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By Stephen E. Appell ‘65

As Thanksgiving 2007 came and invited pleasant memories of yesteryear, this Cornell sports lover thought of the traditional Cornell-Penn football game held on the holiday.  That in turn reminded me that it was during the Cornell years of the Class of 1965 that the last of these Thanksgiving games was played, and further that we enjoyed some very exciting seasons of Big Red football during our stay in Ithaca.

To be sure, by the time we got to school in the ’60s, the days of Cornell as a gridiron superpower were over.  No longer would the team be nationally ranked, even being deemed national champions as in 1921-23 and 1939.  No longer would Cornell produce three first-team All-Americans  in one season as it did in 1938 with end Jerome (Brud) Holland,  tackle Bill McKeever, and guard Sid Roth (father of Cornell students Jonathan and Pete in our own era).  No longer would it take a fluke like the 1940 forfeited “fifth down” game against Dartmouth, to knock our school out of the #1 ranking.  Indeed, no longer would tens of thousands pack into stately Franklin Field in Pennsylvania on Turkey Day for the annual showdown with Penn.  On the other hand, these were still the days before the Ivy League was


Gary Wood

relegated to a lower subdivision in major-college football.  Only three years before we got to campus, Cornell was still playing regional rival Syracuse, a rising football superpower; and only ten years earlier, the Big Red had knocked off Big Ten giant Michigan, 20-7, at Schoellkopf Field.  In any case, a great deal of history informed our own Cornell football experience; and in our own time, quarterback Gary Wood and kicker Pete Gogolak kept Cornell on the national football map, made terrific contributions to the game, and tremendously impacted on our own school spirit and pride.  The memories of the exciting exploits of the Big Red teams in the first half of the ’60s can never be erased.


What a thrill it was to experience that first fall on the Cornell campus, with the new challenges of life accompanied by the crisp weather (I still remember hearing on WTKO radio, 1470 on the AM dial, that it was 51 degrees on our first morning of classes in September); food and the jukebox in the Willard Straight Hall Ivy Room; the sound of the Libe Tower chimes --- and the first exposure to Cornell football.   For me, a big college sports fan from childhood, it was so meaningful to have one’s own college team to root for.   Yet I had attended only one live college football game previously, when my Dad, a Columbia Ph.D., took me to see Columbia beat Yale in 1951.  So I really looked forward to attending games and was especially impressed when I read preseason reports of Cornell’s league prospects under new Coach Tom Harp (lately of Army, where the unique “lonely end” offense was featured), with a highly-touted running backfield of Marcy Tino, George Telesh and Ken Kavensky.  The starting quarterback was slated to be Dave McKelvey, a lefty thrower (and punter too).  Telesh and McKelvey were the co-captains.  Little did we know, however, that there was going to be an alteration of plans at the quarterback position.  A sophomore from nearby Cortland named Gary Wood would be electrifying us before long.  Moreover, his classmate from Hungary, Pete Gogolak, would revolutionize the entire game of football with his side-winding soccer-style placekicks previously unknown to the American gridiron.

So we were ready to go, armed with the Cornell University Athletic Association (CUAA) coupon book, which gave us access to the football games as well as other athletic events throughout the year.  My recollection is that these could be purchased at the Cornell Campus Store.  What a treasure that was for the Cornell sports fan!

The season opener was on September 30, 1961, with the sun shining, local high school bands performing for “Band Day,” and the Big Red Band blasting out the songs that would become such a part of us.  We saw the Cornell team open up against traditional upstate rival Colgate.  We were not disappointed, as Cornell swept to a 34-0 victory before over 20,000 fans (about 5,000 of them Band Day participants, according to the Daily Sun).  The backfield justified the optimistic predictions made for it.  Halfback Telesh scored three touchdowns, tying a school record, and fullback Kavensky scored two.   Quarterbacks McKelvey and Wood used the lonely end lineup to good advantage.  McKelvey was injured during the game, but Wood was more than adequate, especially showing the running skills which he would demonstrate for the next three seasons.  The Sun article indicates that Wood “lived up to advance rave notices.”

The euphoria was short-lived: the next week at Harvard, both Telesh and Kavensky went down with serious knee injuries, and Harvard won easily, 14-0. This was the prelude to a most exciting confrontation back home, against perennial power Navy.

The Navy game on October 14 remains one of my most awesome sports experiences.  Here we were, playing a powerhouse team right in Ithaca.  There were eight previous meetings with Navy, from 1941 through 1956, but only one had resulted in a Big Red victory, during the 8-1 season of 1948 under Coach Lefty James.  For this contest, three of our major backs were injured, but we still had veteran halfback Marcy Tino, a slashing runner, and the emerging star in Wood who took over at QB early in the game.  I still remember the exuberant home crowd chanting “The Navy’s goat is queer,” in addition to the standard and all-male-cheerleader-orchestrated cries such as “Push ’em back, push ’em back, WAYYYYY back!”  The air was electric that day, and the losing final score of 31-7 does not do justice to the formidable Red efforts that afternoon. Runs by Tino and fullback Tony Pascal helped set up a Wood touchdown throw to end Ken Hoffman to tie the score at 7-7.  It was only errors on punt plays that enabled Navy to take a 17-7 halftime lead, as Cornell outgained Navy both on the ground and in the air.  The score stayed that way well into the fourth quarter, before Navy took its commanding lead.  Tino averaged over 8 yards a carry for the Red.  The crowd of about 22,000 could go away proud of the team’s efforts.

