DO YOU HAVE A THANKSGIVING DAY FOOTBALL MEMORY
FEEL FREE TO SHARE IT WITH US !!
AND ENJOY A FEW OF OUR TURKEY DAY CLASSIC MEMORIES
By Jack Coll
The Conshohocken Albert A. Garthwaite Field located at Eleventh Avenue and Harry Street has played host to many memorable Thanksgiving Day football games over the years. Some of the more memorable games played on Thanksgiving were played by the Conshohocken professional teams from 1914-1922, the semi-pros of the late 1920’s and 1930’s, Conshohocken and St. Matthew High School in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, Archbishop Kennedy High School, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, the Conshohocken Golden Bears, the Plymouth Whitemarsh Spartans and the Conshohocken Steelers have all given members of the community some special memories of Thanksgiving Day football held at the Conshohocken A. A. Garthwaite for more than a century.
The first organized Conshohocken football team was formed 125 years ago in 1893 and was called the Ironmen, that team was sponsored by the Conshohocken Y.M.A.A.
Fifteen years before the Conshohocken Athletic Field was cleared in 1914, the Conshohocken football team defeated Ursinus College 18-0 on Thanksgiving Day 1899. The Conshohocken Recorder newspaper reported there were a thousand and a half fans present including many ladies. The game was played in two 20 minute half’s back then, the Conshy squad scored six points in the first half, (A touchdown was worth four points and the extra points was two), and they scored two more touchdowns in the second half for the Thanksgiving Day victory.
In 1915, the St. Matthew Football Club beat the Conshohocken Ex-High School (former students) Football Team 7-0 on Thanksgiving Day. The victory gave the St. Matts Club a 5-1-1 season. The St. Matthew High School didn’t sanction their first school football team until 1924, eliminating the St. Matts Football Club founded in 1910. The St. Matthew’s Football Club played their home football games during their 14 year history on the lower portion of John Elwood Lee’s golf course once located on property from West Sixth Avenue to Twelfth Avenue down to Wood Street.
In 1921 the Conshohocken Professionals under Coach Bob Crawford were 8-0-1 having tied with Coaldale 14-14. The final game of the season was on Thanksgiving Day against the Philadelphia Quakers at the newly renovated Athletic Field in Conshohocken. The Quaker team was stacked with ringers, (A common occurrence back in the day) Conshohocken’s five of their eight victories in 1921 were all shutouts including a 30-0 victory over Chesbrook, a 21-0 win over Vincome, a 22-0 rout over Bethlehem’s Thomas A. C., a 39-0 win over Chester and a 14-0 win over Ewing. Late in the season Conshohocken beat up on the Phoenixville Union Club 14-0, then beat the Philadelphia Yellowjackets, forerunner of the NFL Philadelphia Eagles 14-7 and finally posted a 7-3 victory over Holmesburg.
But on a rainy Thanksgiving morning the Quakers came to play, the newly renovated bleachers with a roof to keep spectators from getting wet were packed with fans braving the rain as they were ringed around the field. The players took the field on that Thanksgiving Day in the worst weather conditions possible. The players were ankle deep in mud as the rain continued to fall through the game. The expected 10,000 spectators were reduced to a mere 2,700 faithful that stood in the rain and watched helplessly as Conshohocken fell to the visiting Quakers 14-0.
In 1923 a riot broke-out on Thanksgiving Day when the Conshohocken Pros hosted the East Falls team at the Conshohocken Community Field. As the local newspapers described it the East Falls players openly stated that they were out for blood. With minutes remaining in the first half the East Falls boys were forced to punt. Kehoe received the ball and was hit hard immediately tackled and viciously thrown to the ground by two players, the whistle sounded but two more East Falls players piled on hard. The East Falls players were recognized as a bruising battering bunch of players, their tackling was described as “wicked and savage,” which was permissible, but their piling on and unnecessary roughness was a direct violation of the rules. So when Kehoe took a handoff on the first play following the punt he was pushed out of bounds which immediately ended the play but no less than four players hit him and piled up on him once he was out of bounds and the Conshohocken crowd had enough and rushed the field to pay tribute to the visiting players. Several of the players were punched and bruised and after both teams retreated to their dressing rooms under the stands the fight continued with spectators from both sides. Lower Merion police along with the Conshohocken police were called in to restore order. About 25 hundred spectators were in attendance to view the game with many of them participating in the brawl.
Although Conshohocken won the game 19-6 it is considered to this day the most brutal game ever played in Conshohocken. A paragraph from the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper stated:
“Conshohocken was a much lighter, smaller bunch of players and those who were not compelled to leave the game on account of injuries subjected themselves to a terrible beating. Fondotts, after he scored a touchdown was deliberately struck a stunning blow in the mouth and the blood flew in all directions. Pat Mello’s face resembled a Chinese Laundry check but they remained at their post. Moser had a couple of teeth broken off, Ford retired with his left leg nearly pulled out at the knee. Ray Boyce and Abrams had their ankles twisted, Kehoe was carried from the field unconscious and all of the other players were more or less bruised and bleeding. Kehoe was knocked out cold while making a touchdown saving tackle and was carried off the field unconscious but later gained coconscious on the sideline and returned to the game.
However while the Falls bunch were wreaking their vengeance their own players suffered and they were compelled to make as many substitutions as Conshohocken, although their players were not so badly injured as the locals.”
Conshohocken football teams and their fans found themselves in a number of brawls over the years but this may have been the worst.
Throughout the 1920’s and early 1930’s there were dozens of Conshohocken Football Clubs including midget teams from all over town. Two of the club-teams, St. Mary’s C. C. and the All Stars met on Thanksgiving morning in 1929. The All Stars featured players were Logan, Burke, Harrison, Neil, McGinley, Barron, Demby at quarterback, Risley and Hoyer at running back and Wernick at fullback.
