• Center Walt Crosby

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  • Offensive teammates, in a 1978 photo. The team wears its recycled Rochester Institute of Technology uniforms.

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Celebrating 25 years of MIT football


Walt Crosby played two positions--center and treasurer--when MIT returned to the gridiron with a club football team in 1978, re-establishing a tradition that dates back to the 19th century.

Crosby was among about 75 former players introduced at halftime of last Saturday's Homecoming game against Curry College in ceremonies to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the modern era of MIT football. The team has compiled an 84-117-1 record during that period.

On the field, Crosby (S.B. 1981) recalled being flanked by guards who were both Ph.D. candidates. "How many centers get to do that?" he wondered.

As the team's treasurer, he was in charge of finances. "We refereed intramural games, painted the hurdles and did just about anything to raise money," said Crosby, a management major who is now executive vice president of Terabase Inc. in Danvers. They also sold hot dogs, hamburgers and soda at the dedication of Steinbrenner Field.

The modern era began when members of several fraternities who had competed in intramurals called for an intercollegiate football program. Among them were Sigma Alpha Epsilon members Bruce Wrobel, who still holds two Institute career passing records, and Gary Spletter. Both were elected co-captains, and both received the S.B. in 1979.

With strong support from Assistant Athletic Director Jack Barry, the athletic board and Director of Athletics Ross H. (Jim) Smith agreed to study the financial impact of the program for one year. The Dean for Student Affairs Office provided $5,000. Barry made sure there was a steady flow of projects to raise additional funds.

The budget was barely enough to buy new uniforms and equipment. Serendipitously, the Rochester Institute of Technology had dropped the sport and theirs were available. Crosby, a transfer student from RIT, struck a deal: $2,000 for everything. Wrobel collected the money from fraternity members and drove to Rochester with a rented truck to collect the equipment. MIT wore white and orange uniforms that season.

The players organized and ran the operation, arranging the schedule, forming the team and hiring the coaches. "If we had played by the rules," Crosby said, "we never could have done it."

Halfway through the first season, it became obvious that the team would need a new coach due to the demands on Ted Rose's time from his sporting goods business. Jack Barry proposed that the team consider Dwight Smith as the head coach, and the team was enthusiastic at the prospect. The change became official the next year, and Smith has been the head coach ever since.

The team had a 0-6 record that first year, but the players considered it worthwhile. "Mostly, academics didn't suffer, although I had a spectacularly bad semester," Crosby recalled. "Injuries were few and we stuck together. That was a successful season for us." Many players returned for the next year, including Crosby. "It was the only sport I was ever any good at," he said.

The highlight of the season was the only home game, which attracted a crowd of 2,000. "It was sort of an event," Crosby said, noting that the Ugliest Man on Campus contest was held that day, with the winner named Homecoming King. "It was a beautiful day and everyone wanted to see if we could really play." Siena College defeated the Engineers, 30-14.

Another high point occurred during a three-way preseason scrimmage with Hudson Valley Community College and Siena. The MIT players were unaware that Hudson Valley had been the junior college champions the previous year.

"They were huge," said Crosby, who is six feet tall and weighed 250 pounds in those days. "We had never seen people that big before." Unintimidated, the MIT players took command with their physical play. "They didn't want to play a third round," he said with pride.

All former players were invited to the Homecoming activities, which were to include an alumni touch football game on Jack Barry Field. A pre-game barbecue, halftime ceremonies, and a reception in the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center following the game were also scheduled. MIT lost the Homecoming game to Curry College, 31-8.

MIT Football: the modern era (through Oct. 5, 2002)

Overall record:

84-117-1

Club football:

38-42

NCAA Division III:

46-74-1

Eastern Club Football Conf.:

22-24

New England Football Conf.:

14-26

Home:

52-53-1

Away:

32-64

Academic All-Americans:

21

Division III All-Americans:

7

Club All-Americans:

20

Rhodes Scholar:

Darcy Prather, 1991

Marshall Scholar:

Brad Gray, 1998

Byers Scholar:

Brad Gray, 1998

NCAA Postgraduate Fellows:

7

National Football Foundation Hall of Fame Scholars:

5


Topics: Sports and fitness

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