Misfortune as to both fitness and game outcome struck again the following week, as a visiting Yale team spoiled Homecoming and easily defeated the Red, 12-0.  To complete the decimation of the Cornell backfield, the talented Marcy Tino reinjured a bad knee and now he would be lost for the season.  The next week, on the road, Cornell dropped a wild game to Princeton, 30-25, in which Cornell unsuccessfully made a feverish comeback featuring a Wood 44-yard touchdown run.

The November 4 home game, against Columbia, was special for me.  I had grown up rooting for Columbia, and before arriving at school wondered aloud to my Dad, the Columbia graduate, how I could possibly root for the Big Red against the Lions.  He assured me, “Don’t worry, you will,” and he was so right.  Without reservation, I rooted for the Big Red.  This was, however, the one year in formal Ivy play when Columbia was to win at least a share of the league title (with a 6-1 league record, along with Harvard).  I learned that day that cold driving rains, which were anathema to me, could not keep me from sitting through an entire football game.  With the entire original Red backfield now out because of injuries, the Lions, led by quarterback Tom Vasell, rolled to an easy 35-7 win, en route to winning the league co-championship with Harvard.  Cornell’s only touchdown came on a 35-yard pass play from Wood to halfback Al Aragona.

The November 11 game against Brown, during a beautiful first Fall Weekend, gave us a taste of what could have been.  With George Telesh, who returned to the lineup to enjoy his last home game, and quarterback Wood spearheading the offense, the Big Red rolled to an easy 25-0 win.  The game was notable for one negative event that provided contrast to a positive achievement.  The negative:  Pete Gogolak missed an extra-point attempt.  The positive:  It was to be his only miss in his entire Cornell career.

Pete Gogolak

Cornell then dropped a close contest at Dartmouth, 15-14, on a late touchdown by the victors, notwithstanding a previous 64-yard TD run by Wood, and a career-best 90 rushing yards by Telesh.  However, the season ended on a high note, with the Penn game being played on Saturday rather than Thanksgiving Thursday for the first time in many years.  Cornell won 31-0, with Telesh scoring two touchdowns, junior halfback Jim Lampkins rushing for 96 yards and two touchdowns, and Coach Harp being carried off on the players’ shoulders.

In this odd season, Cornell had finished only 3-6, and 2-5 for sixth place in the league; yet all  three wins were lopsided shutouts, and the team scored more points than it had yielded.  Wood’s spectacular play got him to second place in total offense in the league, and the AP named him first-string All Ivy. He led the team in both passing (including 6 throws for TDs) and rushing yardage (449 yards for a 4.8 rushing average; Lampkins had a better average per carry with 5.4, and Tino rushed for a 5.0 average in the three games of his abbreviated final season).  Telesh led in scoring with five TDs for 30 points.  Lonely end Ken Hoffman was the leading receiver.  After Gogolak missed the one extra-point attempt, he began a streak which would set an NCAA record that held for years. The sophomore exploits of Wood and Gogolak provided the promise of things to come.


As we geared up for our sophomore season, we hoped for our first winning season for the Red team, now captained by center Tony Turel.  This season proved to be the statistical peak for Gary Wood.  But despite his opening-game efforts, including a touchdown run, the Big Red went down, 23-12, to Colgate at home in the September 29 Band Day season opener.  The following week, however, Red fans had a more satisfying experience as Cornell nipped Harvard at home, 14-12.  Here’s how I summed it up in a journal I kept during the 1962-63 school year:  “A great football victory… TD: Lampkins 2.  XP: Gogolak 2.  Gary Wood outstanding at quarterback.  Completed 8 of 12 passes, including t.d. pass.  Gogolak’s kicks made difference.  Also [Cornell] came within one yard of TD twice, also within 3 and 10 yds.  Running as well as passing was good.  Harvard missed field goal attempt after Cornell was off-side & time ran out.  So Cornell pulled big upset.”

The following week, on the road at Navy, the Red unfortunately discovered a budding star.  Despite injuries first to Wood and then to backup quarterback Bob Baker ’65, Cornell stayed in the game by holding Navy to only 14 points after three quarters. Late in the third stanza, the Midshipmen inserted a sophomore named Roger Staubach at QB to energize his team.  He ran wild, and with nearly perfect passing led Navy to four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to help deal a 41-0 setback to the Red.  Our team had “discovered” a new football star who would remain in the Navy starting lineup until graduation, and who thereafter starred in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.  This was the last football encounter to date between Cornell and a major service academy. (We did play the Merchant Marine Academy in 1982.)  Still on the road the following week, Cornell fell to Yale, 26-8, but at least Wood was back, setting himself up for one of the greatest individual performances in Cornell football history.

