scott Cole / January / February 2002
July 1st, 2007
They came to Brown more than a quarter-century ago as wide-eyed teenagers, taking a leap of faith with a confident new coach named John Anderson, who guaranteed a championship for a football program that had been struggling for years. This November they returned to campus for a weekend as middle-aged men eager to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of a promise kept: Brown's 1976 Ivy League championship, the first in the University's football history. The pinnacle of the weekend's silver-anniversary celebration was the induction of the entire team into the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame on November 10 over dinner at the Westin Hotel in downtown Providence.

"It's just hard to believe that many years have passed since it happened," said Scott Nelson '77, a cocaptain and All-Ivy linebacker with the 1976 champs, during a tailgate party for the team before the Brown-Dartmouth game that Saturday. "It's a group that stayed tight over the years, because we've had tenth and twentieth reunions. So we've enjoyed reminiscing twice before."

The 1976 football champs are the fifth team to be inducted as a group into the Hall of Fame, joining the likes of the 1926 football Iron Men, the 1938г39 men's basketball team, the 1949 football team, and the 1950е51 men's hockey team. Hall of Fame Committee member Jerry Massa '77 was so convinced that the 1976 Bears deserved the honor of induction that he researched and wrote a twenty-page report on the achievements and impact of the team and then submitted it to his fellow committee members. "It's very appropriate they should be inducted," says Massa, who played football for two years before switching to lacrosse. "Brown football was fantastic for many, many years and then went through a very, very tough time. The 1976 team was the first class recruited by coach Anderson. It was the resurrection of Brown football."

So significant was the resurrection that in a 1996 article marking the fortieth anniversary of the Ivy League, Richard Goldstein of the New York Times listed this 1976 football championship as one of the top ten highlights of the league's first forty years. Although Brown enjoyed a distinguished football history before 1976, almost all of it had been written at least twenty years earlier and before the beginning of formal Ivy League play. From 1956 through 1972, Brown, cumulatively, had the worst Ivy record of any of the Ancient Eight, including ten last-place finishes. In the eight seasons prior to Anderson's hiring in late December 1972, the Bruins (as the team was known back then) had won a total of twelve games and finished last in the Ivies seven times.

Lured away from Middlebury by thenЁAthletic Director Andy Geiger, Anderson put together a staff of young, talented assistants, recruited players nationally with relentless enthusiasm, and coached them with confidence and vision. "Anderson told us when we were freshmen, ԂBefore you're gone, you're going to win an Ivy title,' " recalls Mike Sherman '77, a defensive lineman. Nelson adds, "That was his constant pitch. It became ingrained in our heads. And each year it got a little better."

Anderson won with inherited players before he could bring in his own. His first team, in 1973, went 4г3б1, a dramatic upswing from the previous year's 1и8 finish under coach Len Jardine. But Anderson and his team were just getting warmed up. In 1974 the Bears won five and lost four and followed that up with a 6в2б1 mark in 1975, good enough for a second-place Ivy finish. Only one game, in fact, kept the title out of the team's grasp in that year: a 45в26 shoot-out against Harvard. But in 1976 there was no denying the Bruins. "Many people thought we were naive or crazy for following John Anderson's promise [of a championship] on blind faith," Nelson says. "But John and his staff delivered right on schedule in 1976."

With All-Ivy and All-East quarterback Paul Michalko '77 and wide receiver Bob Farnham '77 spearheading the offense and with linebackers Nelson and Lou Cole '78 forming the backbone of a defense that allowed just 102 points the entire year, Brown reached the pinnacle. The Bruins flew through a memorable fall, going 8б1 overall and 6б1 in league play. The only blemish was a 7ж6 loss to Penn in a game played in early October in monsoon-like conditions at the Brown Stadium. But the Bruins wrung themselves out and bounced back to win their final five games, including a thrilling 16б14 win at Harvard and a come-from-behind 28б17 victory at Columbia on the final day of the season that clinched the landmark championship. Although Brown had to share the title with Yale, it took comfort in having beaten Yale, 14ж6, in the season opener.

"The fact that we did something that no one else had been able to do really bonds us together," says Cole. "I think we rejuvenated the whole system. Everyone got interested in football again. We're proud of that legacy."

Fifty-five players, as well as assistant coaches Dave Ritchie, Joe Wirth, Andy Dzurinko, and Michael Goldberger (who is now Brown's director of admission), made their way to Providence for the November induction ceremony. ESPN's Chris Berman '77, who had been the Bruins' play-by-play voice on WBRU, was also there and was inducted as an honorary member of the 1976 team. Absent were Anderson, who passed away in 1998, and Charles Margiotta '79, a backup offensive lineman who as a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York was one of 343 firefighters killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11.

After Margiotta's teammates - many of them wearing red ribbons and FDNY caps in his memory - were honored on the field at halftime of the Brown-Dartmouth game, his family was presented with a framed football jersey bearing his old number, 65, by Athletic Director David Roach, football coach Phil Estes, and offensive lineman David Drais '02, who now wears Margiotta's old number. At the induction ceremony that evening, Margiotta's family members and several of his FDNY colleagues received a prolonged standing ovation from the overflow crowd. Margiotta's mother, Amelia, was presented with her son's championship ring, and the Margiotta family and his FDNY colleagues were named honorary members of the 1976 team. Senior Development Officer Dave Zucconi '55 announced a scholarship fund in Margiotta's honor.

After the ceremony, the 1976 champs gathered on a stairway at the Westin and belted out a hearty - if slightly off-key - rendition of "Ever True to Brown."

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January / February 2002