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Opinion: Few cheers upon demise of NU’s football program
No more football at Northeastern. After 74 seasons, the curtain has been drawn at Parsons Field in Brookline.
These are stories we hate to write. The death of a sport at one of our local colleges brings guilt and regret. It was like this when Boston University dropped football in 1997. There was another scare when UMass came close to dissolving its baseball team last spring.
Today they will announce that they’ve killed football at Northeastern.
Who will miss Husky football? Certainly not those of us immersed in the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins. Even though Boston boasts more colleges than any city, we are a pro sports town all the way. Ask the folks at Boston College. The Eagles are the only bona fide Division 1 program in the region (OK, UConn won at Notre Dame Saturday), but did anyone notice two years ago when BC football was ranked second in the nation for two weeks? No. It was hardly a blip on the radar screen. In those days we were consumed with the Red Sox winning a World Series and the Spygate-driven Patriots’ pursuit of perfection.
It’s the same now. The BC women’s soccer team beat Wisconsin Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tourney. The Eagles next play 23-0 Stanford. Anybody aware of that?
Of course not. Just parents, roommates, and friends of the players.
And so the death of a college football program hardly will register on our sports landscape. This isn’t going to get much airtime on Comcast or 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Northeastern is a hot school with much to offer, but the university board of trustees is unwilling to pour more millions into an expensive program that generates little revenue. We’re talking about 65 players with partial or full scholarships. Ten coaches. Equipment. Travel. Recruiting costs.
NU athletic director Peter Roby is a smart, caring educator. Roby played basketball at Dartmouth and coached at Stanford, Dartmouth, and Harvard. He was also director of the Northeastern Center for the Study of Sport in Society. This was not an easy decision. He knows what this means to all the young men who went to Northeastern to play football.
There will be some noise today from those players and their families, not to mention alums and friends of Northeastern football. But it’s too late to change anything. The decision is made. And if Northeastern had a true core of football boosters, the Huskies would have drawn more than 1,500 per game to their little high school stadium on Kent Street in Brookline.
Husky fans don’t have any tales of glory like those of BU fans who spoke famously and fondly of Harry Agganis when the Terriers dropped the sport 12 years ago. Northeastern is the only Beanpot school that never claimed to be home of the Patriots.
This is not to say that there’s no football tradition at Northeastern. The Huskies produced Dan Ross, who caught 11 passes for the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI. NU’s Sean Jones was on the Packers team that beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans. Bob Cappadona, Keith Willis, and Sid Watson were Northeastern players who starred in the NFL.
The Huskies played against Navy, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Temple, and Fordham. This season NU played at Boston College. The Huskies were Atlantic-10 champions in 2002, when Tyler Grogan (son of Steve) was their star receiver/punter. Barry Gallup coached them from 1991-99. Joe Zabilski coached them from 1948-71. In 1963, Zabilski led NU to the Eastern Bowl in Allentown, Pa.
But Parsons Field was never a destination for big-time football buffs. Its greatest moments came when a Kent Street neighbor named Babe Ruth occasionally dropped by to play catch with the local kids. Years later, Northeastern slugger Carlos Pena blasted prodigious homers out of Parsons and into the third-floor kitchen of a nearby triple-decker.
The death of Husky football won’t mean much to most Boston sports fans, but it’s a lesson for parents and young people who want to play sports in college. Tell your kids to pick a school based on the school - not the team or the coach. The coach may leave. Any athlete risks the possibility of injury. And in extreme cases like this, a sport might be eliminated just as a kid is finishing his or her freshman season.
It happened to a bunch of Northeastern kids last night; young men from Billerica, Belchertown, Norton, Brockton, Townsend, Lexington, Hyde Park, Walpole, Westminster, North Attleborough, and Buzzards Bay.
They all thought they were coming back for another season of football at Northeastern. With new bounce after Saturday’s season-ending 33-27 win at Rhode Island, they were hoping to improve on this year’s 3-8 record.
Nobody knew it at the time, but Northeastern’s final home game was Nov. 14 at Parsons, a 14-13 win over Hofstra.
Attendance for the home finale: 1,017.
Few cheers upon demise of NU’s football program
By Dan Shaughnessy, The Boston Globe Columnist