Throwback Thursday: The 1958 Morrisville Bulldogs Spawns Two Pros
Current readers, unless they have some age on them, would not think that this struggling program today; once played on even terms with Neshaminy, Pennsbury, and other now prominent big schools. A small, Class A program, the Bulldogs now seem to have a constant struggle to even field a team. In fact, in 2001, a one-year interruption in the program caused a football-less season; and each new season is in doubt. Wins are thin.
But, in 1958, and seasons before, you could not take the Bulldogs for granted. Among mostly rural Bucks County pre-1950, Bristol and Morrisville were the “big” schools, while mostly farms and open area made Neshaminy (originally Langhorne), Pennsbury (originally Fallsington and Yardley), and Council Rock (originally Newtown), the “smaller” schools. Even Bensalem, just outside the Philadelphia northeastern line, had yet to see the larger housing developments.
The Morrisville Bulldogs had only one losing season in the 1950s, going 3-8 in 1953. They beat Neshaminy 6-0 in 1951; their last victory over this greatly growing program. They were 6-4 with Pennsbury 1950-1959, and they posted five consecutive shutouts versus Council Rock 1954-1958, winning 20-0, 33-0, 27-0, 33-0, and 13-0. The Bulldogs had won league championships in the past, but had none 1950-1957. The school had never experienced an unbeaten season since launching football in 1919, and a 9-1 1943 season was the best to 1958.
The 1958 Bulldogs were coached by Gordon Davies, with assistant coaches Dick Lee, John Wnuk and Charles Galambos. There were no staffs of coaches anywhere near ten or twelve locally in the 1950’s. The Bulldogs were coming off of a 1957 campaign of 5-3, having narrow losses to Collingdale non-league 7-6, and league to Neshaminy 6-2 and Pennsbury 13-0. Bob Hart, who would go on to football at Penn State until injured, and coach the 1977 Bensalem Owls to a league championship (10-1-0) before becoming AD at Bensalem, was a senior co-captain on the 1957 squad.
Although graduating 13 seniors from a 27-man 1957 roster, the 14 returning juniors and sophomores were good athletes and saw playing time in 1957. In addition, a good new sophomore class for 1958 joined the club, plus a super athlete joined the senior class for 1958. In modern parlance, the ’58 Bulldogs were loaded. Charles Galambos, the 1951 Morrisville QB, was on the coaching staff before a long connection with Pennsbury where I last talked to him about 2010. A very solid cast of 38 players dotted the 1958 roster.
Morrisville was always a T-formation, rushing –oriented club, passes were few and far between in the days of simpler offensive and defensive football. The opener was at Collingdale, and was the only game I have ever seen in Delaware County in my 63 years of high school football.
The Bulldogs prevailed 32-12 with 252 yards rushing and 45 passing for a net 297 yards of offense. They had two picks on D. They had no punts and recovered a fumble. They limited the opposing Bulldogs to 24 yards rushing and a net 69 yards of offense.
The home opener was Darby Township, a second school that no longer exists as with Collingdale. The Eagles were held to 11 yards rushing and 0 passing for a net 11 yards in a Morrisville 25-0 victory. It must have been a sloppy or rainy night, because the Eagles lost 2 fumbles and the Bulldogs won despite losing 6 fumbles. The Eagles were held to 1 first down.
The league slate of 7 games would open with Pennsbury at Morrisville. Both teams used the Morrisville field for home games in those days, so it was not strange to either club. Pennsbury was a rival on propinquity; that school district completely surrounded Morrisville other than the Delaware River to the east. The Falcons had an off year in 1958 and came in 1-2 and finished 4-6. The Falcons became the third team to be held under 100 yards of offense (barely; 98 yards total, 84 yards rushing), and Morrisville won 27-6.
Council Rock had started 4-0 in 1958 and would face the 3-0 Bulldogs at Neshaminy. I do not know if the game was played there for capacity reasons, or if Rock used the Langhorne field while their field was under construction. I know they opened 1959 there in a game against Souderton which I saw. The Bulldogs could only cross the goal line twice in a 13-0 victory; but held the Rock offense to 2 first downs, 21 yards rushing and 18 passing for 39 net yards of offense. Rock had come into the game scoring an average of 26 points per game.