On October 27, a strong Princeton team, featuring the single wing offensive formation and led by a bull of a running back, Cosmo Iacavazzi, came to visit on Homecoming Weekend. Over 21,000 fans saw Cornell rally for a 35-34 win.  I recall that for some reason I was sitting in the west stands rather than in the Crescent – I suppose it was because I arrived relatively later than usual, and the Crescent was pretty much packed.  Of this game, I wrote in my journal:  “One of the best I’ve seen.  Wood was great.  Led comebacks each time with strong passing, rollout running.  XP: Gogolak 5: made the difference.”  In the second quarter, Cornell twice tied the score, as Wood connected with end Ed Burnap on a 55-yard touchdown play, and then Wood had an electrifying run of 49 yards for the second Red touchdown.   The game seesawed, with Princeton taking a 34-28 lead:  fortunately, Iacavazzi had been stopped trying to bull his way to a 2-point conversion and a 28-all tie after he had made it on a play nullified by a penalty. The game was settled by an 80-yard drive engineered by Wood, ending in a TD pass to back Al Aragona, and the fifth extra point nailed by Gogolak. Wood set a school record with 337 yards of total offense. He passed for 212 yards and 3 TDs, and ran for 125 yards and 2 TDs.  He was named as national Back of the Week by UPI and Sports Illustrated, as well as Ivy Back of the Week.  Gary was forever on the national football map with this display of heroics.

For the first weekend in November, I determined to travel home to New York so I could see Cornell match up with Columbia, my Dad’s second alma mater.  Little did I know that this was the beginning of a long personal tradition:  I was to attend every single biennial Cornell-at-Columbia football game for 4 decades, through 2000, and then renewed this personal ritual in 2004.  For the second straight year, the Red battled the Lions in the rain, but I braved the weather along with my hometown girlfriend.  This game featured the first of two great battles between two great Ivy quarterbacks:  Cornell’s Wood and Columbia’s Archie Roberts.   I still kick myself for coming late to the game at Baker Field, and looking at the scoreboard to see that Cornell was already out to a 14-0 lead;  I had missed two Red touchdowns.  I could not know that the best was already behind us, as Columbia crept back, even after trailing 21-12; and with only 19 seconds left, Roberts connected on a 24-yard pass to halfback Al Butts to give Columbia a 25-21 victory.  Archie beat Gary in this one.

The next week, Cornell rebounded on the road to edge Brown, 28-26, with Wood setting a new Ivy League mark for total offense in a season, with 276 yards.  This set up an incredible battle at home on November 17, and Fall Weekend, with league-leading Dartmouth.   The Big Green – then called the Indians, and led by QB Bill King and HB Tom Spangenberg – had won all its seven games, scoring 170 points while giving up only 9 in two of the games, and shutting out five opponents.  According to my journal, Dartmouth was second in the nation on defense coming into this game.  Accompanied by our classmate and good friend John Booth, I had the misfortunate to arrive late. I still remember my sense of pleasant disbelief as I looked at the scoreboard and saw that Cornell was actually leading, 7-0.  Fullback Bob Milne had driven in for the score.  Cornell had already scored more points than any other Dartmouth opponent, and at half time, we were only down 14-7.  The Red tied it up at 14-all on a Wood TD early in the fourth quarter, only to give up 14 points to the Green.  However, with seconds left, Wood engineered a last drive to end the game on a high note in a 28-21 loss.  Wood had rushed 33 times for 161 yards, and passed for another 55.  I remember leaving very satisfied, almost feeling as if we had won, given Cornell’s tenacious play and unprecedented challenge to the 1962 Ivy champions.  I summarized it in my journal:  “A great effort & moral victory for Big Red.” (The following week, Princeton would score 27 against Dartmouth but still go down by 11, as Dartmouth finished 7-0 in the league and 9-0 overall.)

The Red was to end the season on a winning note during Thanksgiving Weekend, defeating Penn at the annual Franklin Field encounter, 29-22.  Gary Wood outdid himself, catching his own pass after a deflection, and amassing 387 yards in total offense, to take back the Ivy game record from Bill King, and to set a new school record in any game.  Of these, 207 were gained rushing.  In leading the Ivy League in both rushing and total offense, Gary had set an Ivy career offense record after only two years, as well as a new Ivy League season rushing record.  His total offense of 1779 yards placed him third in the entire nation and set a new Cornell record. His league-game total of 1616 offensive yards set a new Ivy record for a season.  He had completed 60 of 117 passes for 890 yards, a big total in those days, and 8 TDs. He had 889 rushing yards for another school record, and good for fourth in the nation, with an average of 5.1 per carry; and a team-leading 54 points on 9 TDs.  (Running back Bryan Westfield also averaged 5.1 a carry in 9 games.)  Wood’s 818 league-game yards set a new league record. Wood’s honors included first team all-Ivy, NEA third All-American team, and AP honorable mention All-America.  His favorite receiver was end Ed Burnap, who led the team in receiving yardage.  Cornell finished 4-3 to tie for third place in the league, and 4-5 overall.


