NEW YORK -- Fifty years ago two of the greatest coaches in college football history put together a masterpiece at Fordham called 'The Seven Blocks of Granite.'
The Blocks' Homer was an unknown news service caption writer who first used the term to describe them and their Virgil was Grantland Rice, who dressed up the image with one of his classical-related ryhmes popular in sports writing during the 1930s. It was Rice, of course, whose pen also gave immortality to 'The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.'
In 1935, Fordham's head coach was Jim Crowley, one of 'The Horsemen,' and its line coach was Frank Leahy, the only coach who ever threatened Knute Rockne's reputation as the best in Notre Dame history.
The line they put together consisted of, from left to right end, Leo Paquin, Ed Franco, Nat Pierce, Alex Wojciechowicz, Vince Lombardi, Al Babartsky and Johnny Druze. They played the entire 1935 and 1936 seasons as a unit and had three replacements due to graduations in 1937. Those seven, however, are the heart of the legend.
These were Fordham's glory days of big-time football between 1927 and 1942. The Rams were a match for any football power in those days. They fielded outstanding teams under Frank Cavanaugh in 1929 and 1930 but rose to national prominence under Crowley in the mid-1930s. In nine years under Crowley, Fordham compiled a 58-13-7 record surpassed only by Minnesota's 58-9-5 and Alabama-s 68-11-6.
The respective records of the 'Block Teams' were 6-1-2 in 1935, 5-1-2 in 1936 and 7-0-1 in 1937 for a combined mark of 18-2-5. They were unbeaten and unscored upon through the line in 1936 until upset by New York University, 7-6, in the final game of the 1936 season and finished their careers with a 20-7 triumph completing an unbeaten season in 1937. Uninvited to post-season bowls in those years, their successors lost to Texas A&M, 13-12, in the Cotton Bowl in 1941, and beat Missouri, 2-0, in the Sugar Bowl in 1942.
The dynasty seemed secure but a new force had arrived at Fordham in the person of the Rev. Robert I. Gannon, S.J., president of the university. An intellectual, Gannon deplored what he considered over-emphasis on football, disassociated Fordham from basketball at Madison Square Garden just in time (not a single Fordham player was implicated in the betting scandal of 1951) and favored an intra-mural program of 'college athletics for college students.'
It wasn't long before Gannon's policies prevailed and the era of Fordham football superiority was ended.
Lombardi, of course, went on to heights few others have achieved, climaxed by his establishment of a pro football dynasty in Green Bay and his insistence in excellence summed up in the words, 'winning isn't the best thing; it's the only thing.'.
Fifty years after 'The Blocks,' Fordham's varsity sports program is low-key. Fordham fields a total of 18 varsity men's and women's sports teams and is a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Men's basketball is Fordham's premier Division I sport, having had four consecutive post-season bids and winning a MAAC championship in 1983. Fordham also has a variety of successful club sports including rugby, lacrosse, crew, hockey and equestrian.
Fordham sports' pride and joy, however, is the Vincent T. Lombardi Memorial Center which throughout the year provides students, faculty, staff and alumni with a wide variety of intramural, recreational and lifetime sports activities.
Facilities housed within the center, opened in Oct. 1976, include a 220-yard track, tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, squash courts, women's weight room, men's weight room, locker rooms with Finnish saunas and a 38-meter pool.
'This is the national memorial my father would have wanted,' says Vincent H. Lombardi, the late coach's son.
So, too, it might be added would the Rev. Robert I. Gannon, S.J.
Adv for Thursday, Feb.