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Rising stars

3:24 PM  Mar 19th, 2015
by Tom Corcoran '13

In a small walk-in closet tucked behind office space, University Archivist Jennifer Brancato stores some of UD’s oldest — and quirkiest — treasures. Without setting foot in the space, she can tell you which shelf, cabinet or box each artifact calls home. She just wishes she could tell you what they all are.

Take, for example, a 12-by-13-by-17-inch set of wooden risers bearing 39 smiling (albeit photographed) student-athlete faces. Commemorative gift? Planning tool? Child’s toy? Like many other archive items, this one didn’t come with instructions.

“We identify what we can — old photos, concert tickets and other UD material that was either found or donated,” Brancato said. “We keep very detailed records now, but going back several decades, that practice wasn’t as common, and we don’t have any records.”

This set of bleachers included. Emblazoned with the UD seal on either side, each level holds individual wooden figurines with painted-on football uniforms (red jerseys, yellow pants and blue knee-socks) and glued-on headshots. Each player’s name was carefully printed and adhered in front of every figure. According to the Division of Athletics, the model could be an early predecessor to today’s media guide, which includes a roster, photos and brief player biographies.

While its creator is unknown, the players represented on these wooden steps aren’t, representing some of the University’s brightest sports stars: Tony Furst ’40, Larry Knorr ’40, Ralph Niehaus ’39, Jack Padley ’40. Once giants of the Flyer gridiron, all four have since been inducted into the UD Athletic Hall of Fame.

The figurines perched next to the team boasted equally giant reputations (indeed, in this model, they stand nearly three times the size of the players). One is assistant coach Joe Holsinger, and another is Louis Tschudi ’34, also a member of the UD Athletic Hall of Fame. The most recognizable face belongs to Harry Baujan, a.k.a. the “Blonde Beast,” UD football’s legendary coach and College Football Hall of Fame member.

Baujan served as head football coach from 1923 to 1946 and as director of athletics from 1947 to 1964. He is credited with growing the football program from relative obscurity to national prominence, and Baujan Field was named in his honor in 1961. Now home to the men’s and women’s soccer teams, the space hosted the Flyer football squad until the construction of Welcome Stadium in 1974.

Individual honors aside, the 1938 UD football team collectively has a special place in University sports history, as it captured the Buckeye Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship title with a 7-2 record. This would be Baujan’s second, and final, championship title as a head coach; the previous one occurred in 1933 when the Flyers captured the Ohio Athletic Conference title.

Was this model used by Coach Baujan as a more colorful, creative way to manage his team roster? Did a Flyers superfan craft it to celebrate the championship season of ’38? Maybe it was the work of a few football pranksters aiming for a laugh. While its origin may remain buried, the history of UD football — and its legends — hasn’t.

Well played.

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