The final season of Wood and Gogolak was to be an exciting one, even if the record on paper wasn’t overly impressive.  This twosome was to provide one heroic win after another.  For this season, they assumed additional roles:  Gogolak was given punting duties in addition to his placekicking ones, and he acquitted himself well, averaging 40 yards per punt.   Wood was named captain for his senior season.  How much sense this made:  Not only was he substantively a star, but according to coaches and fellow players, he was a natural leader.  Despite his talents, he was always down to earth and led by example.  During that fall, I remember a young lady from Cortland State College, who was dating a roommate, saying something like: “Gary Wood, Gary Wood, that’s all you guys at Cornell talk about.  If he ever heard the way you all talk about him, his head would be too big for his helmet.”  From all I have heard about him, she was wrong. I have never been big on the practice of sports teams “retiring” uniform numbers, but to this day it doesn’t seem right to me when I see a Cornell football player wearing Wood’s #19.

It would be hard for a young sports fan of today to appreciate Wood’s prominence in an age when Ivy League football has been relegated to a subdivision of 1-AA college teams, but I have a 1963 football yearbook that features Wood’s picture on the cover along with other top quarterbacks in the entire nation.  His senior season was not to be quite as successful in terms of individual stats, but his heroics were greater than ever.   With his gutty passing, his incredible ability to roll out and dazzle with his broken-field running, and his kickoff returns, he earned his way into the National Football League to play quarterback for the New York Giants.  Only Cornell fans could cheer when watching Giant quarterback Y.A. Tittle suffer an injury, resulting in Wood’s pro debut in 1964.  Wood played for the Giants through 1966, for the New Orleans Saints in 1967, and again for the Giants for 1968-69.  His best year was 1966 when he passed for 1142 yards and 6 touchdowns, and rushed for 196 yards for a 7.0 yardage average, and 3 more touchdowns. 

As for our revolutionary kicker, Pete Gogolak would go on to kick for the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League in 1964-65, and then join his old teammate on the Giants, placekicking for them in the period 1966-74 and also performing punting chores in 1969.  In his pro career he kicked 173 field goals, including ones as long as 54 yards; and 344 extra points.

The 1963 season began on a sour note on September 28, with Colgate defeating Cornell 21-17 on 11th Annual Band Day.   But the next week at home, Cornell breezed to a 24-0 win over Lehigh.  The second Red touchdown came on an electrifying 89-yard kickoff return by Wood.  Gogolak demonstrated the power of his foot with a school record 50-yard field goal, which was to be the longest in the nation that season.   After this fine defensive effort, Coach Harp gave the lineman- of-the-week award to our classmate, guard George Arangio.

The road opener at Harvard resulted in a disappointing 21-14 loss,

Gary Wood

notwithstanding a 78-yard TD run by Bob Milne.  However, the next week would produce an exciting game, in which Pete Gogolak would prove to be the hero.

On October 19, before a Homecoming crowd of over 21,000, Cornell took the lead over Yale on a 41-yard Gogolak field goal.  After Yale scored on a drive that included a 55-yard run by future pro Chuck Mercein, Cornell answered with a vintage 80-yard TD run by Wood.  In the fourth quarter, Yale tied the score at 10-all on a Mercein field goal.  On a fourth down at the Yale 15, with only 45 seconds left, Pete Gogolak provided the final answer to the game, with a 33-yard field goal and a final 13-10 score.  In this exciting effort, Wood totaled 240 yards in total offense.

The next week’s game was an anticlimax, as host Princeton mauled the Red, 51-14.  The game was notable for the involvement of both Gogolak brothers:  younger brother Charlie was the Tiger kicker.  Additionally, Wood played some at halfback, giving way at quarterback to the up-and-coming Marty Sponaugle. In any case, there would be a wonderful reversal of fortune the following week, in one of my favorite athletic contests of all time.

On November 2, Columbia visited for a rematch of quarterback aces Wood and Roberts.  It was a cold, frequently wet day with a variety of precipitation that we used to call by the makeshift summary term “Ithacation,” but the bright red of Cornell uniforms and the light blue of that of the Lions lit up the field.  In this game, Sponaugle started at quarterback and Wood at halfback:  The Daily Sun article the following Monday notes: “The combination made for an assortment of razzle-dazzle plays;” classmate/roommate Harris Shultz and I, with a fair degree of confidence, specifically remember Sponaugle early on at QB, pitching out to Wood, and then going out to receive Wood’s pass.  Also providing light early on, in this afternoon of questionable weather, was a beautiful pass from Wood to fullback and our classmate Bryan Westfield for a 37-yard touchdown – I remember that one particularly, as Westfield scampered down the field virtually unchallenged.  (If I recall correctly, Westfield was also a fine “doowop” rock-and-roll singer who like me and earlier football running back Paul Shank sang in groups with classmate John Booth; and I see from websites that Bryan has been an accomplished girls’ team track coach in Michigan for many years.)   

