By Jim Dunne
In the fifth game of the 1950 season, Buddy Seaman continued his scoring spree, reaching paydirt three more times in a 33–0 romp over an out-classed Little Falls team at Alumni Field, and bringing his total to seven touchdowns for two games. Mike Rotundo starred defensively for Norwich, making tackles in the visitor’s backfield repeatedly. Since the beginning of the rivalry in 1947, Little Falls had always provided intense competition for the Y Giants, but this game apparently caught them at a low point, while the Giants were flying high. Bob VanTine’s comments in his column pointed out that “the team ... at present must be regarded as the best Y Giants eleven in the club’s four-year history. Prospects for an undefeated season are taking on a rosy hue.”
Those prospects were dashed the next week, as a new team sponsored by the Cortland Moose came to town on October 22nd. With only a couple of games under its belt, the Cortland team had defeated a team from Utica the Sunday before by 53–0. In that era, Norwich High School played an independent schedule, and Cortland HS was a regular opponent. It was expected that both of the semi-pro teams would recognize some of the names on the other side of the ball. In a defensive battle, the Y Giants ended up on the short end of the 6–2 score. A lineman named John Seamans was a major factor in holding Buddy Seaman and his mates to a record-low total of 18 yards on the ground. Norwich was able to contain the Cortland offense also, with the exception of one long run that made the difference. The Giants’ two points were scored when Frank Rodiquenzi and Bob Palmer blocked a Cortland punt in the end zone. Dick Beardsley, NHS ’44, joined the team at this point in the season, playing tackle.
Norwich, now 5 and 1 on the season, would entertain a Vestal team which also had a 5 and 1 record for the last home game of the season before embarking on three road trips, the last of which would be on November 19th against the Cortland Moose. With John Kelly sitting out the Vestal encounter, Frank Rodiquenzi played the whole game at fullback, scoring three times in a 26–7 win for the Giants. The other touchdown was scored by Dave Seaman, younger brother of Bud, on a 12-yard dash in the final quarter. Dave also recovered a fumble to set up another touchdown, and Ray Turner intercepted a pass that he would have taken for a score, had he not collided with another green-clad Giant.
The first of the road games was at Little Falls – or at least that is where it was supposed to be. When the Norwich team arrived, they were told that they could change in a garage. Manager Don Collier contacted the local YMCA, and arranged for the use of their facilities. Then, the Giants were informed that the Little Falls field was being repaired, and the game would be played in Newport, some 14 miles away. When they arrived in Newport, it was revealed that the field was on an island, accessible only by a suspension footbridge. There was a brief delay while the Norwich center persuaded his future wife that the bridge would not collapse with her in the middle of it. Once the swaying bridge was crossed with no loss of personnel, the field came into view – complete with hills and valleys the length of it. A mixture of rain and snow fell throughout the game, making the uneven field even more adventurous. When only two officials appeared, a fan was chosen from the sidelines, and he contributed by assessing the Giants a 5-yard penalty for “talking too much.” The final score was 14–0, with Norwich touchdowns scored by Bob Crittenden on a quarterback sneak and John Pierson on a 60-yard run over hill and dale with a recovered fumble. Plumb Palmer nailed the PATs. Also playing well for the Giants were Tony Liberatore, Bud Seaman, punter Rodiquenzi, and center Fred Mirabito, and on defense George Podenak (fumble recovery), Frank Cline, Frank DiNoto, and Babe Barnes. Humorous in retrospect, the day’s experience made the Norwich players and fans realize how quickly an excellent organization could deteriorate, Little Falls having been a classy and competitive team up until 1950.
The penultimate game of 1950, and the second on the road, was at Sidney. Although highly favored, the Giants hadn’t forgotten the close 7–0 shave that opened the season. It seemed that coach Jack Lee could always inspire his team to play its best against Norwich. There was also a tendency to look past Sidney to the game against Cortland the following week, since Cortland had inflicted the only defeat so far. However, Norwich lambasted Sidney to the tune of 46–0, with Tony Liberatore and Bud Seaman each scoring three touchdowns. Dave Seaman and Frank Rodiquenzi also contributed to the ground game, while Bob Higgie hauled in three passes from the Crittenden boys. Ray Turner, George Echentile, and Mike Rotundo shone on defense.
