This is the latest in a series of sports memories contributed by the student-athletes of the past – the people who were part of the great high school sports moments in the Cape-Atlantic League area.
Fred Dalzell was a three-sport star at Holy Spirit in the late 1960s. He was a record-setting QB in football, a double-figure scorer in basketball and an all star in baseball. He was inducted into the HSHS Sports Hall of Fame and is likely the only high school athlete in New Jersey to ever have his number retired in three different sports. He is currently one of the area’s top amateur golfers and has repaired many a sports injury as a highly successful orthopedic surgeon.
By FRED DALZELL
It never ceases to amaze me that, 53 years later, not a week goes by that someone doesn’t bring up the 1968 Holy Spirit-Atlantic City high school football game.
It usually goes something like this – “Didn’t you play on ‘The Team’ that beat Atlantic High?“ or “I was there when you were on ‘The Team’ that beat Atlantic High.”
So, in a rivalry that goes back to the ’20’s, how can one team be “The Team”? To understand that you need to need to know a little history.
Prior to 1965, Holy Spirit was a small, 300-student school in the Atlantic City Inlet. Every Thanksgiving they took on much larger ACHS in a Thanksgiving rivalry football game. But, unlike other rivalries, the Spartans never won. Or at least not since the ’30’s. My mother, a Holy Spirit alum, along with her whole generation, had never seen Holy Spirit win on Thanksgiving.
But with the move to a new building in Absecon in 1965, class size and expectations had soared. The game had also taken on a new excitement, moving indoors five years earlier to a field of grass put down in Atlantic City Convention Hall (now the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall). It was played on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving in front of around 13,000 people.
It was a happening.
Lou Palludi had exploded onto the high school football scene, after coaching at Temple University, with a high-powered pro offense that contrasted greatly with the wishbone and wing-T running offenses so common at that time. When I went to college, the sophistication of the passing game there paled in comparison to the “aerial circus“ (as it had been called by local papers) at Holy Spirit.
Coach Paludi brought with him assistant coaches like Stan Bergman, Jim Gallagher, Ed Byrnes and Frank Finnerty – many of whom went on to hall of fame careers of their own. He also brought a unique way of firing up a team for each game, whether it be a psyche drill, arriving in army trucks when going to war with Mainland or new jerseys with your names on them. For the 1968 Atlantic City game he told us we were taking a pro approach…an extra thick scouting report (we were tested on it), film review and as a surprise, a stay in a hotel the night before the game just like a pro team. The hotel turned out to be the out-of-season Margate Mariner that someone had volunteered.
We came into the game 6-1, while Atlantic City was 4-4. They had a great running back in Phil Bennett, who was Boston College bound, and a host of other fine players. We had a dominant line with two division one tackles in John McKillop (Iowa State) and Gerry Stoll, who would go on to play at Maryland. Our tight end was Ed Thornton, who played at Hillsdale College, and our split end, John Roman, went to Idaho State and later became an offensive lineman and played many years with the New York Jets. The backfield included Kevin Corcoran (University of Delaware), who was our leading scorer. I played quarterback and would go on to Princeton.
As a surprise we were going to run an empty backfield with three wide receivers to one side and a split end to the other. In the 60’s I don’t even think professional teams were using this formation. If Atlantic City adjusted out, we would counter with a quarterback draw up the middle. As game day approached, the anticipation and hype throughout the community and talk of the streak ending had us all a little nervous. Not to mention playing indoors before a sell-out crowd with the acoustics making it sound like three times 13,000 ticket holders.
I have never been part of a better team effort. The game plan was perfect with the trips formation causing confusion and giving us a great boost. Our defense was in control, holding the Vikings to four yards total offense. Both our offensive and defensive lines dominated and, once we got into the red zone, our power-I formation behind that great line allowed Kevin to score four touchdowns in a 27-0 rout.
The Holy Spirit community celebration was unlike anything I’ve experienced in sports and the weight of 33 years without a win was gone. We stayed up to get the next days paper (yes, kids in those days read an actual newspaper) and the front page of the Atlantic City press had banner headlines above the world news.
It was an amazing experience and is still – 53 years later – a very special memory.
You can read previous Sports Memories by Steve Parker, John Cranston, Skip Castaldi, Joe LaRosa and Ken Weaver HERE.