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  Editor's Note
     
   

The Season that Wasn't

By the late 1960s, before I had even hit double-digits, I was already a regular at Fitton Field. For several seasons, my family had spent fall Saturdays gathered in the bleachers to watch Crusader football games and–sometimes even more enjoyably–my alumnus father’s apoplectic reaction to various coaching decisions. Back at the start of these excursions, there was plenty to grumble about.

The Crusader squad of ’68, for instance, had posted a discouraging 3-6-1 record under departing Coach Tom Boisture. But as the alumni magazine assured us at the end of that season, there were reasons to be optimistic about the coming year. We read of the return of Steve Jutras, the previous year’s top scorer, and some up-and-coming talent like Eddie Jenkins–described by Crossroads as a possibility to “develop into one of HC’s best backs of all time.” All in all, the future looked bright.

And then came the 1969 season, which lasted all of two games.

I recall the front page stories in the Telegram & Gazette about the hepatitis epidemic that felled one player–and coach–after another, until the College had no alternative but to cancel the rest of the season. I recall asking my mother, a registered nurse, about a virus so nasty it could knock down an entire team of Crusader footballers faster than the Eagles’ defensive squad. And I recall seeing photos of the disheartened players in quarantine and wondering what they did day and night, locked up on a dormitory hallway.

The story of the 1969 football team made history. It was the first time in collegiate athletic history that the bulk of a season was cancelled. And the epidemic itself presented such a mystery that medical journals from around the country covered the story closely. But as I’ve discovered in the past month, the real story behind that missing season has never been told before. It’s a story about how friendship endures and grows, through disappointment and over time.

At Holy Cross, we make much of the bonds that are formed during the years on the Hill, but a good deal of our sense of that fellowship is intangible. We can point to anecdotal evidence of the Holy Cross family–the story of Will Jenks; the yearly roster of weddings that feature all-Crusader bridal parties; the requests from returning Purple Knights to bunk with a roommate from 50 years ago.

I had the privilege recently of seeing solid evidence of that Holy Cross bond. To recreate the famous 1969 photo you’ll find on Page 20, we contacted the individuals pictured in the original picture and invited them back to campus. On the morning of the shoot, as they began to stroll into Hanselman Hall where they had been quarantined during the epidemic, the previous 35 years seemed to disappear. Within seconds, the room echoed with laughter, nicknames, and stories that have evolved into legends.

It was obvious that these men had shared something that has kept them connected these last three decades. It was readily apparent in their easy camaraderie, their affection for one another, and their genuine interest in hearing news about family, health and work from their other teammates.

While the disappointment of their lost season remains, it’s clear that what matters most to the men you see on the cover of this magazine is the friendship they found on– and off–the playing field.

And what did they do to keep their days and nights occupied during those seven weeks quarantined, while campus life went on outside their dormitory walls? I can only report that I heard some tales during their nostalgic visit back to Hanselman, but have been sworn to secrecy by men who are still large and mobile enough to do me bodily harm should I squeal.

Jack O'Connell

 

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