With Columbia leading 17-10 late in the game, and snow and sleet seeming to suggest impending doom, little could we know that it was about to be payback time for the previous year’s last-minute loss at Baker Field.  The prognosis was bleak, and I almost wondered if it was worth sitting through the premature show showers (well, not premature for Ithaca).  But of course I hung in there.  I particularly remember that as Columbia threatened to score again, which might have put the game away, our classmate Joe Ryan made a tremendous tackle of Archie Roberts.  If I am right, I consider that a turning point of the game.  Columbia’s threat to clinch was stopped on an unsuccessful fourth-down play.

Time was running out, and it still looked bad for the Red.  But can we forget who the quarterback was?  Late in this raw afternoon, Wood and company started from the Cornell 34, with less than two minutes left in the game.   On a desperate fourth-down situation, Wood hit end Bill Ponzer for a first down at the Columbia 32 with under a minute to play.   Then halfback Mike Strick took a pass from Wood, and the quarterback himself then rushed from about the 20 to the 2.  (That run I do remember!)  Almost before we could digest what was happening, and with only 14 seconds left, Gary went over the goal line from a yard out, to narrow the score to 17-16.  The next thing we knew Cornell was lining up for a 2-point conversion attempt, rather than settle for a Gogolak kick and a tie score.   And I think I have a clear independent recollection of what happened next:  Wood took the snap, and I expected him to attempt a run into the end zone.  Then it seemed like he just froze in place and I wondered pessimistically what was happening.  Just before being hit, Gary pitched out to the right to halfback (and our classmate) Bob Baker, who got hit.  I remember Baker going down.  But his torso, and the ball in his arms, fell in the end zone for the score.  Cornell had pulled out an incredible 18-17 win.

The next morning, still in euphoria, I could not wait to buy my copy of the Sunday New York Times at the Straight, and see how the sports section would report the game.  I was envisaging a headline like “Wood leads Cornell to heroic last-minute triumph over Columbia.”  The early edition we got upstate reminded me that for Columbia, the seemingly dispassionate Times was still a “hometown” paper.  The headline read something like “Roberts Sets Ivy Passing Mark as Columbia Bows.”   Never mind – Wood had evened the score with Roberts.  Moreover, the Times apparently saw fit to correct its misplaced emphasis in later editions:  What I found on line reads, “Cornell Trips Columbia With Late Gamble, 18-17” and the subtitle then says:  “2-Point Conversion Wins in Final 14 Seconds – Roberts Sets Ivy Mark.”  The particular league record was for career pass completions, and Roberts eclipsed the record held by Tom Vasell, his predecessor at Columbia.

And if that wasn’t enough, next up was a November 9 Fall Weekend visit from Brown during which Wood’s heroics would be displayed once more.  I bought the impressive program with a large picture of “Capt. Wood,” surrounded with photos of the other senior players, who were about to engage in their last contest at Schoellkopf Field.  Once again, I recall sitting in the west stands, as the crowd was enormous.  While Wood rushed for a touchdown and fullback Joe Robinson for two, Brown nonetheless took a 25-21 lead.  Cornell got the ball back from its own 34 with only 2:51 left (shades of the week before!).  The Red team marched down the field, with even a pass reception by eligible tackle Duke Grkovic ‘65, and with under a minute to go, found itself on the Brown 5-yard line.  Fans had left the stands and were stationed on the sideline in the vicinity of the last few yards and the end zone.  Cornell lined up without a huddle; Wood took the snap, saw end Bill Ponzer standing unguarded near the sideline (and lost in the crowd!) and fired to him.  Ponzer went in untouched (and unnoticed!) for the winning touchdown with only 25 seconds left.

If one examines my program, one will find that wonderful cover marred by scuff marks.  As a collector, I do not usually like such spoilage of mementos.  As a Cornellian, I treasure those marks:  I made them by inadvertently jumping up and down with joy on the program, after that touchdown. Gogolak made the extra point to fix the final score at 28-25, and became the NCAA record-holder for consecutive extra-point kicks with 41.  (The record stretched to 44 by the end of the season.)  It was a terrific way for Wood and Gogolak to end their home-field career.

Cornell now had to finish out the season with two road games.  A near upset in Hanover actually ended in a 12-7 loss to Dartmouth after Wood went out with an injury.  (As with many road games, we no doubt heard this one on WHCU, with the venerable Sam Woodside as one of the announcers.)  Dartmouth went on to tie Princeton for the 1963 Ivy title, both with records of 5-2 in league play.

