SI Vault
John Papanek
November 22, 1976
They buy their own football shoes and soap. They take their uniforms home so nobody will steal them. The stands are not packed. But all right, already, Brooklyn College is 7 and 1
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November 22, 1976

Of Subways And Salami

They buy their own football shoes and soap. They take their uniforms home so nobody will steal them. The stands are not packed. But all right, already, Brooklyn College is 7 and 1

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Because Gargano knows what it is like to be a Brooklyn kid—"It hasn't changed that much," he says—he is an easy-going coach who never loses his temper and allows his players every opportunity to relax. They practice three or four days a week and rarely hit. On Mondays, Gargano makes them promise to run on their own, and after watching game films they usually run down to the Jolly Bull Pub on Flatbush Avenue and Campus Road, where the "Pub Club" convenes. They are welcome there. Defensive Tackle Phil Katz is the bouncer two nights a week.

Regaling a bar full of guzzlers with stories of his life, Katz admits that he wasn't really recruited by Woody Hayes while playing at New Utrecht High School—"That was just for my publicity dossier"—and that he never really got his 6'2" 240-pound frame to peel off a 9.9 hundred. He also denies being over 30. Katz spent his freshman year "drinking and sleeping" at Panhandle State College in Goodwell, Okla., but he's back in Brooklyn for good now, convinced that it's the rest of the world that's crazy. "Goodwell, jeez," he says. "You think they ever saw a Jew in Oklahoma? First day at practice, the coach tells us he'll drive us all to church on Sundays. I says, 'Coach, I got to go to shul on Saturdays.' He says, 'Wah, Phil, ah jes' don' know what we goin' do 'bout that.' "

The bar erupts. "I had to get back home to good old Bensonhoist." Katz is playing to his audience now: "In Bensonhoist, all you wanna be is a gangster when you grow up. You got a Caddy? A pinkie ring? You'll make it in Benson-hoist. A lot of tough characters live deh in duh neighborhood."

Also in the Jolly Bull are two of the defensive backs, all of whom are called "the midgets" because they are. One is a flashy 5'7" white-shoed black named Kelly Brown, whose high school coach used to hit his players. Brown grew up in racially troubled Brownsville and used to watch junkies shoot up while he was caring for his pigeons on the roof of his tenement building. The other is a 5'7" Turk named Tom Zahralban, Z to his mates, a geology major who talks a blue streak and often wears his helmet backward—"for confusion," he says. (Z quit the team last month.) The fullback, 5'8", 180-pound Ed Conroy, is an Irishman who set a beer-consumption record at last year's football dinner. The quarterback, Ray Shalhoub, is all that a college quarterback is supposed to be: bright, handsome, cool. And skinny: 6', 165 pounds. Shalhoub was too small to play for his high school team and learned football in a Prospect Park sandlot league, playing every other year. "I was a pygmy," he says. "Every two years I'd go into a new age division, and I'd have to wait till the second year to be big enough."

Then there is Jerry Wright, a 6'1", 200-pound halfback who is the one player probably good enough to play at most colleges in the country. As Katz is garrulous, Wright is silent. Born in Harlem, he moved to Charleston, S.C. with his three brothers and three sisters at age six when their mother died. Five years later, the boys returned to Crown Heights to live with an aunt. When Jerry was 15, their apartment house burned to the ground. They moved to a low-income neighborhood in the northeast Bronx, where Wright went out for football at Evander Childs High School and ran the 40 in 4.8 as a sophomore, the first time he was ever clocked. During his senior year he scored 13 touchdowns and got one serious offer, from Cheyney State. But Wright did not want to leave New York. He went to Brooklyn because it was free and there were no academic requirements. Last year, as a freshman, he gained 824 yards, averaged 11 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns, one for every seven carries. Against New York Tech this year he ran for 165 yards and two touchdowns, but an ankle sprain kept him out of most of the next four games. He came back for the Iona game and gained 117 yards. He rides three subway trains two hours each way, every day, to get to and from the college, leaving home at 6:30 a.m. and returning at 10 p.m. His idol is Tony Dorsett. Jerry would like to win a Heisman. Hardly anyone at Brooklyn has ever heard of him. He will probably not be able to meet Brooklyn's new academic requirement for next year.

The Brooklyn players are assembling in a large, modern classroom upstairs in Roosevelt Hall for a final chalk-talk before the St. John's game. Half a dozen are still down in the training room, waiting anxiously for the one available table to get their ankles taped. A student trainer, JoAnn DiGrazia, is doing her best, finishing off Joe Macchia. He says thanks and walks gingerly into the hallway where, out of her sight, he rewraps both ankles. "So, sometimes your ankles turn a little blue," he says. "You don't want to say nothing."

Upstairs, Gargano is giving a remarkable pep talk. "Now, they're real big, and they want to beat you bad. But let me tell you, you can match them. You got to get that spirit that comes from a challenge. I had a friend who was a bomber pilot in the war, and he told me that the feeling he got diving in on a bombing run was the same feeling he got standing on the goal line waiting for the opening kickoff." Out of affection for Gargano the players held straight faces.

It is time to hit the field. Someone has to nudge Donald Nissen, the midnight-to-eighter. He has fallen asleep.

As the players burst onto AstroTurf Field—the $1 million field, which Brooklyn College built in 1974 before the crunch, is actually named AstroTurf Field—someone yells, "This is big-time football!" There are no more than 500 people scattered through the stands. Mil-tie Schwartz, the part-time sports information director, points out that it is Rosh Hashanah. "That don't make no difference, Miltie," says Macchia. "Seventy-five percent of our crowds are our parents and friends and, anyway, we only got three Jewish players."

There is no band. Brooklyn's band has never played at a football game. A policeman sings The Star-Spangled Banner a cappella.

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