Going into the final game of 1950, Norwich was 8 and 1, with the only loss to the Cortland Moose, who were undefeated. The final game was played at Randall field in Cortland. The Giants were determined to avenge their only loss, and Coach Bob “Percy” Crittenden asked Norwich High mentor Kurt Beyer to assist him and Bob Ryan on the sidelines. Coach Beyer brought with him Horace Ward, the outstanding punter who had just completed his high school career. The practices during the week preceding the game were the most intense of the entire season. The Giants’ running game, which had been its strength through four years, had been bottled up and limited to a total of 18 yards in the first Cortland game, and both coaches and players were determined to spring their talented runners free this time. The first game had been very physical, but had been kept under control by referee Frank Giltner and his steady partners, Shorty Long of Oneonta and Tom O’Neil of Walton. The game in Cortland was even rougher. Babe Barnes returned to Norwich with a black eye. The officials hit Norwich with 120 yards in penalties, and Cortland with 55, but the game still got out of hand more than once. At some points, the fans who had congregated on the sidelines spilled onto the playing field, hampering play in the heated contest.
The Cortland defense keyed on Norwich’s great running back, Buddy Seaman. They apparently had not heard of Tony Liberatore, who was able to break loose for over 100 yards and two touchdowns. When the dust settled, the final score was Norwich 21, Cortland 7. The third touchdown was scored by John Pierson when he recovered a punt that had been blocked by John Kelly. Kelly was playing his final game, and the team founder turned in one of the best performances of his illustrious career, recovering three Cortland fumbles, blocking the punt, and halting many running plays with his hard-nosed tackling.
Also making a touchdown-saving tackle was Sam DiNoto, who was playing in considerable pain due to a displaced vertabra. When he found himself the only obstacle between a Cortland runner and the goal line, he quickly decided that if he hit the man hard enough, he would avoid further damage to his back. The ensuing collision resulted in the ball-carrier’s being carried off the field, and DiNoto’s displaced vertabra snapping back into place!
The Moose, stopped on the ground, threw 27 passes and completed 13, but the damage was limited by the outstanding play of Harry Thompson at defensive halfback. The entire Giants team played well, and the win was a gratifying way to end the season. Also singled out for special mention was Horace Ward, whose punting kept the Moose at bay, along with defensive stalwarts Rotundo, Mirabito, Cline, Turner, Echentile, Barnes, and Sam DiNoto.
The Giants’ record for 1950 was 9 wins and 1 loss. They scored 206 points and allowed 44. Buddy Seaman led all scorers with 11 touchdowns for 66 points, more than doubling the output of the second leading scorer, Tony Liberatore, who had 30 points, all in the last two games. Other point makers were Frank Rodiquenzi 26, Bob Palmer 19, John Pierson 18, and Babe Barnes 13. Pierson’s total of 18 set a local record for points scored by a lineman. Scoring 6 points each were John Kelly, George Echentile, Harry Thompson, Dave Seaman, and Bob Crittenden, while Fred Mirabito and George Podenak were credited with 2 each.
A plan for the distribution of player shares had been approved by the players at a pre-season practice on August 29, 1950, and $1,416 was doled out to 27 players according to the number of points they had earned. Three points were awarded for each game and one for each practice. A log book was kept by manager Don Collier, and each player was required to sign it to receive credit for attending each practice. Injured players were expected to attend practices and games, and received credit. Men who traveled a distance to play in games received an extra point for each game (Conron, Pierson, Bud Seaman, Cline, and Beardsley). Since there were 10 games and 27 practices, the most points possible were 57, earned by Harold Barnes and Tony Liberatore.
Plans for the season-ending banquet were announced by the Norwich Elks Club entertainment committee, consisting of Dr. Jim Flanagan, George Byrne, Henry Berry, and Ed Lee. The public was invited to the banquet, held on December 20 at the Elks Lodge, and ballots for the Judge Barnes award for the most valuable player were placed in the Norwich Sun. The master of ceremonies would be Carl Fribley and the guest speaker would be Ben Schwartzwalder, head football coach at Syracuse.
Part 13 of this 15-part series will appear in Wednesday’s Evening Sun.