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
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