It’s a story that began more than 40 years ago at a small Jesuit liberal arts college in New England. The tapestry includes the United States Supreme Court, a Pulitzer Prize and the unbeaten 1972 Miami Dolphins.
In Fraternity, Diane Brady, a journalist for BusinessWeek, writes about five African American men who arrived at the College of the Holy Cross during the racially tense time of the late 60s and early 70s, and went on to great success in life. Brady describes the bonds between these men and their peers, and their connection with the Rev. John E. Brooks, later the President of Holy Cross, who convinced them to study at the college atop Mount St. James in Worcester, Mass.
The Fraternity five adorn the cover of the book. One of them, Eddie Jenkins, was a member of that perfect Dolphin team. The others are Jenkins’ HC roommate and star litigator Ted Wells ’72; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas ’71; Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the novel The Known World; Ed Jones ’72; and former New York City deputy mayor and investment banker Stan Grayson ’72, who also played three years for the HC basketball team.
Jenkins, a running back, attended high school at St. Francis Prep in Brooklyn. He played in just three freshman games at HC before breaking a rib. All but two games of his sophomore season were wiped out because of the hepatitis outbreak which quarantined the entire team and forced cancellation of the remainder of the 1969 schedule.
The Crusaders were 0-10-1 in 1970, a UConn tie the only saving grace. But in a game at Boston University that year, Jenkins was on the receiving end of the longest pass play in HC history, a 99-yard touchdown completion from Colin Clapton. In that same game, Joe Wilson, who later played for the Bengals and the Patriots, set a school record with a 94-yard touchdown run.
Eddie Jenkins played in just 20 games at Holy Cross, and his teams won seven. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 11th round (285th overall) of the 1972 NFL draft. Jenkins sat below names like Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick on the Dolphin depth chart, and saw action as a special teams player.
Super Bowl Champions
He was on the field in the Los Angeles Coliseum, wearing #28, Dolphin aqua and orange, when Miami won the Super Bowl against the Washington Redskins and finished 17-0.
“We didn’t know it was going to be a perfect season,” Jenkins told the Worcester Telegram years later. “It just kept building. Honest, it was game by game. No one ever thought about this perfect season.”
After sitting out the 1973 season, Jenkins played for the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and New York Giants in 1974. Following his NFL career, Jenkins studied law at Suffolk. He formerly worked in private practice, as a prosecutor, a labor lawyer,and later in several Commonwealth of Massachusetts executive positions. He is currently MassDOT’s chief diversity and civil rights officer.
Jenkins has two children. His son Julian, a former defensive end at Stanford, played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006.
SportsLifer Note: 1969-70 was my freshman year at the Cross. In December, 65 black students took a stand, threw down their student IDs and quit Holy Cross to protest a racially-tinged college ruling. Throughout the school year there were anti-Vietnam protest marches, the tragedy of Kent State and second semester closings at universities across the county, and a concert by The Who in the Holy Cross fieldhouse, just weeks after Woodstock. The HC football team was 0-2, losing to Harvard and Dartmouth before hepatitis hit.
The Last Amateurs, John Feinstein’s highly acclaimed chronicle of a season in the Patriot League, talks about playing for glory and honor in Division One basketball — but not for NCAA basketball championships. That’s left to the big guys, the elite.
In fact, for the vast majority of the 342 Division One combatants — the small schools of the Patriot League, the Ivy League, the Summit Conference, the mid-majors, even the long downtrodden programs in the major conferences — just getting a ticket to the Big Dance is the Mecca, that one shining moment, the equivalent of the North Carolina or UCLA or Kentucky making the Final Four and more.
But for the College of the Holy Cross, which lost in the Patriot League championship game to American University. it wasn’t always that way.
Once upon a time, Holy Cross (my alma mater), a small Jesuit college located in Worcester, Mass., with undergraduate enrollment around 2,700, was the best team in the country. In 1947, the Crusaders, behind coach Doggie Julian, NCAA tournament MVP George Kaftan and a freshman point guard named Bob Cousy, right, beat Kentucky at Madison Square Garden to win the NCAA championship.
The Crusaders finished third in the tournament the following year, and were ranked No. 1 in the 1949-1950 campaign as they won 26 straight games to start the season.
In 1954, behind Tommy Heinsohn,, Holy Cross won the NIT back in the days when that meant something. Heinsohn and Cousy, below, are Hall of Famers, two key players in the Boston Celtics dynasty of the late 50s and 60s..
As late as 1977, Holy Cross was still considered a national power. That year, HC knocked off a good Providence team twice on last-second shots by forward Chris Potter, and led top-ranked Michigan at the half in the first round of the NCAA tournament before running out of gas down the stretch,
The following year, Sports Illustrated ranked Holy Cross and freshman of the year Ronnie Perry ninth in its pre-season poll, but the Crusaders never did achieve those lofty ranks. And they’ve never come close since.
HC and the Big East
When the Big East was founded in 1979, Holy Cross could have been a charter member. Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, Syracuse and Seton Hall, all teams that HC once played on a regular basis, agreed to start the Big East, but the league needed more New England representation
However, athletic directors at Holy Cross, Boston College, Rhode Island and Connecticut agreed all four schools would remain a block. Take `em all or get none. If they couldn’t be separated, and the conference wanted the Boston market, which, of course, it needed, there would be a big league.
“Connecticut had been very good in the Yankee Conference. Boston College and Holy Cross was a toss up; actually, Holy Cross had the better basketball tradition. But their president couldn’t be convinced,” said the first Big East commissioner, Dave Gavitt, about the league’s founding. “He felt academics would be compromised.”
Former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca spoke to me, Lou with the SportsLifer right, about these inside Big East formative dealings during a talk at the 2007 East Regionals at the Meadowlands. He told me that Holy Cross was supposed to join the Big East, but the school’s president, the Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J., vetoed the move for academic reasons.
Eventually, both BC and UConn agreed to join, making the Big East a seven-team league in the inaugural 1979-80 campaign.
Villanova joined a year later in 1980. and Pittsburgh joined in 1982. Also in 1982, Penn State applied for membership, but was rejected when Syracuse cast the deciding vote against the Nittany Lions application.
Crusaders Come Close
Holy Cross remained independent for several seasons, but eventually joined the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) to start the 1983-84 season. Seven years later, Holy Cross entered the Patriot League, and coach George Blaney led them to the league championship and an NCAA berth in 1992, the league’s second season.
Ralph Willard, like Blaney a Holy Cross grad, took over the program in 1999, and two years later the Crusaders were in the NCAAs .
Beginning in 2001 they made it to the NCAA tournament three years in a row. They gave both second-seeded Kentucky (2001) and a Marquette team that went on to the Final Four in 2003 major scares, eventually losing both contests by the identical score of 72-68.
And in 2002, the Cross nearly achieved immortality.
A number 16 seed has never won a game, excluding the play-in game, in the NCAA tournament. But Holy Cross came close before losing to Kansas, 70-59, seven years ago.
The Crusaders held a five- point lead with 12 minutes to go and were behind by only four points with one minute left before the Jayhawks finally secured the win.