By Jim Dunne
The cancellation of the game scheduled for November 20, 1949, did not leave the Sunday before Thanksgiving empty for long. Don Collier, who managed many of the affairs of the Y Giants, scheduled another Syracuse team, the Bisons, to visit Norwich. The difference was that the Bisons were a true pro team, a member of the Eastern Football League, and definitely a step above the semi-pro Y Giants. Nonetheless, the Giants were 8 and 1, and unscored upon on the “ancient plains” of Alumni Field.
Game day was not pleasant for the spectators nor for the players, the cold and wet conditions resulting in heavy footing for the two powerful lines, handicapping the offense of both teams. The punting of Dick VanDeusen gave Norwich a slight advantage, and John Kelly played the entire 60 minutes, the first man to travel the route in any game for the Y Giants this season. Stopped on the ground by the end play of Babe Barnes and George Echentile and the interior line play of Sam DiNoto, Bob Conron, Frank Rodiquenzi and Jim Kelly, the Bisons took to the air with the wet and heavy leather ball. Norwich interceptions were registered by Harry Thompson (2), John Kelly and John Ebovicz, and fumble recoveries by George Echentile and Jim Kelly. In the second quarter, Richie Barnes scored after a Thompson interception and Plum Palmer made it 7–0. The Bisons then marched to the Norwich 14 yard line, where the drive stalled. Norwich took over and VanDeusen punted on first down. The surprise left Syracuse with the ball on their own 14, a punt of 72 yards. With neither team able to score in the second half, the bottom line was Norwich 7, Syracuse 0. A major victory for the hometown boys.
The finale of the 1949 season was the traditional (that is, for the third season) Thanksgiving morning contest, giving everyone the opportunity to see the game and then have time for turkey. The Y Giants players wanted another crack at the team that had registered the only blot on their record: the Endicott North Side Social Club. Endicott had lost the week before to Johnson City, 7–0, and so came in with a record of 10 wins and 1 loss, while Norwich was 9 and 1. The Giants would be without 3 men due to injuries: Jim Kelly had a blood clot on his knee, place-kicker Bob Palmer suffered a leg injury, and stalwart lineman Sam DiNoto had a swollen jaw and several missing teeth from the Sunday game (face guards had yet to become standard equipment). However, linemen Mike Rotundo and Nick Sylstra, who had missed the Bisons game due to illness, would be available.
Unlike the first match-up of the two teams, the final contest was fought in the air, with Endicott’s Gino Guidici completing 20 of 39 passes for 267 yards, while Norwich gained 151 yards on 12 of 33. The Northsiders intercepted 4 and the Giants 3. The score stood at 21 for Endicott and 13 for Norwich at the end of the third quarter. Norwich’s first touchdown came on a pass from Bob Crittenden to Babe Barnes, who raced down the sideline after pulling his old sleeper trick, and stiff-armed two defenders to take it all the way. The second was scored by the defense when George Echentile broke through to wallop Guidici as he dropped back to pass; the ball squirted up in the air and was caught by Don Barnes, coming in from his guard spot. Barnes ran 70 yards for the score, with Echentile providing a key block on the way. Palmer, bad leg and all, managed to convert one extra point. But in the fourth period, the Endicott passing attack really caught fire, and the Northsiders won going away, 34–13. Gino Guidici’s targets were Pete Biloz, Mike Biloz, Warren Jennings, and Angelo Guidici, and the combinations simply clicked, with the Norwich backs unable to defend in the face of such accuracy. At halftime, Don McGraw came down out of the stands and suited up, but it was to no avail (and certainly did not help his knee). It was a dismal finish for Norwich, the first loss on the home field, and the worst defeat suffered by the Y Giants in their 3-year history.
The record for the 1949 season was 9 wins and 2 losses, both of which came at the hands of the Northsiders from Endicott. The Giants rolled up 259 points, and allowed 60 against them, more than half of those in the final game. The Giants’ two flashy halfbacks led the scoring, Buddy Seaman with 54 points, and Richie Barnes with 42. Fullback Jim Kelly was next with 36, followed by place-kicking artist Bob Palmer with 27 (one-at-a-time), then John Kelly 18, Harold Barnes 18, Don McGraw 12, Burt Palmatier 12, Harry Thompson 7, Ray Clark 6, Dick Storrer 6, Fred Mirabito 6, Don Barnes 6, Loren VanSteinburg 6, George Echentile 2, and Dick VanDeusen 1.
