By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This is another in the College Sports Journal Classic series. This article dates to an October, 2008 encounter between Brown and Penn and takes a retrospective look at historic Franklin Field.
This story originally appeared on The Sports Network.
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — I am a sucker for nostalgia, so the idea of stepping into the past for a day was too tempting to pass up as I prepared for Saturday afternoon’s first-place Ivy League showdown between Brown and Penn at Franklin Field.
Considering that the site where Franklin Field sits has hosted Penn football games since 1895, I decided I would take an old-fashioned approach to covering the game.
My journey started at about 9:30 a.m. as I took a short trip from my home to the Hatboro train station for an hour-long ride to the Penn campus. I immediately met a couple on the train that, like me, were headed to Franklin Field.
“We have tickets to all of the games,” the man explained.
His father had traveled to Franklin Field in the 1950s and 60s to watch the Philadelphia Eagles, in addition to following the Quakers.
“They used to get great crowds back in those days,” he said.
As the train weaved its way through North Philadelphia towards the Temple University campus, I boned up on my Penn history, refreshing my memory on the first game at Franklin Field (Penn over Swarthmore, 40-0, on Oct. 1, 1895) and learning that the first televised college football game had been held there on Oct. 5, 1940, with Penn routing Maryland 51-0 as two cameras showed the action on Philadelphia’s KYW.
A few minutes later, I was departing the train at the University City station and taking the short jaunt across the street to the stadium.
It was homecoming and a crowd of alumni were being motivated for the big game by assistant coach and game day coordinator Dan “Lake” Staffieri, who could have taught Knute Rockne a thing or two about pep talks.
“I came to my first game here in the 1940s, when I was a high school student, and I told myself, someday I would coach here,” said Staffieri, now in his 32nd season with the Quakers. “It took me awhile to make here it, but I finally made it.”
Staffieri, one of the most beloved members of the Penn family, bid me adieu for more important duties. He headed to the Penn locker room, where Quaker players would ritualistically touch the large collection of Ivy League championship rings on his fingers as good luck before the game.
I took the long hike up to the Franklin Field press box.
“I judge my age by how many times I have to stop on my way to my seat,” said Joe Juliano of the Philadelphia Inquirer, a veteran of many trips up those Franklin Field stairs.
Sitting next to me in the press box was retired Newsday columnist Stan Isaacs, now continuing his career as a freelance writer and promoting a book called: “Ten Moments That Shook the Sports World: One Sportswriter’s Eyewitness Accounts of the Most Incredible Sporting Events of the Past Fifty Years.”
“You know Grantland Rice sat in your seat,” joked Isaacs.
“And it was the same paint here when Rice was here,” Juliano chimed in.
The game turned into a back and forth affair, worthy of its championship billing.
Brown quarterback Michael Dougherty showed how he led the Ivy League in passing as a junior, completing just 16-of-32 passes against the tough Penn defense, but throwing for 234 yards and four touchdowns.
“Very few teams are able to stop us,” said Dougherty. “We have only stopped ourselves.”
After Penn had taken a 10-7 lead with 1:15 left in the first half on a three-yard, halfback option pass from Brad Blackmon to Luke DeLuca, Dougherty made his biggest pass of the day, hitting Buddy Farnham for 57 yards, just 16 seconds later, to give the Bruins a 14-10 lead at the break.
“For us to get a play like that, it gave us confidence at halftime,” Brown coach Phil Estes said. “That was one of the biggest plays for us.”
Dougherty and Farnham (six catches, 120 yards) gave Brown another lead at 21-17 midway through the third period on an 11-yard scoring strike following one of four Penn turnovers and the Bruins never trailed again.
Even the traditional toast toss by the fans at the end of the third period couldn’t get the Quakers back on top.
Penn kept things interesting as it blocked a field goal, an extra point and a punt and three Quaker quarterbacks, Keith Olson, Robert Irvin and Kieffer Garton helping generate just enough offense to keep things close.
It looked like Brown might have clinched things when they stopped Garton (16 carries, 49 yards rushing) on a fourth and two run at the Quaker 28 with 4:28 remaining.
Dougherty watched the Penn defense sell out on a play fake and found Colin Cloherty for a 29-yard touchdown pass two plays later, but Wing’s block of Robert Ranney’s extra point attempt left the score at 34-20 with 4:05 left.
Things got bleaker for Penn when James Develin intercepted a Garton pass at the Brown nine, but Kevin Gray’s block of a Ranney punt was recovered in the end zone by Tyson Maugle for a Quaker TD with 1:23 on the clock.
Trailing by just seven points, Penn tried to extend the game with an onside kick, but Farnham showed his sure hands by snagging the kickoff and Brown ran out the rest of the clock.
Penn finished the day with 360-310 advantage in yardage, but the Quakers couldn’t overcome those four turnovers.
“We had a ton of turnovers, which you can’t do, we had a ton of coverage mistakes,” said Penn coach Al Bagnoli. “It was a total team loss. All of the things we talked about that we couldn’t allow, we allowed.”
After finishing with post-game interviews, I wandered back across the field, stopping briefly at the five-yard line, near the west end zone to reminisce about Chuck Bednerik’s tackle of Jim Taylor on the final play of the 1960 NFL championship game, as the Eagles beat Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, 17-13.
Then it was on to the train station for a return trip back home. Several more Penn fans made the journey with me. They may have been disappointed with the loss, but they seemed enriched by the experience of spending an afternoon at a classic, football cathedral.
Some things don’t need to change.