ST. BONAVENTURE — My first interaction with John Soder came about five years ago when his name and number came up on my caller ID.
He identified himself as a 1956 graduate of St. Bonaventure and asked, “Chuck, why isn’t Hugh Devore in our Athletics Hall of Fame?”
That was news to me .. given his resume, I assumed he was inducted years ago.
Late Times Herald sports editor Mike Abdo hired me and having held that position since the 1940s, he often told told stories of how Bona had brought Devore in from Notre Dame and, in four seasons, he crafted an SBU football team into a winner (25-9-1) and taken the Bonnies to their only bowl game.
His story amazed me.
An interim coach for the Fighting Irish, he led Notre Dame to the No. 2 ranking in the country in 1945. But when head coach Frank Leahy returned from service after that season, Devore was a free agent and opted to rebuild the program at St. Bonaventure whose team was idle for three years during World War II.
It was a story of national interest, but not like it would be today … think Brian Kelly leaving Notre Dame to coach Alfred State in 2020.
On Monday night, Soder, 86, did a presentation at St. Bonaventure entitled “A Bygone Journey Back to a Proud Era in St. Bonaventure Sports History,” a look at the school’s football program.
IN A QUESTION and answer session following Soder’s power-point, the issue of Devore’s absence from the Hall of Fame was addressed.
After the Very Reverend Thomas Plassmann, a huge football advocate, stepped down as president, he was replaced by the Very Reverend Juvenal Lalor, who did not share his enthusiasm for the sport.
Lalor and Devore were soon at odds over football funding, and though the coach had just signed a three-year contract extension, he bailed.
According to one of the several dozen attendees at Soder’s presentation, “My understanding is that the Booster Club had bought Devore a new car … and he left town driving that car.”
Devore took the job at New York University and never did become a Hall of Famer. And since it’s been 70 years since he left, his chances appear slim. At the time he left, there was the bitterness about his feud with Lalor over football finances and there was the issue of Devore breaking his contract, something that wasn’t done in those days.
SODER spent some time talking about two of St. Bonaventure’s most famous players,
walk-on wide receiver Jack Butler and quarterback Ted Marchibroda.
Butler became a dependable pass catcher for Bona, but when he went to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, he was converted to defensive back.
His nine-year career ended prematurely when he destroyed his knee in a collision with Philadelphia’s Pete Retzlaff, but over that span he had 52 career interceptions — including five in one game against Washington — in an era when the NFL was run-oriented.
He was tabbed as one of the 33 Greatest Steelers in 2008 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame four years later. After retirement he helped found the BLESTO scouting group and died at age 85 of a staph infection to the very knee that was replaced due to the injury.
Marchibroda played only two years at Bona, leaving the school when the football program was discontinued after the 1951 season, and finished his career at the University of Detroit, from which he was drafted in the first round by the Steelers.
Marchibroda had a lackluster career as an NFL player, it was in coaching that he earned his recognition.
He was a head coach for 12 seasons, five with the then-Baltimore Colts, making the playoffs his first three seasons, then coaching the Colts for four seasons after their move to Indianapolis and finishing with three seasons in charge of the Baltimore Ravens, the former Cleveland Browns.
However, it was as an offensive coordinator that he gained renown, especially in five seasons at Buffalo under Marv Levy. A passing game innovator, he conjured the Bills’ K-Gun offense, named for tight end Keith McKellar, in which quarterback Jim Kelly, often calling his own plays, ran a seamless, high-scoring no-huddle attack.
Marchibroda, one of the NFL’s all-time class acts, died at age 84 of natural causes.
AND, OH YEAH, there’s one piece of St. Bonaventure football history that can’t be taken away.
On Oct. 7, 1939, the Bonnies game against Manhattan, at Randall’s Island Stadium in New York, became the second-ever televised college football game. Bona lost 6-0.
A week earlier, Fordham’s game against Waynesburg, Pa., also in New York, was the first.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)