In 1949, statistics were kept for the first time, as Bob VanTine tallied the running game only. Buddy Seaman gained 405 yards on 75 carries, while fellow halfback Richie Barnes toted 97 times for 491 yards. Jim Kelly blasted into the line 75 times for 317 yards, and brother John picked up 203 on 57 the same way. Ray Clark had 206 yards on 42 carries, and Burt Palmatier 180 on 45. Babe Barnes had the highest running average, picking up 35 yards on 4 end-around plays.
On defense, five men closely shared the most tackles: Jim Kelly 63, John Kelly (missed 3 games) 61, Bob Conron 60, Mike Rotundo 58, and Babe Barnes 55. Other defenders were Fred Mirabito 44, Sam DiNoto 39, Dick VanDeusen 35, Nick Systra 30, George Echentile 29, Don Barnes 28, Fay Cosens 27, Ed Weed 23, Harry Thompson 23, Bud Seaman 23, Karl Winter 16, Dick Storrer 16, Bob Palmer 15, Richie Barnes 13, John Ebovicz 11, Loren VanSteinburg 10, Don McGraw 9, Bob Crittenden 6, Frank Rodiquenzi 6, Bernie Thompson 6, Ray Clark 5, and Burt Palmatier 1. The punter, VanDeusen, averaged over 46 yards a kick. For the first three seasons, the combined record of the Norwich Y Giants was 22 wins, 5 losses, and 1 tie.
Ballots for the Judge Frank W. Barnes most valuable player award for the 1949 season appeared in the Norwich Sun, with the same procedure to be followed as for the prior season. Criteria were performance, team play, and sportsmanship. The year-end banquet was to be held on Wednesday, December 21st , at Randall’s Grille. Sam and Evelyn LaPolla, proprietors, had provided champagne for the players after every game, as well as a dinner for the team during the season, at which time they had introduced the “Y Giants Fight Song,” a composition they had authored along with blind piano-player Dick Mariani. This was rendered again at the year-end banquet, along with a solo performance by Frank Rodiquenzi, who sang “White Christmas” and “I’m in the Mood for Love.” The musical selections were poignant for many of the players, who had spent some Christmases during the war years in less friendly settings. The invocation was provided by the Rev. Larry Durgin, and the toastmaster was Bob VanTine, popular Sun sportswriter, field announcer, and team statistician. Van first introduced Coach Bob “Percy” Crittenden, who expressed his appreciation to the players. “It is not easy to practice nights after working all day,” the coach said, “but these players did that willingly and I am indeed grateful.”
Special guests at the banquet were the Alumni Field ticket-sellers. Hartley Ackley, chairman of the group, spoke briefly and introduced each of the men: Ken Tyler, Morris Chirlin, Ray Farley, Jack Boise, and Fenton Pooler. The squad gave them a big hand for their voluntary work. Next up at the podium was Bill Barnes, the donor of the trophy for the most valuable player as selected by the fans. The award for 1949 went to John Kelly, and he was a popular choice, as evidenced by the rousing ovation. The reserved founder of the team spoke briefly to express his appreciation and pride in the team. VanTine then introduced the guest speaker, saying, “It is a privilege to introduce the man who started you on the road to gridiron success and who has built the NHS athletic program into one of the best in the state, Kurt E. Beyer.” Beyer opened by praising the team for their success, and lauded them for their habit of cheering the opponents at the end of the game. He spoke about rules changes that were being discussed, and concluded by pointing out the opportunity that the Sunday afternoon heroes had to influence the young boys of the community, urging them to set an example as mentors.
The last speaker was Stan Georgia, business manager of the club, who gave a financial report on the season, and made the distribution of shares to the squad members. A special purse was presented to Coach Crittenden. At the conclusion, A. Wesley Gould, team photographer, presented team pictures to all of the players.
Part 11 of this 15-part series will appear in Monday’s Evening Sun.