A Decade of Struggle - The 1950s
Nineteen fifty would prove to be a much more inspiring season, although Carlesimo initially looked at it as a year full of question marks. The Royals started the season with four convincing victories before bowing to the Quantico Marine squad 41-21. The team rebounded and scored three more victories before losing the Thanksgiving day game to Niagara 12-0. The Royals outscored their opponents 202-107. Although it turned out to be a very successful 7-2-0 season, the type of teams that Scranton played had changed. Scranton was playing smaller schools now. And it no longer had any traditional rivals regularly scheduled. St. Bonaventure had moved up in the size of school that it played. And Canisius was no longer a yearly opponent. Other regular teams like Lebanon Valley, Niagara, and Albright were not necessarily on the schedule every year.
In 1951, as the conflict in Korea heated up, conscription returned to American college campuses. Once again freshman would be eligible for varsity competition. Seventy men turned out to try for a place on the Royals squad but only 13 of these men were returning letterman. Nonetheless, the team roared out of the gate winning their first four in convincing fashion. In fact the first three games were shutouts. But the season went downhill as the team tied its fifth game and then lost the next three before beating Waynesboro 12-0 in the finale for a 5-3-1 record.
While the team had put in three successful seasons, and had won The Middle Atlantic conference title for the past three years, game attendance was dropping. The Aquinas blamed the growing popularity of television. Many football fans were staying home or spending the afternoon in the neighborhood tavern watching big-name college teams play on television. The Aquinas suggested that the University start playing its football games on Sunday afternoon. In the mid-1950s professional football was not yet a major television sport.
Carlesimo was not optimistic about the 1952 season. The squad was slow, inexperienced, and had little depth. "We have only one full back, two guards and one center with varsity experience." Carlesimo also was concerned that the team did not have enough experienced players to field a two-platoon squad. The use of separate offensive and defensive teams had become a trend in college football. The Aquinas noted that some fans were complaining that the schedule was too easy. The team did have an easy time with its first three opponents winning by a total score of 98-19, including a 33-7 victory over Bloomsburg who came into the game with a 12 game winning streak. As a result school spirit and game attendance picked up. But for the rest of the season the team faced competitive opponents and lost two games, ending the season 6-2-0. During the season halfback Jim Lavery set the school record for rushing piling up 1094 yards in 114 carries; he also led the East in rushing. He would graduate in 1955 as the all-time leading rusher at the University with 2346 yards and an average of 7.14 yards per carry.
Carlesimo characterized the 1953 squad as a "representative team." The team started with a loss before winning the next two convincingly. After that it was a win one, lose one, tie one kind of a season. The team finished 5-3-1 which was, more or less, a representative year. The high point of the season was a 32-7 victory over St. Vincent's, a team that had defeated the Royals the previous two years. The low point was a 19-0 loss to Albright, a team the Royals had defeated the previous two years.
Although the team had been having successful seasons, game attendance was low. The May 20, 1954 Aquinas featured an article titled Must Football Sing Its Swan Song so Soon? "They tell us that next year football must practically pack the park or else pack and depart." The columnist, Joe DiNicola, suggested that the University team up with Marywood ROTC to stage "spectacular half-time shows." He also suggested constant citywide pep rallies and that the school dump the the "sissified name of Royals and officially re-adopt the name Tommies." Finally, he recognized that Scranton may be a "ghost town" what came to sports. But he wanted football to go down fighting.
Carlesimo was optimistic going into the 1954 season. "Our prospects for '54 look bright, with a veteran backfield and a good line, though weak in spots." He qualified his optimism by saying that the team was playing a "enterprising" schedule and he would consider this a successful season if they could better last year's 5-3-1 record. The season opened with a loss to Hofstra but the Royals followed with four consecutive wins including a 40-12 route of Franklin & Marshall. Unfortunately, the "Carlesimomen" were then shut out by Temple 20-0 before finishing the season with a victory over King's to finish the season 5-2-0.
