By Jim Dunne
Of the 11 games that the Norwich Y Giants played in 1948, only 3 were out-of-town. The sixth game was one of them, and it was at Little Falls on October 24th. Little Falls had triumphed over the Giants at home in the third game, 13–7, and had not lost since Norwich beat them 7–0 during the 1947 season. The Giants were ready to avenge the loss.
A huge crowd of fans made the trip from Norwich up through the gorge. One of Norwich’s best-known fans, Fred Perry, said that wherever he looked, he saw someone from Norwich. Stan Georgia obtained a bus from Oneonta, and the $2.50 seats sold out in no time. Fortunately, the Y Giants did not disappoint. Exhausting his supply of superlatives, Perry Browne’s account provides some excerpts:
A group of football players whose achievements on the gridiron brought much success to Norwich High and who are now operating as a semi-pro unit named the Y Giants, reached down into their vast store of grid knowledge, ability and sheer fight Sunday and came up with the most thrilling, spectacular, and greatest performance of their illustrious careers as they defeated the powerful and previously unbeaten Little Falls Veterans 20–19 in a thrill-a-minute fray at Little Falls that left every fan in the park limp from the excitement and tension of the furious tempo of play. A capacity throng of about 2,600 people saw the two teams swap touchdown for touchdown and watched the Giants of Norwich win on the strength of the “golden toe” of sure-footed Bob Palmer whose two perfect placements provided the margin of victory.
In jolting Little Falls from the ranks of the undefeated, Norwich accomplished what six teams had failed to do (including Norwich earlier in the season) and in scoring 20 points Norwich accounted for more than six combined opponents could muster. Of the 33 points scored against Little Falls this year, 27 have been made by Norwich.
Little Falls scored first but Norwich marched back to deadlock the count, the tally at the half reading 7–7. Norwich scored two minutes after the second half got under way and converted. Early in the fourth quarter, Little Falls tallied but missed the conversion. Norwich bounced back to score again, missing this conversion and then, never-say-die Little Falls fought back to tally in the last 20 seconds but missed a tie game when Jack Lee and Sam DiNoto smeared Mueller’s line buck bid for the equalizing point.
Heroes for Norwich were numerous and several men contributed performances without which victory would have been impossible, but the key showing was turned in by one of the greatest defensive ends this area has seen in many years, Harold “Babe” Barnes. Barnes’s play Sunday was superb as he completely thwarted any move to sweep his end and repulsed the foe on every occasion no matter how many blockers preceded the ball carrier. Add to the Norwich roll of honor the name of John Kelly. Injuries were supposed to have benched this man but he came through with flying colors contributing one of his greatest grid showings to the Norwich cause. Kelly scored the final touchdown, blocked and recovered a Little Falls punt to set up the second, and checked the second Little Falls conversion. Then add the names of Don McGraw (snared a touchdown pass and intercepted one of the foe’s aerials to set up the third Norwich six pointer), Palmer (his placements provided the margin of victory), Richie Barnes (swivel-hipped 24 yards to paydirt in the final period), and Andy McMullen (from a guard slot he made 12 tackles).
Browne goes on with a play-by-play account of the game, calling out a few more men for their superior performance: Bob Conron, Bob Crittenden, Burt Palmatier, Dick VanDeusen, and John Blood. He even wrote a separate article listing many of the fans who were in attendance. According to Hooker Ferry, it was the best game he had ever seen at any level. It was certainly the highlight of the 1948 season.
On the next Sunday, Norwich hosted the Oneonta All-stars, a team recently formed of former Oneonta HS, Hartwick, and Colgate stars, and with a record of 1 win and 1 loss. Some old personal rivalries were renewed, and “Dank” Giltner and his fellow officials had their hands full. The game was an injury-plagued and penalty-filled affair, with 2 men from Oneonta and one from Norwich being ejected. Norwich eked out a 9–7 victory, thanks to a safety, which was the only scoring in the first half and which resulted from a booming VanDeusen punt that went out of bounds on the one-foot line. (VanDeusen, a student at Muhlenberg, travelled up from Allentown every week to play with the Giants.) Defensive stars were Bob Conron, Andy McMullen, Nick Sylstra, and Jim Kelly, who had his best game so far. Richie Barnes scored the touchdown for the Giants.
On November 7, the Giants invaded the Union-Endicott North Side Social Club, hoping to regain the brand of play that had earned them the Little Falls victory. The North Siders brought a record of 7 wins and 1 loss, and were heavily favored over Norwich. The odds proved to be correct, as the North Siders rolled up a 25–0 advantage before Norwich scored twice in the fourth quarter for a final score of 25–13. The “Green Wave” fumbled 7 times, with U-E recovering 6 of them, and were unable to gain on the ground. Both Norwich scores came on passes from “Percy” Crittenden to Babe Barnes, one of them achieved on “the ancient, moth-eaten sleeper play.” Both Norwich fans and players agreed that the U-E backfield of Estep, Harris, and the Guidici brothers was the best they had seen. Although beaten, the Green Wave were not disgraced.
At this stage in the season, with 3 games left, it was announced by the Y Giants Board of Control that a season-ending banquet would be held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Board of Control was chaired by William P. McNulty, a retired Pharmacal Co. executive, with Stan Georgia, Kurt Beyer, Perry Browne, and player representative Bob Conron as members. Tentative plans were for a banquet and program open to the public to recognize the team, with a guest speaker and two awards, one provided by Bill Barnes to be known as the Judge Frank W. Barnes award, which would go to the most valuable player as determined by a vote of the fans. Ballots would appear in the Norwich Sun, and each fan could cast one vote for first, second, and third place. Only one MVP would be chosen, and each ballot had to be signed by the fan. Another award, provided by the Rome Sports Center, would be known as the “Players’ Player” award, and would go to a player chosen by his teammates. Further details were promised soon.
The last 3 games would be a return engagement of North Utica, 14–0 victims of the Giants in the second game of the season, the Syracuse Nationals, losers of a 14–13 squeaker in the 1947 season, and the Sidney Cardinals in a special Thanksgiving morning contest. Since their loss to the Giants, the North Utica team had added several players and had gone through the rest of the season without a loss. In addition to having tackle Fran Spadaro available again, the Giants had been joined by John Pierson, a former Purple Tornado lineman and a regular with the Hartwick College eleven. Halftime entertainment would be provided by the NHS band, as a result of a financial contribution from “Uncle Bill” McNulty. It was a good game with several outstanding plays, but played before a disappointing crowd of about 600. The Giants duplicated their earlier score, winning 14–0. It was the first game that they operated exclusively from the T formation. Jim Kelly and Babe Barnes were the touchdown makers, with Don McGraw and Richie Barnes contributing key interceptions, and Dick VanDeusen’s punts keeping the Utes in their own end of the field. Bill Currie and a new lineman, Ray Lowe, were stalwarts on defense.
Part 6 of this 15-part series will appear in Monday’s Evening Sun.