by Jack Belanger ’21
This past weekend, Providence College hosted its Alumni and Family Weekend and many former Friars made their way back to campus. While many met up at the events and games on campus, one group of friends found themselves at McCormick & Schmicks, a seafood restaurant in downtown Providence. This group of friends, or brothers if you asked any of the men in attendance, make up the Friends of Friar Football.
While Providence College has not had a club football team on campus since 1988, the Friends of Friar Football is comprised of former members of PC’s club football team, known as the Fighting Friars, which started in 1967 and was active up until its last season in 1988. From Paul McGuire ’70, the team’s first QB, to Tom Allen ’88, a member of the final team, and men nicknamed Spider, Weasel, Skunk, and Bear, the gathering gave men across multiple generations time to connect and reminisce about their playing days. The group had about 100 men in attendance and was over 200 active members who stay in contact with the club.
Geno Harding ’74 who has helped organize the gathering for the past 10 years, has acted as the organization’s historian, compiling old photos and memorabilia from the Fighting Friars days. Back when he was in school, Harding was one of the main organizers for the team as he was in charge of selling tickets and lining Hendricken Field on game days.
Even though the team was not an official varsity team, the former players will be quick to tell anyone they treated every game like they were in Division I. The team competed against schools such as Marist College, Assumption College, Westchester Community College, and Stony Brook University before many of these teams moved up to Division III. Multiple alumni said that they played for the love of the game.
In 1973, the team was given money to design new uniforms and many of the players could not have been happier with the outcome. Harding and Ted Fitzgerald ’75 worked together to create a new helmet logo for the team. With the Fighting Friars already sharing the same silver and black color scheme as the Oakland Raiders, the two went the extra mile and modeled the new logo after one of the National Football League’s most popular. Harding created the black shield with “Friars” sketched in. Then Fitzgerald sketched out a Friar head over a cross to complete the logo. Any of the men who played for PC are quick to say it was the best logo in all of college football.
One of the reoccurring stories during the reception was the tale of when PC played “the champs from the west,” Chapman University in California, in the 1979 Heritage Bowl in Providence. The day before the game the temperature was well above 50 degrees. Then all of a sudden, come gameday, the temperature dropped below 30° and the players from California experienced New England weather at its finest. One player recalled that the game was so windy that on one play where Chapman was punting, the football actually went backwards on the kick. The Friars ended up winning in a blowout 34-0, in what was one of the most memorable games in the club’s history.
Despite a 21-year gap between the first and last teams, the Friends of Friar Football has been able to bring men from different eras into one brotherhood. Gerry Marzilli ’72 described the Friends of Friar Football and the club team itself as “a special group…we paid to play football, we are lucky to be together this long.” Despite only consisting of alumni that attended Providence College over about 20-year span, The Friends of Friar Football is one of the largest PC alumni groups that are still active. The club manages to raise money through donations to give a scholarship to one PC student every year.
After a few hours discussing who was the fastest or who was the toughest player, the alumni made their way outside to take their yearly group photo on the front steps of City Hall. Afterwards, Marzilli presented games to former players Mike Lee ‘79, Steve Lamendola ’79, and Bob “The Bear” Peters ’78, to recognize them for creating the Friends of Friar Football group.
Even as years pass, the gathering has not lost any of its allure for any of the men. As each former player entered the restaurant, all of them were just as excited to see their former teammates as if they were getting ready for game day. Jim Murphy ’70 said that football at PC “has forged a friendship for over 50 years.” Murphy was one of the key contributors to starting the football club back in 1967 as he oversaw raising money for the team.
Even though most of the members of the varsity team are no longer around, the club takes time to remember the men who brought football to Providence College by looking back at the old photos and share the stories of the alumni. Harding shared one story of former player Hank Soar ’37, who played nine seasons in the NFL and then went onto become an umpire for Major League Baseball from 1950 until 1972.
While the PC club football team does not have the documented history of the University of Alabama or even Boston College, every player has his own stories to share and every team had its place in the school’s history that is just as important to the College. None of these men played with future glory in the back of their heads, but rather to play their hearts out for the game they cherished.