Let Scott Leightman, sports information director at La Salle, be
the herald of a new frontier. As his school, which is renowned
for basketball, prepared to reenter the world of college
football with its first game in 56 years, Leightman paced the
sideline in La Salle's McCarthy Stadium, where the Explorers
were about to face the Stags of Fairfield. Then into his
walkie-talkie he barked the words that, like Neil Armstrong's
"one small step...," will forever commemorate a giant leap: "Our
players have no bathrooms, no Porta Potties, no nothing. If one
of 'em has to go, what are we gonna do?"
La Salle's faithful will long speak of the day the football
revival began. They'll remember how their Division I-AA
Explorers lost badly, 34-10, to a lowly, second-year Fairfield
club and how quarterback Ralph Sacca was sacked three times.
They'll also recall that the 6,652 fans who filled the stadium
had a ball.
Bill Manlove, the revered former Widener and Delaware Valley
coach who took on La Salle for, as he put it, "a neat little
challenge," proclaimed in his pregame speech that this day was
not about winning but about "looking in the mirror and being
able to say you gave your best." Before the kickoff, in the
concrete confines beneath the bleachers, with 71 young, scared
players looking his way, Manlove spoke softly, telling his kids,
essentially, that they had nothing to fear but fear itself.
"Play hard," he said. "Remember, this is history." Players
yelled, "This is our house! Don't let 'em take what's ours!" The
blue-and-gold-clad Explorers then bowed as brother Edward Sheehy
led a prayer, asking God to "watch over us as we begin this new
La Salle's old football tradition consisted of a 51-34-8 record
over 11 seasons before the program was abandoned in 1941, when,
with so many players enlisting in the service, the Explorers
could barely field a full team. The school decided to revive the
sport last year, partly in hope of stemming a decline in male
enrollment and to provide on-campus weekend events for the La
September 14, 1997
The team did not embarrass itself. Sacca, a transfer from
Rutgers who started just one game for the Scarlet Knights last
year, showed that he could become one of I-AA's top
quarterbacks. Shifty running back Terrence Zaahir, a sophomore
whose grades kept him from playing for West Virginia, rushed for
118 yards. The Explorers even held a 10-7 halftime lead thanks
to a field goal and Sacca's 11-yard touchdown run. "That was a
moment," Sacca would say later of his scramble-for-life into the
end zone. "We showed we belonged, if we could just stay strong."
This is where Manlove has problems. Before the game five senior
citizens walked onto the field after being introduced to cheers
as the "remaining members of La Salle's last football team." The
Boys of '41 were shrunken and gray, guys who walked proud but
had seen better days. Alas, Manlove could have used them all. On
his squad were six athletes who had never played organized
As a boy ran through the crowd with a big L flag, and the
Explorers' two cheerleaders raised their pom-poms, and some
shirtless frat rats began a "Fairfield sucks!" chant, the Stags
took a second-half hammer to the little engine that could. A
fumble recovery in the end zone, a 65-yard touchdown run and a
looping 16-yard TD pass made it 28-10 in Fairfield's favor.
Knocked down repeatedly, Sacca was knocked out of the game late
in the third quarter. "It's inexperience," said Manlove. "Ralph
can't get hit like that every week."
Odd thing, though. After it was over, Sacca, an ice pack on his
neck, was all smiles. "Y'know," he said, "they hit just as hard
here as they did at Rutgers. But I don't feel too hurt." For
Sacca--and for La Salle--there was comfort in a fresh start.