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Dragons on the Gridiron: A History of Football at Drexel

By Rob Sieczkiewicz, University Archivist

January will bring football to the first floor of W. W. Hagerty as the Libraries open Dragons on the Gridiron, a new exhibition that traces the history of football at Drexel, on and off the field.  Featuring historic photographs, game programs and other documents -- as well as materials on loan from alumni who played football at Drexel -- the exhibition will explore the passion, the excitement and the hard work inherent in the nation’s favorite sport.

From the founding of the Drexel Institute in 1891, students participated in athletics.  Intramural sports, organized by the students themselves, were the hallmark of the first two decades at Drexel.  For women, basketball was the most important intramural sport, while football, baseball and basketball were all popular among the men.  Intercollegiate football as we would recognize it began at Drexel in 1919 and the first few seasons produced more lessons than victories, as the team found itself losing by such lopsided margins as 61-0 and 41-0.  The “heyday of Drexel gridiron glory,“ began, according to a 1955 Triangle story, soon after the hiring of Walter Halas as head coach.  Halas was the brother of George Halas, founder and owner of the Chicago Bears NFL team.  In addition to leading the football team to a 71-44-10 record over his 15 seasons, he also coached the baseball and basketball squads.

Drexel v. Gettysburg ProgramThe program pictured is noteworthy not simply because it marks Homecoming, but rather because that game, on October 7, 1950 was the first time Drexel defeated long-time nemesis Gettysburg College.  Head coach at the time, Eddie Allen, exclaimed that his players were “simply magnificent.”  An even greater triumph would come in 1955, when after 36 years of intercollegiate play, the football team achieved its first undefeated season under coach Allen.  The 1955 team went 8-0, with excitement building on campus after each win.  The team capped its perfect season on the road, defeating Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University) 20-6 in a snowy finale.  Lineman Vince Vidas ‘59 was named to the AP’s Little All-American team, the only player from the Philadelphia area so honored that season.  According to the Drexel Athletics Hall of Fame, Vince Vidas is the only Drexel football player ever named to two All-America teams.  Today’s Drexel athletes play and practice at the Vidas Athletic Complex, named for Vince and Judith Vidas.

Of all the games a team would play in a single season, none would be more important than the Homecoming game.  Homecoming events included pep rallies, dances, and the election of a Homecoming Queen.  Perhaps the highlight of the weekend was a parade before the game, fromHomecoming at Drexel campus down Fraternity Row to the Drexel Field.  Alumnus and Drexel Athletics Hall-of-Famer Frank Garofolo ‘62 remembers the fraternities decorating their houses with dragons of all sorts, some using their engineering talents to show a model dragon devouring an opposing team’s player.  In the photo, students assemble a dragon for the 1962 Homecoming parade.  Homecoming remains an important event at Drexel and this year’s King and Queen will be announced on Saturday, January 28, 2012 during the Saturday men’s basketball game.

Sources for this article include the collections of the University Archives, particularly The Triangle newspaper, and the Drexel University Athletics Hall of Fame (http://www.drexeldragons.com/hof.aspx)

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