The last game was not played just a week later on a Saturday.  Rather, this one waited till the next Thursday, November 28, for what to date has proved to be the last traditional Thanksgiving Day game between Cornell and Penn at Franklin Field.  Appropriately, the scoring for the Red’s 17-8 victory was provided by two rushing touchdowns for Wood, and a field goal and two extra points by Gogolak.   Wood finished his career with the Ivy League lead in total offense and rushing for the second straight season, and of course made the first all-Ivy team. He led the team in rushing with 818 yards (also good for eighth in the nation) and in scoring with seven TDs for 42 points.  In three years, in Ivy League games, he had amassed 3,457 yards in total offense, and 1,867 yards rushing, both league career records.  His career totals of 4,047 total-offense yards and 2,156 rushing yards set new Cornell records.  Beyond that, he led the nation in 1963 in kickoff returns with 618 yards on 19 returns for a 32.5 average. For his part, Gogolak wound up having connected on 54 of 55 extra-point attempts in his college career, including an NCAA- record 44 straight. The leading receiver was end Bill Ponzer.  Halfback Mike Strick finished with an impressive 6.2 rushing average per carry, Bob Baker with 5.5 and Wood and Milne 4.9.  Cornell finished 4-3 in the League, in a fourth- place tie, and a 5-4 record overall. 


If in our senior year we were to miss Wood and Gogolak, now moved into the pro ranks, our consolation would be that our own classmates would be at the forefront of Big Red gridiron efforts.  What a wacky season this turned out to be!  As one looks back, one can see how Cornell could easily have finished 8-1, or even 9-0, with at least a piece of the Ivy title.  But it was not meant to be.

The class of 1965 featured the following seniors on the 1964 squad:  ends George Norman, Dick Williams, John Engle and Dave Miles; tackles Gene Kunit, Duke Grkovic, and George Trimberger; guards Captain Clarence Jentes, George Arangio, Dave Mellon, and Gene Pegnetter (linebacker on defense); centers Joe Ryan, Lou Ferraro, and Joe Schneider; and halfbacks Bob Baker (who was a quarterback in 1962), Gabe Durishin, and John Scullin.  Aside from Baker, the prominent offensive backs were in the younger classes.   Quarterback duties would be shared by junior Marty Sponaugle and sophomore Bill Abel; a sophomore halfback named Pete Larson began an illustrious career that led to NFL play with the Washington Redskins; and sturdy junior fullback Bill Wilson would complement Larson as a leading rusher for the next two seasons.

The opening game against Buffalo at annual Band Day on September 26 provided a glimpse of the frustrations to come throughout the season.  Cornell played to a 9-9 tie, with two fumbles within 5 yards of the goal line.  My biggest memories of this game are of having to put a drunken student in front of me in his place after he decided we were cheering too loud for his taste; and students carrying a homemade banner which began “Freshmen of the University of Cornell Know that Buffalo….”  The first letters of the capitalized words in front of Buffalo, and the name of Buffalo itself, were printed prominently to stand out.  In those days, that was quite a bold invocation of language that today gets taken perhaps too much for granted in the public arena. 

The following week was an adventure as my roommates and I got into a car on October 3 and drove to Hamilton, N.Y. for what was then an unusual road game with Colgate.  It was my second trip for a Big Red road contest.  Cornell lost 8-3 as the Red Raiders scored a 2-point safety on a blocked punt, and then ran back the free kick from Cornell for a touchdown.  A drive by the Big Red stalled on the Colgate 2-yard line.  The only enjoyment we got from the game itself was that guard George Arangio, who had the unenviable task of succeeding Gogolak as our place-kicker, succeeded on a field-goal attempt for the one Cornell score.  A postscript: the day got better, as it had to, as on the return trip we stopped at Cortland State College for dates and a campus concert featuring rock-and-roll star Freddie Cannon.

The next week’s game was a novelty:  The Penn Quakers made their first visit to Ithaca, ending the tradition of yearly visits of the Ithacans to Philadelphia.  Finally, the Red showed what they were truly capable of as they handily defeated Penn, 33-0.  Wilson and Durishin rushed for good numbers; I still recall that Penn’s one chance for a score, at the end of the first half, was dashed, when a Cornellian tackled a Penn rusher or receiver just short of the end zone as time ran out.

The first Ivy loss, and the one game all season that Cornell decisively lost, at least in terms of the final score, came the following week at Harvard in a game I clearly remember listening to with my roommates on radio.  Cornell’s terrific defense held the Crimson to only 3 first downs, and Cornell controlled the ball for most of the game.  The 16-0 win by the Crimson featured a league record 104-yard run on a pass interception by future New York Jet star and sportscaster John Dockery.  (Years later he was to be a teammate of mine, as a “ringer,” on our National Labor Relations Board basketball team.  He was a good hoopster too, and I watched him take a charge that would have put most of us in the emergency room.  He was tough.)