The Panthers of William Tennent would visit Morrisville for the next contest. Although only 1-3, the Panthers had two narrow losses to Hatboro 7-6 and Neshaminy 20-19. Such was high school football in the 1950s. “On any given night” seemed to have more meaning back in those days. The Panthers broke the 4-game defensive stranglehold of the Bulldogs and with 88 yards on the ground and 52 via the air amassed 140 net yards against the Bulldogs. But it was of no avail as the Bulldogs posted their third shutout in 5 games, again 13-0.
Bensalem at 1-4-1 would next come to Morrisville. They managed 3 first downs, 78 net yards of offense and a TD, but lost to Morrisville 32-6.
This set the stage for the game of the year for 1958 in lower Bucks County. Neshaminy (6-1, with a non-league 26-13 loss to Pennridge) would host the 6-0 Bulldogs and about 10,000 people chose to take it in. This was a classic. The Redskins could run or pass and put up 115 yards in the air; but the terrific Bulldog ground defense yielded only 56 yards on the ground. After a 0-0 first quarter and most of the second, Morrisville executed a halfback-option pass from Dave Fabian to Jim Tanzillo who made a great leaping catch in the end zone to put the Bulldogs up 6-0 after a missed PAT at the half. But Neshaminy was rarely shut out in the 1950s. In the second half the Skins scored, but the PAT was also missed, knotting the game a 6-6.
There were no overtime rules in 1958; if the game ended tie it was a tie; and that is exactly what happened. Neither side was overly happy at a 6-6 stalemate.
Delhaas also had a fine team in 1958 and was 6-2 for the Bulldog match. This game was also held at Neshaminy for capacity reasons and another big crowd was on hand. The bruising Tiger rushing attack became the first and only team to exceed 100 yards on the Bulldogs; they made 112 and added another 115 passing to net 227 yards, the most Morrisville gave up all season. The Bulldogs about evened this with 220 net yards, but of course 182 of that was rushing. With such even statistics you might expect an even score, and it was; a 14-13 Bulldog victory.
The Bristol-Morrisville Thanksgiving Day rivalry was somewhat storied in lower Bucks County. It was the oldest such rivalry at the time, and always one of those “forget-the-records” deals. The Bulldogs were favored this season at 7-0-1 versus the Warriors at 5-4-0. The Warriors scorched the air for 150 yards passing, but this game, Morrisville exactly equaled it at 150. The big difference was on the ground where the Bulldogs ground out 207 yards and held Bristol to minus 30. The final was 38-7 Bulldogs.
This was my senior year at Morrisville (I was not an athlete) and it amazes me that with my love of high school football that it is the only undefeated (although with one tie) season in the history of the school. Morrisville and Neshaminy shared a co-championship at 6-0-1 each in the league.
The great athletes then at Morrisville included two future professional athletes. Running back Danny Napoleon had come to us in his senior year from elsewhere and was a 4-sport athlete. I did not follow track, but watched Danny excel in baseball, basketball, and football. He went on to a few years career with the New York Mets in baseball. He left us too soon a few years ago.
Dick Hart (Bob’s younger brother) was a sophomore starter on this team playing both ways. Dick was accepted for professional baseball (Milwaukee Braves) and football (Eagles, Jets) and chose football after two more years of high school.
A small school as Morrisville was featured many 2 and 3-sport athletes. Denny Poland was a junior on this club. He had a fine baseball, basketball, football career in school, and as with Hart, had been on the 1955 Morrisville Little League world champions as a pitcher.
The Bulldog linemen were not exceptionally large, but were mobile, tough, and smart. Fran Lucash, Dale Olafson, Bruce Platon, and Leigh Shull were very intelligent, had good grades, and most likely all went on to college and success; not necessarily as athletes.
Other underclassmen, Bill and Rich Cominsky, Jack Weaver, Ed Neuman, Al Radosti, Vince Straszynski, Jeff Giano, Jim Gafgen, and others would ensure two more good seasons for the Bulldogs (8-1 in 1959 and 7-2 in 1960). Ed Neuman went on to coach high school football in lower Bucks County, and Jim Gafgen has turned out numerous sculptures of sports and other figures.
Although I do not often visit class reunions, I have run into Denny Poland, Ed Neuman, and Jack Weaver various times at Falcon Field for games and “old times” chatter. I occasionally get to Morrisville games and my alma mater is third on my total times seen list at 138 times, but I rarely run into many ex-classmates or athletes. It is not only due to the status of the program there now; but sadly many of the athletes are no longer around; and those that have already departed earth forever is an even sadder factor.
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