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This Championship Season?
Penn is well-positioned for a run at the Ivy title.
By Noel Hynd
This could be an interesting year for Penn football.
More to the point, this could be another year when Penn wins the Ivy championship. Granted, the same optimistic words are being spoken at the seven other Ivy League universities. But even in the wake of the opening game loss to Dartmouth at Franklin Field, Penn should be positioned very nicely for a run at the title.
Head coach Al Bagnoli enters his sixth season here with the highest total of Ivy victories (28) and highest Ivy winning percentage (.771) of any Penn coach in history. Last year, however, the Quakers were hurt when Mark DeRosa signed with the Atlanta Braves during his junior year, throwing the starting quarterback situation into chaos. Penn ended the season with a 3-4 record in the Ivies (5-5 overall), but lost its four Ivy games by a total of 16 points. One word often heard among players at the end of last season was "disgusted" -- in reference to the 5-5. Many footballers thought they played well enough to have a better record. A touchdown here, a field goal there, and they could have been 6-1 in the Ivies. This year, it may be payback time.
At quarterback is newcomer Matt Rader, an imposing (6 ft. 4 in., 235 lb) junior transfer from Duke who started seven games for the Blue Devils last year. Should he falter, Senior Tom MacLeod, who started four games last year, is waiting in the wings. In any case, the key offensive position will be stronger.
So will the defense: Penn has another NFL prospect in Mitch Marrow, a defensive end who set a school record last year with 16.5 sacks, and two returning linebackers, Brian Hamilton and Tim Gage, who were both injured all last season. Among many other players of note is senior John Bishop, a second team All-Ivy free safety who also owns a 3.6 grade point average in Wharton.
This year's schedule takes the team to New York (at Columbia on October 18) , New Haven (against Yale on November 1) and Boston (Harvard Stadium on November 15), allowing alumni in New York and New England to see the team play. (Take that as a gentle hint.) There should be some fine games -- meaning several Penn victories -- this year.
Here's another gentle hint. There is probably no place in the world colder than Harvard Stadium on an overcast afternoon in mid-November. Bring a heavy coat, although now that I've said that, the temperatures will probably soar into the high forties. (If you need more impetus, Penn currently owns its only five-game winning streak of the modern era against Harvard.)
Also, nestled onto the schedule between Yale and Harvard are our old friends from Nassau. What can be said of Penn-Princeton football?
A few things that are printable.
Is it fair to say that there is still a little bit of a grudge to this game among older alumni? Some Princetonians honestly don't understand why this might be. Ignore the fact that Penn lost the first 28 games played between the two universities, since the 0-for-28 streak was broken in 1891. Any alumni who personally remember that streak probably have other things to worry about today. But there are those of us who remember that nasty business between 1954 and 1967, when Penn won once in 14 tries. The low point was 1963-65 when the Tigers -- apparently feeling that one can never have a safe lead -- eked out three victories over Penn by an aggregate score of 140-0. If anyone has forgotten about that, well, I just reminded you.
But let's not be too negative. Throw out the 41 losses in the above two streaks, call them a little warp in the curve, ahem, and, well, Penn has played the Tigers pretty evenly over the last century. Anyway, Princeton is Homecoming this year (November 8th). The Tigers are marching around the northeast homeless this year while a new high-tech Palmer Stadium rises amidst the squalor of Princeton, New Jersey. So, what's the nice way to put it? There might never be a crueler time to beat them.
Noel Hynd, C'70, writes regularly on sports for the Gazette.
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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette | Last modified 9/25/97