By Dan Daly '76
Covering Williams football from 1973 to '75 – as a writer for the Record Advocate, one of the play-by-play guys on WCFM and a stringer for the North Adams Transcript – didn't prepare me for the Real Newspaper World in one important respect: the Ephmen hardly ever lost. Indeed, in the last 21 games I witnessed, they went a ridiculous 19-1-1. They also never lost a Little Three game in the years I was there. Eight up, eight down.
So if you believe, as the saying goes, that the best stories are found in losing locker rooms, well, I was a virtual stranger to such places when the Worcester Telegram hired me in 1976. And as fate would have it, the first college team I was assigned to, the 1977 Holy Cross Crusaders, lost their first nine games, running the risk of excommunication, before saving their season with a miraculous 15-point upset of Boston College.
That 0-9 start was like a forearm to the snout in the days before masks. After all, in my last season at Williams, the Ephs had gone undefeated (7-0-1), prompting three enterprising students to write a letter to Sports Illustrated arguing that the team was better than top-ranked Oklahoma. Their impeccable reasoning, which ran in SI's Jan. 26, 1976 issue, went like this:
Williams beat Bowdoin, 22-7.
Bowdoin beat Bates, 19-6.
Bates beat C.W. Post, 25-22.
C.W. Post beat AIC, 21-0.
AIC beat Springfield, 33-18.
Springfield beat New Hampshire, 17-12.
New Hampshire beat Lehigh, 35-21.
Lehigh beat Colgate, 38-6.
Colgate beat Citadel, 16-0.
Citadel beat Furman, 13-9.
Furman beat Appalachian State, 30-23.
Appalachian State beat Wake Forest, 19-17.
Wake Forest beat North Carolina State, 30-22.
North Carolina State beat Penn State, 15-14.
Penn State beat Pitt, 7-6.
Pitt beat Kansas, 33-19.
And finally, the pièce de résistance: Kansas beat Oklahoma, 23-3.
How could anyone not be swayed by such logic? It's clear from the scores that not only would Ephs have beaten Sooners that year, but that the game wouldn't even have been close. In the Vegas books, according to my calculations, Williams would have been giving 190 points. What a glorious time to be in the Purple Valley.
Can't say I knew much about sportswriting when I started covering Ephs football. I was just a former freshman basketball player trying to stay connected to the college sports scene. I look at my early stories for the ReAd online – hands on face, fingers barely apart – and cringe. It was as if my motto was: Leave no cliché unturned. And the paragraphing! I didn't write in the short, punchy newspaper style. I wrote in the longer, flabbier term-paper style.
But I had enthusiasm, which counts for something. When the '73 team dropped two of its first three games, causing much gloom and doom, I painted a rosier picture of victorious Saturdays just ahead. It was merely a matter, I assured the masses, of some of the sophomores, like quarterback Jim Baldwin, settling in. Sure enough, the Ephs won four straight – the last a 44-0 crunching of a Wesleyan club featuring Bill Belichick – going into the finale against unbeaten, heavily favored Amherst.
This moved Peter Hillman '75, the ReAd's Jimmy Breslin, to write: "This year, more than ever, we needed Dan Daly on the back page of the ReAd, since a lot of other campus journalists might have been tempted to write off the Ephs after early-season losses to Rochester and Middlebury. . . . Word went around campus there were always two things holding the team up: the defense and Dan Daly. . . . I just hope [he] gets to write a sentimental heroic piece about Homecoming."
I like to think I became less of a cheerleader over the years. I offer as partial evidence the time an unhappy pro footballer grabbed me by the throat – gently, mind you – and walked me into the middle of the locker room. His intent wasn't to injure but to make a point, the point being: "You're not supposed to quote me by name when I say something like that!" (Sorry, I couldn't help it. What he said was hysterical, even if it rang a little too true.)
That '73 Williams-Amherst game at Weston Field was one of the all-timers. The Lord Jeffs, as they called themselves then, had, among other assets, a receiver named Freddie Scott, who went on to have a 1,000-yard season with the Detroit Lions. But Ephs coach Bob Odell sprang a surprise in the second quarter: a wishbone offense propelled by Bill McMillan, an agile reserve QB, and junior-college transfer Dave Reimann, a speedy but little-used halfback. Reimann scored twice in an eye blink, the momentum shifted and Williams won, 30-14.
So it was in those days. Before the big games, Odell would reach into his wall safe and pull out some stratagem that would completely confound the opposition. My senior year, against Wesleyan, he snuck a second quarterback onto the field, freshman Greg Collins, to run two trick plays, both successful.
Three years later I was covering a New England Patriots game in Cincinnati and had the out-of-body experience of seeing a former Williams classmate intercept a pass. It was Scott Perry, the Bengals' free safety. With Ephs football in the 1970s, truth could be stranger than fiction. Delightfully so.
Dan Daly '76 was a sportswriter for four decades with the Worcester Telegram, Arizona Republic, Daily Oklahoman and Washington Times. He's written two books on pro football history – The Pro Football Chronicle (with Bob O'Donnell in 1990) and The National Forgotten League (2012) – and is working on another. He lives in Alexandria, Va., with his wife Laurel (Pope) '79.