Glory DaysBROWN ALUMNI MAGAZINE ARTICLES
Brown Alumni Monthly January/February 2002
The 1976 football champions join the Athletic Hall of Fame.
They came to Brown more than a quarter-century ago as wide-eyed teenagers, taking a leap of faith with a confident new coach named John Anderson, who guaranteed a championship for a football program that had been struggling for years. This November they returned to campus for a weekend as middle-aged men eager to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of a promise kept: Brown’s 1976 Ivy League championship, the first in the University’s football history. The pinnacle of the weekend’s silver-anniversary celebration was the induction of the entire team into the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame on November 10 over dinner at the Westin Hotel in downtown Providence.
“It’s just hard to believe that many years have passed since it happened,” said Scott Nelson ’77, a co-captain and All-Ivy linebacker with the 1976 champs, during a tailgate party for the team before the Brown-Dartmouth game that Saturday. “It’s a group that stayed tight over the years, because we’ve had tenth and twentieth reunions. So we’ve enjoyed reminiscing twice before.”
Members of the 1976 football team pose during halftime of the Dartmouth football game.
The 1976 football champs are the fifth team to be inducted as a group into the Hall of Fame, joining the likes of the 1926 football Iron Men, the 1938–39 men’s basketball team, the 1949 football team, and the 1950–51 men’s hockey team. Hall of Fame Committee member Jerry Massa ’77 was so convinced that the 1976 Bears deserved the honor of induction that he researched and wrote a twenty-page report on the achievements and impact of the team and then submitted it to his fellow committee members. “It’s very appropriate they should be inducted,” says Massa, who played football for two years before switching to lacrosse. “Brown football was fantastic for many, many years and then went through a very, very tough time. The 1976 team was the first class recruited by coach Anderson. It was the resurrection of Brown football.”
Brown blows through the 1976 Rhode Island defense en route to the Ivy League championship.
So significant was the resurrection that in a 1996 article marking the fortieth anniversary of the Ivy League, Richard Goldstein of the New York Times listed this 1976 football championship as one of the top ten highlights of the league’s first forty years. Although Brown enjoyed a distinguished football history before 1976, almost all of it had been written at least twenty years earlier and before the beginning of formal Ivy League play. From 1956 through 1972, Brown, cumulatively, had the worst Ivy record of any of the Ancient Eight, including ten last-place finishes. In the eight seasons prior to Anderson’s hiring in late December 1972, the Bruins (as the team was known back then) had won a total of twelve games and finished last in the Ivies seven times.
Lured away from Middlebury by then–Athletic Director Andy Geiger, Anderson put together a staff of young, talented assistants, recruited players nationally with relentless enthusiasm, and coached them with confidence and vision. “Anderson told us when we were freshmen, ‘Before you’re gone, you’re going to win an Ivy title,’ ” recalls Mike Sherman ’77, a defensive lineman. Nelson adds, “That was his constant pitch. It became ingrained in our heads. And each year it got a little better.”
Former 1976 teammates Bill Hill ’78 (left) and Brian Higginbotham ’78 catch up during the Brown-Dartmouth game on November 10.
Anderson won with inherited players before he could bring in his own. His first team, in 1973, went 4–3–1, a dramatic upswing from the previous year’s 1–8 finish under coach Len Jardine. But Anderson and his team were just getting warmed up. In 1974 the Bears won five and lost four and followed that up with a 6–2–1 mark in 1975, good enough for a second-place Ivy finish. Only one game, in fact, kept the title out of the team’s grasp in that year: a 45–26 shoot-out against Harvard. But in 1976 there was no denying the Bruins. “Many people thought we were naive or crazy for following John Anderson’s promise [of a championship] on blind faith,” Nelson says. “But John and his staff delivered right on schedule in 1976.”
With All-Ivy and All-East quarterback Paul Michalko ’77 and wide receiver Bob Farnham ’77 spearheading the offense and with linebackers Nelson and Lou Cole ’78 forming the backbone of a defense that allowed just 102 points the entire year, Brown reached the pinnacle. The Bruins flew through a memorable fall, going 8–1 overall and 6–1 in league play. The only blemish was a 7–6 loss to Penn in a game played in early October in monsoon-like conditions at the Brown Stadium. But the Bruins wrung themselves out and bounced back to win their final five games, including a thrilling 16–14 win at Harvard and a come-from-behind 28–17 victory at Columbia on the final day of the season that clinched the landmark championship. Although Brown had to share the title with Yale, it took comfort in having beaten Yale, 14–6, in the season opener.
“The fact that we did something that no one else had been able to do really bonds us together,” says Cole. “I think we rejuvenated the whole system. Everyone got interested in football again. We’re proud of that legacy.”
[See the attached file]
The family of Charles Margiotta ’79 accepts his jersey as part of a memorial ceremony during halftime of the Dartmouth game.
Fifty-five players, as well as assistant coaches Dave Ritchie, Joe Wirth, Andy Dzurinko, and Michael Goldberger (who is now Brown’s director of admission), made their way to Providence for the November induction ceremony. ESPN’s Chris Berman ’77, who had been the Bruins’ play-by-play voice on WBRU, was also there and was inducted as an honorary member of the 1976 team. Absent were Anderson, who passed away in 1998, and Charles Margiotta ’79, a backup offensive lineman who as a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York was one of 343 firefighters killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11.
Margiotta’s former Fire Department of New York colleagues were honored at the halftime ceremony.
After Margiotta’s teammates—many of them wearing red ribbons and FDNY caps in his memory—were honored on the field at halftime of the Brown-Dartmouth game, his family was presented with a framed football jersey bearing his old number, 65, by Athletic Director David Roach, football coach Phil Estes, and offensive lineman David Drais ’02, who now wears Margiotta’s old number. At the induction ceremony that evening, Margiotta’s family members and several of his FDNY colleagues received a prolonged standing ovation from the overflow crowd. Margiotta’s mother, Amelia, was presented with her son’s championship ring, and the Margiotta family and his FDNY colleagues were named honorary members of the 1976 team. Senior Development Officer Dave Zucconi ’55 announced a scholarship fund in Margiotta’s honor.
After the ceremony, the 1976 champs gathered on a stairway at the Westin and belted out a hearty—if slightly off-key—rendition of “Ever True to Brown.”
Brown Alumni Magazine