For most of the year, St. Mike's students argue about the Red Sox and the Yankees. Except for football season, when they argue about the Patriots and the Giants. But while the Patriots home turf is a lot closer than Giants Stadium, for three summers it was the Giants who called St. Mike's home.
The students pass by, walk through and even live in some of the very locations where iconic Giants like Frank Gifford and Vince Lombardi once caught passes and designed plays. But what brought a prestigious NFL football team to the small college campus in the Green Mountains?
"I recall that it was the Burlington Chamber of Commerce that contacted the Giants and brought them in and created that interest," said Ed Markey '51, both a Saint Mike's grad and its Athletic Director for 29 years. "In all they spent three preseasons there...they were happy. [The Giants] were well-mannered, very courteous, very cooperative. And they developed a lot of good friendships with the priests and faculty."
The Giants spent the month-long preseasons of 1956 and 1957 practicing on campus, including running plays and scrimmages on what is currently the 300s field. Markey was an assistant at the time to Saint Mike's legendary Athletic Director and Coach Doc Jacobs. He recalled a particularly memorable interaction between Jacobs and another legend, Vince Lombardi, who was then the Giants' offensive coach.
"Lombardi had a tough day on the field and he was the last man in the locker room," Markey said. "At the time, the locker rooms were under the dining hall in the center of campus, where the big cross is now. And they were rather Spartan in appearance and description. The problem that developed as a result was that when you flushed the toilets, it took away the cold water from the shower."
Lombardi happened to be the only man in the showers when someone flushed the toilet and Markey recalled him being "terribly upset." That prompted Lombardi, after bumping into Jacobs on his way out of the facility, to utter some choice words.
"Doc said 'are you finished, Vince?'" Markey said. "And Vince said yes. And Doc responded 'when we had football here, we won our games on the football field and not in the locker room. By your own admission, you've got the best facilities [at Saint Mike's] to train on, the best food you've ever had in preseason here on campus, and you've had the best rooming facilities you've ever had.'" (Those "best facilities" Jacobs referenced, by the way, included the recently constructed Joyce Hall).
The next day, Markey said, Lombardi when straight to Jacobs' house on the corner of the college entrance near the gym and the fine arts center and apologized for his rant.
"That's the kind of man he was," Markey said. "And it gives you an idea of the quality of the facilities and that they appreciated what they had on campus."
Much of their time at Saint Michael's is fairly well-documented and some of it is available online. Sports Illustrated has a two-page magazine article from the time in their archives and WPTZ put together a nice piece of some of the history as well, including a great interview segment with Father Ray Doherty SSE and Saint Michael's Archivist Liz Scott.
So while it's well-known that Patriots fandom abounds on campus, perhaps leading up to the big game this Sunday Giants and Pats fans can agree on one thing: their school has some serious football roots.
The images at right include Frank Gifford filming a shaving cream commercial on campus (top) and an action shot from one of the scrimmages (bottom).