By Jim Dunne
As the 1947 season of the Norwich Y Giants closed with a record of 5 wins and one loss, preparations for 1948 were underway. A meeting of the football club was held at the Y, with president John Kelly presiding, and Stan Georgia reported on the financial results of the brief season. Revenues came from ticket sales at the gate. After all expenses were paid, the balance on hand was $1,128. Expenses included a premium of $420 to insure all members of the squad against injury up to $500 per man, an amount which was seen as adequate to cover most injuries! The balance was used to purchase equipment and uniforms, and for 1948 the well-dressed Y Giant would appear in silver pants and green jerseys with silver numerals.
The purple uniforms and equipment that had been shared by the NHS varsity and the Giants were returned to the school for the last time. It is fair to say that without the role played by Kurt Beyer in arranging the loan of the equipment, as well as filling in as coach for one crucial game, the Y Giants never would have gotten off the ground. On December 12, 1947, during the halftime of a Norwich basketball game, Bob VanTine, business manager of the Giants, presented Coach Beyer with a wristwatch from the players as a token of their appreciation for all that he had done to make the season successful. “Everything that Coach did was unrewarded,” VanTine said, “except for the personal satisfaction of seeing his former students compete successfully once again.” It was one of the few times that Beyer was rendered speechless.
Before the new season started, a plan to sell season tickets was announced by the Y Giants’ Advisory Board. Seven home games were scheduled, and a season ticket could be had for $7. The price at the gate would be $1.20. Named as chairmen of the season ticket drive were Hartley Ackley and Sheriff Frank Machio. Over 200 season tickets were sold by the date of the first game. It was announced that “the public address system will be in use,” and Bob VanTine manned the microphone. In an effort to control the horde of youngsters who had created a distraction with their own brand of football along the sidelines, all children under the 9th grade were offered free admission as long as they sat in a special section of the stands. Don Crittenden, who had been injured, volunteered to oversee this boisterous group. Special membership cards were printed for the “Y Giants Junior Boosters,” and over 400 kids signed up.
On August 16, 1948, the first practice for the second season was held at the Cortland Street Park, where lights had been installed enabling the team to practice until after dark. Coach Jack Lee held regular practices leading up to the opening game against Seneca Falls. The game, played on September 19, revealed several changes to the Norwich eleven. One was the addition of the split-T formation as an alternative to the short punt. Another change resulted from a serious neck injury to starting guard Ang “Rackatack” Natoli, which occurred in the last practice before the game and left him paralyzed for several hours. Natoli was replaced in the line-up by Andy McMullen, a newcomer to the squad. Also playing for the first time were back-up quarterback Ken Meade, end Bill Crawley (the coach of the RPI freshman team), and lineman Sam DiNoto (captain of the 1945 purple eleven), along with Nick Sylstra, Dick Carnrike, Jack Frink, Chuck White, Buff Magistro, and the third Barnes brother, Don. Most of the players from the 1947 squad were back, and the names of the stars in the 6–0 win over Seneca Falls were familiar: VanDeusen, McGraw, Crittenden, Kelly, Currie, Barnes, Conron, Lee, Spadaro, and Tracy.
The second game, a 14–0 victory over the North Utica Athletic Club on September 26, starred fullback John Kelly, and served as a tune-up for the visit of Norwich’s biggest challenge, Little Falls. North Utica had been whipped by the Little Falls club by a score of 25–0, and their coach advised Coach Jack Lee that Norwich would have to play better if they wanted to beat Little Falls. At this early date in the season, neither Norwich nor Little Falls had been scored upon. Lee scheduled practices every evening, and Norwich went into the Sunday game with Richie Barnes and Andy McMullen nursing leg injuries, but expected to play. Fran Spadaro was out with an injury, and he was missed on defense. Names added to the Norwich roster, in addition to the above, were Charlie Meade (Ken’s brother), Frank Kelly (Jim’s and John’s uncle), and John Mead. Little Falls came into town determined to avenge the 7–0 loss to Norwich in 1947.
Led by 3 brothers named Mueller and a center named Czar Malavasic, Little Falls lived up to their reputation. Before one of the largest crowds (at least 1,400) to ever witness a game on what Perry Browne called “the ancient plains of Alumni Field,” Norwich went down 13–7. Little Falls’ scores came as a result of a Norwich fumble and a pass interception. Norwich scored on a pass from Bob Crittenden to John Blood. It was the first time in 6 years of playing halfback that Blood had scored, since his most valuable role was as a blocker. The Norwich score was set up by another pass, this one to Plumb Palmer, who was lined up as a tackle at the time. After his reception, Palmer bowled over several tacklers and was finally brought down by a player who was carried off the field as a result. The officials refused to rule Palmer an ineligible receiver, despite Little Falls’ protests. Other outstanding performers for Norwich in a losing cause were Bill Crawley, Burt Palmatier, Dick VanDeusen, Bob Conron, Sam DiNoto, Bill Currie, the Barneses, and the Kellys. The Giants looked forward to the return match scheduled at Little Falls in 3 weeks. Unknown to Ang Natoli, who was working the “chain gang” in a neck brace, a collection was taken up among the fans for his welfare, and he was overwhelmed by their kindness. And the Giants, remembering their visit to Little Falls in 1947, treated the Little Falls team to dinner.
The next Sunday, October 10th, brought the Vestal Bears to town to face “The Green Wave,” as Perry Browne had dubbed the Y Giants. Although Vestal had won 2 and lost 1, they were demolished 25–0 by a Norwich team still smarting from their loss the week before. Touchdowns were scored by Richie Barnes on a 16-yard end run, Bill Crawley on a 35-yard jaunt with a recovered fumble, Burt Palmatier with a classy 40-yard run with an interception which recalled his performances 11 years earlier when he captained the NHS “dream team” of 1937, and Don McGraw with a sensational catch in the end zone of a Bob Crittenden pass. Coach Lee played briefly on defense, giving an object lesson in tackling, and other reserves putting in some time were Frank Kelly, Chuck White, Buff Magistro, Charlie Meade, John Mead, Nick Sylstra, Charlie Wightman, and Billy Lee.
After 4 games at home, the Y Giants went on the road to play the Herkimer Generals on October 17. A combination of negative factors made it a game better forgotten. The Giants were without the services of Dick VanDeusen, Andy McMullen, Neap Tracy, Fran Spadaro, and Ken Meade, and their absence put a noticeable burden on the rest of the team. The officials contributed to the confusion by approving quarters of 15, 12, 12, and 15 minutes in length, and then changing the final one to 12 with no notice to the visitors. The field was a sea of mud due to several days of rain, and finally, the anticipation of the upcoming return match with Little Falls the following week was probably a distraction. At any rate, the result was a 7–7 tie. As Navy coach Eddie Erdelatz said a few years later, “A tie is like kissing your sister.”
Part 5 of this 15-part series will appear in Friday’s Evening Sun.