1959 Football - 9-0
The signature quote in the 1960 Hofstra University yearbook, on the pages about the 1959 football team, came from George Dempster. "Like 31 brothers," he called his teammates.
The greatest team in Hofstra history, according the 75th anniversary fan vote, was truly a team in every sense of the word. The Hofstra athletics media guides list all the individual honors from the past, and the 1959 team is conspicuously absent. No All-Americans. No record holders or individuals on any of Hofstra's top 10 statistical lists. No NFL draft picks.
And no losses.
It makes sense that the 59'ers had very few individual honors. The Flying Dutchmen truly believed that no individual was more important to the team's success than any other. They indeed considered themselves to be 31 brothers, and ask any parents to pick out their favorite child, and they will tell you that that they couldn't possibly single one out.
In fact, the entire 1959 team was inducted into the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009. As a team. Perhaps some of the individuals would have warranted inclusion on their own merits, but they all went in together, and they wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Led by legendary Head Coach Howdy Myers, the 1959 Flying Dutchmen introduced a unique playing style in response to the NCAA's new substitution rules of the time. They essentially had two different sets of 11 players, who each played half the game. One unit would play until the 7:30 mark of the first quarter (both offense and defense), then the other would take over.
One of the two units called themselves "The Leaping Leprechauns", led by quarterback Louis Bauer, running backs Andy Muccillo and Desmond Delvin, and end Bob DeNeef. The other unit, made up of mostly seniors, usually began the game (but don't refer to them as the "starters" - that was a no-no) and was led by quarterback Tom MacDonald, running backs Frank Mauro and Bill Kolb, and end Doug Lewis. They didn't want a nickname, so they just came to be known as "The Other Guys."
The two units split playing time so evenly, that the Flying Dutchmen set two individual receiving records at the time, but the two records were set by people who didn't even share the field. DeNeef set the school record for receptions in a season with 41, while playing with The Leprechauns. Lewis broke the school record for receiving yardage in a season with 565 yards, while playing with The Other Guys.
The system worked to near-perfection, as Hofstra kept fresh legs on the field, and wore down opponents systematically. Sometimes, one unit would play better than the other in the first half and earn the right to be out on the field to begin the second half, but once the 7:30 mark came, they'd be switching up again. Nobody complained about their minutes.
"A lot of people had to swallow their egos on that team," said New York Times columnist George Vecsey, who was the sports editor of the Hofstra Chronicle that year. "Howdy had accumulated a lot of wins over the years and had really built something special. It started in 1956, when the team had 20 players and came to be known as the Tiny Twenty, even though finished with only 17 or 18 guys healthy enough to play, and still went 7-3. By the time 1959 came around, you had two teams of guys who could all play. Lots of people might have been the star on a different team, but instead they'd be sharing part of every quarter for Howdy."
The Flying Dutchmen allowed only 44 points all year, a number that might have been lower had Kings Point not pulled off a couple successful trick plays in its 40-18 loss in the second to last game of the year. C.W. Post also scored 14 points in week three against the Hofstra defense, but the Flying Dutchmen scored 65.
The team even said that practice sessions, with the two units going head-to-head, were often more grueling than the games themselves. The toughest test of the season on the field might have been opening day, as Hofstra and Upsala were stuck in a 0-0 deadlock at the half, before MacDonald completed a touchdown pass to Mauro in the third quarter to give Hofstra a 6-0 win.
After a 47-0 win over Bridgeport, led by two touchdowns from Kolb, and the 65-14 whitewashing of C.W. Post (when Muccillo scored three touchdowns - one rushing, one receiving, and one on a punt return), the Flying Dutchmen had to slug their way through rainy day wins over Temple (15-0) and Muhlenberg (18-0). Kicker Burt Swerdling came through with several clutch field goals in the wet conditions to help Hofstra to the wins.
The next game was considered by many to be the highlight of the season. Hofstra outlasted a talented Gettysburg team 18-6, thanks to a stellar performance from the Flying Dutchmen defense, which thwarted several Gettysburg scoring drives in the second half. "Hofstra's linemen resembled professionals that day," the Nexus proudly exclaimed.
"That was the toughest game of the year," said Lou DiBlasi, an offensive guard/linebacker on that team. "Gettysburg could have just as easily won that one. They got inside our 20 yard line four times in the second half, but somehow we kept stopping them."
The third-to-last game of the year came at Springfield, which many people considered the last true roadblock standing in Hofstra's way of a perfect season. The seniors on the team knew full well the danger that Springfield posed. In 1957, the Flying Dutchmen were two wins away from a perfect season before Springfield handed them their only loss by a 19-7 final score.
"We hated Springfield," said DiBlasi. "Even going back to the Tiny 20 team in 1956, we only lost three games and Springfield beat us pretty good."
This time around, Hofstra made sure not to give their rivals to the North a chance, rolling to a 31-6 win that raised their record to a convincing 7-0.
"I didn't make the trip to Springfield that year," said Vecsey. "But I remember a lot of Long Island kids went to Springfield, so they were a natural rival. In 1957, they were the only team to beat Hofstra, and I can remember Howdy arguing a bad call that changed the game and kicking his cap on the sideline. Beating them in 1959 was certainly one of the big wins of that season."
Kings Point tried to play the spoiler in the eighth week, using two successful Statue of Liberty plays in the first half to record the highest point total against the Flying Dutchmen all year. Led by two touchdowns from Mauro, though, Hofstra shrugged off the early challenge and won going away 40-18.
The final game that stood between the "Myersmen" and a perfect season came against Scranton on Thanksgiving Day, and 5,500 fans swarmed into tiny Hofstra Stadium for the coronation. The Flying Dutchmen put the exclamation point on a perfect season with a 35-0 win, as Kevin Cummins and Chet O'Neil capped off the game, and the season, by scoring their first collegiate touchdowns.
"I remember that Thanksgiving day game and the legend of George Dempster," said Vecsey. "He had an appendectomy that week, and the team all visited him and tacked their shoes up in his hospital room. Then they went out and finished a perfect season for him. George was a solid leader, who led the team on the field without doing a lot of talking. The year before, when both quarterbacks were hurt, they even threw him in at quarterback and he held the team together well. When you can trust one of your linemen to play quarterback, you know you have a pretty good player."
The 9-0 record was not only the first unbeaten season in Hofstra history, it was the first unbeaten and untied season for any New York metropolitan football team since 1915. The Flying Dutchmen allowed only 4.9 points and 139.8 yards per game, and were almost perfectly balanced between rushing offense (175.0 yards per game) and passing offense (189.2 yards per game).
Alas, the 1959 team was also dubbed "Uninvited" in a book written by DiBlasi, since the Flying Dutchmen were bypassed for the limited postseason opportunities that were available at the time. Instead, the 31 brothers had to take solace in the fact that they made history by becoming Hofstra's first, and only, completely undefeated team. But their legacy isn't just about finishing with a perfect record
"My guess is that even if they had lost a game, the 1959 football team would still be remembered just for the brand of football they played," said Vecsey. "Howdy Myers was incredibly imaginative as a tactician. His offensive strategy was ahead of its time, with receivers in motion and throwing the ball wide in an era of grind-it-out platoon football. It was fun to watch."
And, over 50 years later, they earned the title of greatest team in school history, according to Hofstra's 75th anniversary fan vote.