The Red returned home on October 24 for a Fall Weekend contest with Yale, which again showed how the miracle trend of the previous season was being turned inside out.  As I look back, I realize that this was to be the last game at Schoellkopf I ever witnessed as a Cornell student.  Cornell took a 21-14 lead, featuring a 90-yard kickoff return by Bob Baker for a touchdown.   It looked like a Red victory was in the making.  But Yale had a one-man machine in Chuck Mercein, a bull of a running fullback and the place-kicker as well.   He carried again and again; I still remember a fellow in front me remarking to his girlfriend almost despairingly: “Mercein… as usual,” after one of his gains.  Late in the game, Yale resorted to use of Mercein’s kicking foot.  He kicked a 48-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-17.   He kicked another goal, of 30 yards, to close the score to 21-20.  I remember thinking contemptuously to myself:  What is this Yale team doing, settling for field goals so late in the game instead of going for the tying or go-ahead touchdown?  Little did I at first realize the successful method to the apparent madness.  I did realize it when Mercein kicked yet a third field goal, from 46 yards out, to put Yale ahead for good, 23-21.  Once again, Cornell was done in by fumbles and a bungled punt play.  (Note:  Mercein would be drafted by the New York Giants and would have an Ivy reunion with Gary Wood as Giant teammates in 1965 and 1966; he would also play for the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets.)

We were due for a turnaround and those of us willing to travel got it on October 31.  I came home to New York with my roommates to witness my second of 20 consecutive biennial games at Baker Field (later rebuilt as Wien Stadium) against Columbia.  It was a beautiful fall afternoon for the first time in the four years of our games with the Lions. (Columbia was the only opponent I got to see in each of our four seasons at Cornell.) The natural beauty of the day was enhanced by the red of Cornell’s uniforms and the light blue of Columbia’s.  What a first quarter:  there were four Cornell touchdowns and two for Columbia, resulting in a 28-14 Red lead.  Cornell’s scores included kickoff returns by Bob Baker for 78 yards and Pete Larson for 94.  The halftime score was 28-20 as the Red scoring machine slowed down.  In the second half, however, it was a different story, as quarterback Archie Roberts, in his last season for Columbia, seemed to be dumped by the stalwart Red defense as often as he lofted his beautiful passes into the air.  (Stats bear out this remembrance:  Roberts was sacked for -62 yards on 7 plays and he rushed for a minus-3 total, while only passing 7 of 14 for 161.)  Cornell scored again and again in the second half, as the many Cornell fans present kept counting out aloud, one by one, the number of Big Red points after each tally and then yelling: “We want MORE.”  When it was all over, Cornell set a new record for scoring in an Ivy League game with a resounding 57-20 victory. 

Fortunately we did not take a trip to the next road game as Cornell lost a

Gary Wood

tough game to an improved Brown squad, 31-28, notwithstanding great rushing efforts by Baker (118 yards) and Wilson (85), 73 more yards on returns by Baker, and a 38-yard TD pass by Baker, who after all had started his Red career as a quarterback. 

In a year when Cornell wins proved hard to come by, and with our last home game in our four years coming up, it was regrettable that I would have to miss the Fall Weekend contest on November 14 against a strong Dartmouth team.  But I had to take the Law Schools Admission Test that day, which was hard enough not only because of having to forego the game, but because a local band at a fraternity party kept me up half the night playing over and over the new hit “You Really Got Me Going” by the British rock group, the Kinks. My roommates were not disappointed, at least:  they saw a convincing 33-15 over the Hanoverians, featuring a Bill Wilson three-touchdown effort and another great performance by the versatile Baker, who rushed for 47 yards, threw for 42, and received Sponaugle passes for 62.   This was the first win over Dartmouth in 10 years; but because I could not attend, Dartmouth emerged as the only Ivy foe I never saw beaten by Cornell in our four years in school. (I had to try 4 more times as an alumnus, and wait till Homecoming 1992, before I ever saw Cornell beat Dartmouth on the gridiron in person.)

There was one more game left to the season on the road, on November 21, one day before my 20th birthday. It was with none other than the undefeated Princeton Tigers, with their single-wing offense spearheaded by the great running back and Red nemesis Cosmo Iacavazzi.  I would see this game, but not in Princeton or Ithaca; I would be watching one of our 1961-64 Cornell football teams for the first and only time on television, up at Buffalo State College, where I was visiting with my then girlfriend.  The Ivy title was well out of reach, which it should not have been, but the game was very important to us for vindication, as well as for the fact that this was our last football game as students.  So with great anticipation I got in front of a TV in a Buffalo State dorm.

