October 25, 2007

Give Another Hoiah!

Oct. 25, 2007

By John Gearan
Holy Cross Magazine

On a recent afternoon in the Hart Center, whilst admiring the new Holy Cross Wall of Fame for the first time, I found myself standing next to a lady equally entranced with this splendid mural of memories.

Ever the annoying inquisitor, I asked about her obvious, avid interest.

"The name of my late husband, Philip Flanagan, is right here," she replied, directing my attention to his place of honor. "I wish it weren't on the very bottom."

"Phiddie Flanagan!" I exclaimed, like some school kid blurting out an answer to a too-tough question posed by a teacher.

Mrs. Gail Flanagan beamed with delight.

"You know about my Phiddie!"

Alas, it is true that "fame is fleeting as the wind and glory fades away,'' as Grantland Rice penned in his poem "Casey's Revenge."

But how could I forget "Phiddie" Flanagan, an all-time football great, a two-way lineman from nearby Clinton and a longtime activist with the Holy Cross Varsity Club, which preserves the precious history of Crusader athletics. My father, Paul '27, had been an incurably rabid fan who told me fantastic stories about the glory days when Phantom Phil O'Connell '32 and Bullet Bill Osmanski '39 and Leominster's Ronnie Cahill '40, and, yes, Phiddie Flanagan '36, roamed the hallowed turf at Fitton Field.

Instantly, Mrs. Flanagan and I became fast friends at the Wall of Fame.

She told me all about life with Phiddie and how they married in 1969 when they were both teaching in Holyoke, Mass. Philip Flanagan had been a principal in his hometown of Clinton before they met -- when she was a young teacher. She told me about his passion for sports and everything Holy Cross. We talked about his exploits under Dr. Eddie Anderson and how his 1935 Crusaders went undefeated. And how Phiddie served as a lead blocker for fellow Hall of Famers Rex Kidd '37 and Capt. Nick Morris '36. She talked about his Clintonian pal, Ray Ball '48, the Hall of Fame quarterback who directed the Crusaders' epic 55-12 upset over Boston College in 1942.

When we parted that day, I realized the true value of the Varsity Club's marvelous creation in the Hart Center lobby. Forever, it would be a meeting place for fans of all generations. Folks would stop and gaze at the classy Corian plaques set artfully onto a nostalgic purple haze. They would read of the accomplishments of Crusader athletes and swap stories and exchange pleasantries and "remember when." The tradition would be enriched by alums and others talking with each other, sharing their experiences and reveling in fond memories. The memorial, abuzz with conversation, would come alive.

Credit for this creation can be spread among many who helped plan and financially support the project. Yet, first and foremost, the Varsity Club has been guided for more than three decades by its fastidious and hard-working secretary, Jim Maloney '69.

Maloney, a homegrown Worcester lawyer, has an encyclopedic knowledge of Crusader athletic achievements. He served as varsity basketball team manager for four years under Jack Donohue, back when Ralph Willard was a Crusader captain. His son, Patrick '02, also was a team manager, under Coach Willard. Patrick, who works in the College's Admissions Office, helped design the centerpiece artwork for the Wall of Fame.

Spending countless hours pouring over Varsity Club banquet programs, media guides and news clippings, the elder Maloney reduced all that biographical material to a few graceful sentences that adorn each of the Wall's 279 plaques. Bob Cooney '55, an ex-football player and retired obstetrician, provided Maloney with some valuable research data that he compiled for a book on Holy Cross sports.

"Jim is our historian and our conscience," proffers Tony Froio '86, the club's treasurer. Maloney is the standing chairman of the 16-member Hall of Fame Selection Committee that screens nominated varsity athletes and annually elects a chosen few (75 percent of votes needed). The Hall's honorary members need 100 percent of the votes cast for induction.

The Varsity Club, an independent organization established in 1950, raises money from dues, its annual induction banquet and contributions. With the approval of the athletic department, it provides support for the College's 27 varsity sports and for special projects.

"Selecting Hall of Famers has changed dramatically over the years," notes Maloney. "Once upon a time the Selection Committee had seen most of the all-male athletes perform -- and there were a limited number of sports." "Now we consider information from media guides and computer-assembled stats of every description," he adds, "while, at the same time, gauging the performance of men and women playing 27 varsity sports. Comparing athletes from different eras is no easy task. In a given election nowadays, it is not unusual for nominees from the same sport to have played at different levels of competition."

The old, bronzed Hall of Fame listing of names resides in the fieldhouse. Nameplates stopped being added in 1999 when the die-casting company used by the College went belly up. At the same time, the Varsity Club wanted to relocate the listing to the Hart Center, the heart of the College's sports complex.

There has been an ongoing discussion about dedicating a separate space for a Hall of Fame that would display all of Holy Cross' trophies, artifacts and memorabilia. Also under discussion is a multi-media center for audio-visual presentations of the College's athletic accomplishments.

"We had one proviso -- that the Varsity Club display be movable in the event the College decides to erect a separate, all-encompassing Hall of Fame," says Maloney.

The Club raised about $80,000 for the manufacture of the 279 Corian plaques, which were produced by Metal Décor of Springfield, Ill. The plaques adhere to elegant 48-by-76-inch background plates, which can accommodate another 15 years of immortals. The Club plans to add lighting above the Wall of Fame.

"The College's physical plant crew did a sensational job installing the wall," comments Froio, a proud Worcester native, former Crusader third baseman and Con Hurley Award winner. A lawyer for the international firm of Robins Kaplan Miller Ciresi LLP, he worked diligently in planning, fundraising and negotiating the contractual aspects of the project.

Mrs. Flanagan told a sweet story about her husband Phiddie trying to raise money to support a St. Patrick's Day event in Holyoke. Phiddie wrote a note to famed lawyer Edward Bennett Williams -- then an owner of the NFL Washington Redskins -- asking the 1941 College graduate if he would donate two Super Bowl tickets for a charity auction.

Several weeks later, the prized tickets arrived. A bit surprised, Mrs. Flanagan asked Phiddie why he had thought a national celebrity, whom he'd never met, would bother to send him such valuable tickets.

"Because, my dear, a Holy Cross guy will never say `no' to another Holy Cross guy," replied Phiddie Flanagan, who now resides for eternity just a few plaques away from Edward Bennett Williams.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

John W. Gearan '65, was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Woonsocket, R.I., with his wife, Karen Maguire, and their daughter, Molly.