Feature Written by Patrick Taylor.
While Marist football is currently a staple of the College, this wasn’t always the case.
Club football began to rise in Northeast catholic schools along the Hudson River by 1965. Fordham was the first school of its kind to put together a club football program, with schools such as Manhattan and Iona following their lead. Students at Marist, which at the time was a 600-student school consisting of only boys, also sought to follow their lead.
Bobby Finn was a resident assistant in Leo Hall at Marist at the time. He worked in the lobby and was responsible for making sure students were in their rooms for bed by 10 p.m. One of the nights he was on duty, a group of students happened to meet in the lobby to discuss a plan for getting the Marist administration to back club football.
As Finn sat and listened, he recalled how the group of young men planned to tell the administration that nobody could stop them from starting the club, as they were going to do it no matter what.
Finn, now completely captivated by the meeting, changed the course of the football team by throwing his two cents on the matter.
“You’re starting off the wrong way. You’re making enemies before you even start and that’s not good because you can’t tell the administration as a student what they can do and what you can do because they’re in charge,” said Finn. “You gotta befriend them. You gotta help them, not antagonize them.”
At the next meeting, Finn laid out what needed to happen to make football happen. He started by telling the boys they had to organize a charter to be a club in this college.
The first thing he suggested was to go to the academic social committee to sanction it as a club. When he proposed the idea of electing officers for the club, the group of boys unanimously agreed prior to the meeting that Finn should take control as President.
Finn then went to the administration’s academic social director and proposed getting a charter to be a football club. The director couldn’t give them a charter without the blessing of the former President at the time, Linus Foy. The director talked to Foy, and he wanted to speak directly to Finn himself because the charting process was more complicated than for any other club.
Complicated was an understatement. For starters, Foy informed Finn that they could not be sanctioned as a Marist sports team or have any association with the athletic department. They couldn’t even use the Red Fox logo.
There was an abundance of other obstacles, such as gathering a coaching staff, insurance, equipment, and finding a field to play on—the list of things that needed to work for this club to run felt bottomless.
Foy told Finn to come back with a business plan, as he wanted to have something tangible that he could make more sense of. So, Finn returned to the group of roughly 30 boys who had gotten the ball rolling on the idea. To compile the business plan, he assigned different projects to everyone, which is how he met his lifelong friend, Tom Taylor.
Taylor first met Bobby on the premise of gathering insurance for the program. He had transferred to Marist from the University of Connecticut, where he had played college football. They were both passionate about the idea of starting a club team at Marist.
“We were 19-20 years old. We were too dumb to know what wouldn’t work. And that was the best thing we had going for us,” said Taylor
In high school, Finn frequently played at a playground in the Poughkeepsie area during the summer. He frequently noticed an older guy throwing a football around; The man in question, Ron Levine, was an attorney in town at the time who had played quarterback at Cornell
When Finn mentioned starting a football club to Levine, he “jumped in with both feet,” offering to coach the team. Even after Finn had mentioned the $1,000 budget to Levine, he even said he’d do it for free.
Levine came in as an offense-first coach who, according to former player Jim Conroy, “didn’t care how many points the other team scored, his perfect game was 42-41.”
He insisted on beginning the scheduling of games, but there were many more steps to be taken beforehand.
As insurance, physicals, and certain logistics of the football team’s operations came to fruition, there were still plenty of obstacles left in their way. The biggest hurdles remaining concerned funding, and how the team was to raise money.
They started out by setting up car washes along Route 9 and implementing loose change day, where they would go around Leo Hall asking people to spare them loose change. But it wasn’t nearly enough to raise funds for the idea.
That’s when Taylor and Finn came up with the idea of involving parents of the Marist student body. The idea was to send a charter certificate stating that parents could be a “charter member of the founding of the Marist College football club.”
To become a charter member, parents had to send in 20 dollars in exchange for the certificate. They gathered a mailing list of the parents and sent them out.
“Money started coming out in droves,” Finn said, noting that they raised $5000 for the program.
Soon thereafter, he began meeting with Foy on a weekly basis to discuss the progress. By now, it was the early Spring of ‘65, and Foy asked what the plan was concerning equipment. That is when Father Driscoll came in.
Driscoll was a Dominican priest, originally from Ohio, who had become a chaplain at Marist. He knew of a Dominican high school out in Columbus, Ohio that had dropped their football program, which he figured might still be in possession of their old equipment.
Driscoll quickly formed an arrangement with the school for $1000 to purchase all of their football equipment. Finn, along with his friend Larry Lane, flew out to that high school, rented out a U-Haul truck, and drove all of the equipment back to Marist.
Levine inspected the equipment upon its return. Most of it passed inspection, but the helmets were unusable. He contacted the helmet company, Riddell, where he arranged to buy usable, cheap helmets that the club could play with.
Since the club was separate from Marist athletics, they branded themselves as the Marist Vikings, painting their helmets with maroon and gold colors.
Once the team had equipment, Levine put together a six-game schedule, with three games at home and three on the road. Now they needed a field to play on.
Finn got in contact with the town of Poughkeepsie and arranged for the team to play at Riverview Field on Lincoln Avenue, which they rented for 100 dollars a game.
The first game was scheduled for late October, but prior to that, yet another obstacle presented itself when the Marist Athletic Director, Dr. Goldman, would not let the football team use the school soccer field to practice. Goldman, who coached soccer, disliked the idea of football.
Instead, he allowed them to practice on a little field between the soccer field and Donnelly Hall. The field was covered in rocks and heavy grass; before every practice, players would go on the field and throw rocks off just so they didn’t get injured.
“Dr. Goldman didn’t want anything to do with us,” said Finn.
Despite this, Finn decided to befriend Goldman because he had no idea how to line a field. The two wound up working together to line the entire field, and Goldman and Finn eventually became good friends.
There was a tremendous amount of support from the student body for the new football team, as they wanted to be part of a football program. In their first game at home, they sold out the stadium against Manhattan, a much bigger name than Marist at the time.
”We did it, it was like a miracle. We just kept putting one foot in front of the other and everything started falling into place” said Taylor.
In their first home game against Manhattan, there was a “dramatic fog” as Conroy recalled. The fog, which hindered visibility, served as a reminder of the obstacles the young men had to overcome to get to this point. They ended up taking down the undefeated Manhattan, but the victory was so much bigger than the game.
The diligence that went into starting the Marist Vikings had ignited an entrepreneurial spirit among those involved in dedicating the time it took to run the club.
“I would say at least half of the original members went on to become entrepreneurs in their own ways,” said Finn.
In their inaugural season, the Marist Vikings finished 3-3, which was very successful for a program that had jumped into the game late. Marist Athletics eventually took over the program in 1973, when the team became a Division 3 program; they have the original club team to thank for getting the sport off the ground at the College.
Edited by Jimmy Tsiantoulas, Dan Aulbach and Luke Sassa
Photos from Marist Archives
Graphic Credit: Cara Lacey