The season ended in form, the game filled with frustration and provoking thoughts of what might have been for a team that was far better than its record indicated.  We were treated on TV to a 10-yard Cornell punt (dare we mention the name of the Red punter in that game?  It was Dudley Kaufman), and a fumble, in the first quarter.  Other than for these mishaps, Cornell outplayed the Ivy champs.  Wilson outrushed Iacavazzi, 119 to 94.  Bill Abel played fine quarterback as he had often done previously, replacing the injured Sponaugle.  But when it was all over, Princeton had more points, 17 to our 12, and finished as the undefeated Ivy champion (7-0 in the league, 9-0 overall).  A quick but exciting visit to Niagara Falls that weekend, in which I jumped out of a car for maybe 15 seconds in incredibly frigid weather to see the falls, and jumped back in again, was not sufficient compensation for the Red loss in the last football game of our undergraduate era.

A recital of the overall record of 3-5-1, and 3-4 in the league with a tie for fifth place, simply does not do justice to this team.  The Red scored 196 points overall while only yielding 139.  Bill Wilson wound up second in Ivy rushing. (He would lead the league in rushing in 1965, as Larson did in 1966.)  Wilson led the team with 42 points on 7 TDs.  Larson led in receiving, with Bob Baker close behind.  Baker led the team with 5.2 yards per rushing attempt.   Further, Baker set still-extant Cornell records with the highest average gain per kickoff return for a game (52.7 against Yale on 3 returns for 158 yards), season (35.1 on 11 returns for 386), and career (27.7, with 23 for 636).  Named to the official all-Ivy first team were Williams, Arangio, Ryan and Baker on offense; and Norman, Jentes and junior tackle Phil Ratner on defense.  Only Princeton with five selections came close to the total of seven Cornellians selected.  Coach Harp, finishing his fourth of five seasons at Ithaca, summed it up aptly, as quoted in our Cornellian yearbook:  “We had a number of tough breaks, a lot of them that we caused ourselves, otherwise things would have been different.  Our kids deserved a lot more than they got.”

And so the season ended, as did our Cornell football experiences as students.  But for me as for so many others, the Cornell gridiron experience did not end.  Through the years, I have attended numerous games in Ithaca, and road games at Columbia, Yale (the very next season after graduation, 1965), Princeton, Rutgers, and Penn.  Some of the highlights:  In 1966, with my Cornell friends, I saw my first game at Schoellkopf as an alumnus, with the Red prevailing over Yale, 16-14.  In 1967, I took my wife-to-be Madeleine to Cornell for the first time to see the Red play (and lose to) Harvard; in attendance and sitting at the top of the Crescent was Senator Robert Kennedy.  We went up the next year to see the Red edge Rutgers, my law school alma mater, 17-16. We celebrated my 25th birthday on November 22, 1969, watching soph Ed Marinaro and the Red beat Penn at Franklin Field in frigid weather, 28-14. In the next two years, I thrilled to All-American Marinaro’s NCAA-record rushing exploits, including the Columbia game in Ithaca in 1971 when he rushed for 272 yards and broke the NCAA career rushing record; and cheered in person that same year as Cornell clinched its first co-championship of the Ivy League since it was formalized in 1956, with a resounding 41-13 victory over Penn at Franklin Field, Marinaro scoring 5 TDs.  A specially meaningful event for me was on November 15, 1980, on what would have been my Dad’s 75th birthday, when I took my first son Sanford, only 3 1/2 years old, to his first game ever, as Cornell beat Columbia at Baker Field – the same place where my Dad had taken me for my first game.  Through the ’80s and ’90s, I took sons Sanford, Bradley and Andrew to games in Ithaca and on the road.  The unsuccessful showdown with Penn in 1986 for the Ivy title was the one Cornell football game where all five of us (including Madeleine) were present.  With sons present, I saw Cornell handily defeat Brown both in 1988 and 1990, both years in which Cornell won a share of the Ivy League title. In 1990 in New York,  I sat through some of the worst rains I have ever experienced, with hardly any fans left in the Columbia stands by the end (I recall the announced crowd was only 842), to see the Red triumph 41-0 with the longest Red run from scrimmage ever, by John McNiff for 95 yards. In 1991 I took all three boys up for a rare night game at Schoellkopf, against Colgate.  My boys always loved to romp on the field after the game with their football, and I derived great pleasure from watching them.  Our classmate and my roommate Harris Shultz came in from California and joined me at Princeton in October 2001 for a 10-7 Red victory, and in Ithaca for Homecoming in October 2003 (for a loss to Brown); these were our first Cornell football games in attendance together since the Yale/Mercein defeat of 1964.  In 2006, thanks to the courtesies of Joe Ryan, I enjoyed a terrific Cornell Football Association reception and watched an exciting 14-7 victory over Princeton from the terrace of the field house; and then got treated to a tour of a first-class exhibit featuring Cornell football history.  This past season of 2007, a Homecoming visit featured another thrilling win, 17-14, over Colgate.


As the years roll along, my concern for the precise scores decreases, and my gratitude for just being able to be present at the games increases. The 1-AA (now called Football Championship Subdivision) ranking may have diminished the public standing of Ivy League football, but it has not diminished my love and respect for the tradition of Ivy – and especially Big Red - football.