St. Mary’s C. C. who sported a very good season record were led by Julio, Bruno, Carrigan, Pasquini, Bishop, Chest, Kelly, Cardo at quarterback, Rydel and Barron at running back and Juan at fullback.
The game was fast and dirty with many players going down on late hits. The All Star won a game earlier in the season 7-0. There was much dissatisfaction over the calls and outcome of the game so this second game between the two teams was arranged for Thanksgiving at the Conshohocken Community Field. (Later renamed the Conshohocken A. A. Garthwaite Field) Once again the All Stars came out on top with two first half touchdowns by Wernick and Risley to beat St. Mary’s on a cold and windy Thanksgiving day 12-0.
From the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper published on November 29, 1929:
“In honor of their victory the All Stars staged a parade through the principal streets of the borough and went to the North End, the home of the All Stars. Later at the victory ball in the Knights of Columbus Hall the winners were presented with a “Loving Cup,” the gift of Joey Hanlon., promoter who made the presentation.”
Of course, most of the football talk around the Thanksgiving Day dinner table these days is fathers talking about Archbishop Kennedy High School or Plymouth Whitemarsh High School Thanksgiving Day games, or grandfathers telling tales of Conshohocken and St. Matthew’s High Schools Thanksgiving Day games back-in-the-day.
I went to a Thanksgiving Day football game a few years back, I think it might have been Upper Merion’s game and noticed a few hundred fans sitting quietly in the stands. Back in the day when Conshy High played St. Matt’s High on Thanksgiving 6,000-8,000 rabid fans would circle the “A” Field during the standing room only event and would let you know just who they were rooting for!
There were many interesting and great games over the course of twenty years when the two teams played each other from 1944-1963.
The two teams played in 1944 on Armistice Day, St Matt’s beat Conshy 7-0, in 1945 the two teams met on what would become the first of many Thanksgiving Day games. In 1945 the St. Matthew Saints had a 6-1 record going into the final game against the Conshohocken Golden Bears who weren’t having a good season with a record of 2-5, averaging just six points per game.
What should have been an easy victory for Head Coach Charlie Heavey and his St. Matt’s team turned into a very close game with Ray Borzelleca scoring the lone touchdown giving St. Matt’s a very close victory 7-0.
The 1954 Thanksgiving Day Classic produced a great upset in front of 8,000 fans when the heavily favored Bears with quarterback Reese Whitley fell to St. Matt’s 20-13 thanks in part thanks to a late touchdown scored by Teddy Leszczynski.
The final game played between the two schools was in 1963 and once again St. Matthew’s eleven bested the Conshy boys 25-18 in what was described as a thriller. St. Matt’s was stacked with seniors that included Tom Bullock, Bart Pettine, Paul Balzano, George Farrell, Matt Maziarz, Jimmy Doughtery, Al D’Angelo, and Tony Ciavarelli. St. Matt’s opened the scoring when Jack Barnosky threw a 23 yard touchdown pass to Gene Rydel. On the ensuing kickoff Bobby Graham returned it for a touchdown and the Thanksgiving Day classic was on.
When the two schools finished their modern-day 20 year rivalry St. Matthew had won 11 of those games, Conshy High won six games and the two schools tied three times. The thing most remembered during those twenty years was the resident’s spirit. It was something to be a part of when both high school marching bands would march-up Fayette Street, taking a right hand turn on Eleventh Avenue and through the gates and into the “A” Field in front of thousands of cheering fans. The game was followed by families going home and talking about the win-or-loss around the Thanksgiving Day dinner table. For the football players and younger fans a “Victory Dance” was held that evening at the Fellowship House where the Lions Club would present the victory trophy to the winners. These truly were special times in the borough of Conshohocken.
It didn’t happen on Thanksgiving, but it happened in Conshohocken in 1897
In 1897 the Conshohocken Pioneer’s had a solid start to their season beating Woodbury on opening-day, followed by victories over Mt. Holly, the University of Pennsylvania, and a very good Ursinus team. The fifth game of the season was a home game for the locals where games were played at an enclosed field at Fifteenth Avenue just off Fayette Street. A strong team from Villanova along with their fans traveled to Conshohocken on a horse drawn trolley, much to the home team’s fans surprise Villanova took the opening kickoff down the field for the game’s first score and never looked back soundly beating the Pioneer’s.
The Conshohocken fans were stunned by the local collegians ability to come into town and soundly whip the Pioneers. In 1897 Conshohocken residents were mostly made up of steel-workers who loved going to the bars on Saturday afternoon into the night, fighting and attending church every Sunday morning, but above all they didn’t take kindly to their football team losing.
The stunned fans attempted to make up for their bruised pride by stoning the Villanova horse-drawn trolley as they attempted to make their way back to the Main-line. Local spectators of all ages picked up cobblestones off the then up-paved Fayette Street while following the trolley from Fifteenth Avenue down to the old Steel Bridge at the river and smashed out all the trolley’s windows. Several of the players and passengers were injured and bleeding from the flying glass.
Villanova severed all athletic relations with Conshohocken for many years to follow and would only travel as far as West Conshohocken nearly a decade later to play the West Conshohocken Reliance teams.
While there was no football played in Conshohocken this past Thanksgiving Day, we here at Conshystuff hope every borough resident had a pleasant and fulfilling holiday meal with friends and family. Perhaps someone at the dinner table had a good Thanksgiving Day football story to tell, because we certainly had a lot of great Turkey Day games to reminisce about.
Feel free to mention your Thanksgiving Day football memory, we’ll enjoy sharing that memory with you.