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Rutgers football wasn't always the domain of hulking, 300-pound linemen. The school was a pioneer in the sport known as lightweight football, fielding its first intercollegiate team in 1932 and, two years later, establishing (along with Yale, Princeton, Penn, Villanova and Lafayette) the Eastern 150-Pound Football League. Behind the creation of the league was an interesting development: concern over the increasingly excessive size of college football players. By contrast, the 150-Pound Football League (which later expanded to include Cornell, Columbia, Army and Navy) provided playing opportunities for the "average" size athlete, and was lauded at the time of its founding as "football for all".
Before lightweight football was dropped as a varsity sport in 1989, the program thrived on the Banks for decades.
Compiling Records for Eternity
The Rutgers 150-pound team was the sport's first powerhouse, capturing the league's first two titles (1934 and 1935) while posting a string of undefeated seasons, including 1935 in which it was not only undefeated, but unscored upon! In total, the Scarlet Scourge, as the team was dubbed, put together a 23-game undefeated streak -- a feat still unmatched in Rutgers sports. It was not until the 1936 season game against Yale that the Scarlet Knights suffered their first defeat by a score of 3-0. Interestingly, the Yale game was sponsored by the Rutgers Club of Paterson at Paterson's Hinchliffe Stadium before a crowd of over 10,000.
Head coach for the 150's through their first six seasons was the legendary Harry Rockafeller. During that period his teams lost a mere three games. Rocky left after the 1937 season to coach the "heavyweight" football players at Rutgers.
Rocky's very best teams were led by triple-threat back John "Pomp" Chandler ('36). A game played during the 1935 season best illustrates his remarkable versatility. In a Scarlet Knights 21-0 win over Yale, Pomp passed for two touchdowns, rushed for another, and kicked three extra points to account for all of Rutgers' 21 points. While his accomplishments have slipped into obscurity in Rutgers football annals, he was without doubt one of the school's earliest African-American sports dynamos (right alongside Paul Robeson). Indeed, Pomp was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the "immortals" of lightweight football.
In addition to the incomparable Pomp Chandler, other lightweight standouts over the decades include All-Americans Joe Barile ('38) and Avery Lyman ('42), 60-minute workhorse Hammond Reed ('54), All-American Howard Cabot ('69), two-way starter and first-team All-American Gary Way ('80), and Steve Marino ('80), the lanky two-time, first-team All-American receiver whose performance on the field earned him tryouts with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants.
The Purest of College Sports
The 1989 season brought the end of lightweight football at Rutgers - a victim of budget cuts. The shame of that is the fact that no cut in a sport ever impacted a larger group of true student-athletes than the disbanding of the lightweight program. The truest of student-athletes, no student ever came to Rutgers to play lightweight, no player was ever recruited, and no scholarships were ever granted (they weren't allowed). As a testament to the perfect balance struck between sport and academics, the single biggest reason for missed practice time was class scheduling conflicts. At times, the team's typically thin ranks were so depleted by class conflicts that not enough bodies were available to scrimmage, and practices consisted merely of conditioning drills, a pep talk and wind sprints.
In the program's final season, the team maintained its spirit and tenacity despite the knowledge of its impending demise, scraping its way to a .500 record highlighted by a 14-12 home field win over Princeton. With the disbanding of the lightweight football program came the end of what was rightly termed the purest of collegiate amateur sports in America. Lightweight varsity football offered no external motivation or reward for its participants. Those who played enjoyed no elevated status on campus, received none of the perks of being a varsity athlete, received little or no recognition, and were often lucky to play before 50 spectators. Those who played lightweight football did so because they genuinely loved the game, were willing to sacrifice (often literally starving themselves), and knew how to balance sports with academics. Most important, they went on to become successful in the world as business executives, engineers, lawyers, doctors, and much more. Indeed, distinguished alumni of the Lightweight Football League include the current owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft (Columbia); former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Princeton); and former President Jimmy Carter (Navy).
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Gary Way was an All-American (1979) for Rutgers in lightweight football. Today, he is managing attorney for the Sports Law Practice Group of NIKE, in Beaverton, Oregon.