Although 16 letterman had returned for the 1955 season, 16 letterman had also graduated. Carlesimo said "... the situation isn't too bright." Among the graduating players was Jim Lavery who was called the "the greatest offensive star in the history of the school." To make things even worse the team faced Temple in its first game; (the scheduled opener against Hofstra had been canceled due to Hurricane Diane) and Temple had shut out the Royals 20-0 late in the 1954 season. But the team's spirits were lifted by a good scrimmage against Cornell. They went into Philadelphia with fire in their eyes and came out with the 20-6 victory over Temple. A 14-13 victory over St. Vincent's followed but the Royals then lost to Upsala 24-6 in the deluge of a tropical storm. After that the Royals won the rest of their games finishing the season 6-1-0.
Once again Carlesimo was concerned about the loss of letterman and the overall lack of depth and experience in the numerically small squad. "It'll be tough to match last year's record. In fact, we'll be lucky to win more than we lose." The coach was right to be concerned. The 1956 season was a disaster at the worst possible time. Football revenues had been declining and attendance dropping even though the team had been achieving winning seasons. The Royals were trounced 31-0 by American International in the opening game. And it was all downhill from there. The team lost its first six games before beating Pennsylvania Military College 34-21. The Purple and White then lost the final game to Albright ending with a 1-7-0 record. Game attendance started small and dwindled. The first game drew 2593 fans, the second, 1020. By the time of the Royals fifth loss, a 14-0 defeat in by Muhlenberg, only 263 fans attended the game.
"If we break even this season, we'll consider it successful." Carlesimo was very cautious about the chances for his team in 1957 after the debacle of the 1956 season. As usual the team was inexperienced and numerically small. When asked what he thought the chances were that the team would better last season's 1-7 record Carlesimo responded "Good, if injuries are kept to a minimum." The team started well with a 20-0 victory over Albright. Unfortunately the team was quickly riddled by injuries and dropped the next two games. The team recovered with the 34-0 victory over King's College, but lost two more before ending the season with a victory over Wilkes for a 3-4-0 record.
Carlesimo was a little more hopeful concerning the 1958 season due to the return of 15 letterman. Unfortunately, the team started off with two shut out losses to Boston College and Juniata College. The team reversed direction with a 26-0 route of King's College and a 7-0 defeat of Temple in a mud bowl. Two more victories followed including a 21-0 victory over Waynesburg College that featured halfback Joe Belucci filling in as quarterback. Starting quarterback Ed Zelinski was injured in the game and the second and third string quarterbacks were both already out of action. The Royals end of the season by defeating Wilkes but losing to Albright in their final game for a 5-3-0 record.
Information on the football team during its last couple years is difficult to come by. The athletic department records for the football team in 1959 and 60 consist mainly of game contracts, financial reports, and advertising solicitations. The team was barely surviving and apparently much of Carlesimo's energy went into fund-raising. In an effort get people into the football stadium Carlesimo tried some innovative scheduling. Since national broadcasts of college football kept people home on Saturday afternoons, Carlesimo scheduled some games for Saturday morning. According to the Aquinas, Scranton was the first college or university to "try such a stunt."
The Purple and White suffered a homecoming and opening game defeat to Muhlenberg as a kickoff to the 1959 season. The team also lost sophomore halfback Nick Volpetti when he broke his ankle in the second half after gaining 58 yards in eight carries earlier in the game. In the next game the Royals managed to upset Temple and then went on to defeat Drexel before suffering an unexpected loss to King's. But the Royals rebounded with a 19-6 defeat of heavily favored Albright. The Royals split the last four games losing to Juniata and Hofstra then beating American International and Wilkes to end the season with a 5-4-0 record.
Center and linebacker Leo Broadhurst was named to be Pennsylvania All-State squad for the second year in a row and was also named to the Williamson Little All-American Team. A proposal was made to retire Broadhurst's number, 52.