War and Change - The 1940s
Although eleven seniors had graduated before the start of the 1940 season, the biggest problem the team would face would be integrating a new head coach into the lineup. Davies had resigned in March with a 20-3-3 record and had been replaced by his assistant Robert "Pop" Jones. Davies resignation was somewhat mysterious. He had a tendency of leaving jobs of as soon as he had reached a pinnacle. But he had also apparently made some enemies in Scranton. His resignation letter, however, simply noted that he wanted to pursue business opportunities in Pittsburgh.
The five-week spring 1940 training season was quite busy attempting to fill gaps left by the previous year's graduates. Jones also selected new assistant coaches including recent graduate Les Dickman to serve as a backfield coach. Finally the team was planning to play in the new Scranton stadium.
The Tomcats started promisingly with a 13-0 victory over Davis-Elkins followed by a 20-19 victory over St. Ansel. Old rival St. Bonaventure beat the Tommies 10-7 but the Purple and White came back the next week to beat Toledo. After that disaster struck. The Tomcats were routed by Marshall 50-6 in one of the worst defeats they had ever suffered. The team would not win another game that season losing two more and tying two and ending the season with a 3-4-2 record. Once again school spirit was also a problem. An early season pep rally held by the Chamber Of Commerce attracted only five students.
Initially the team thought that it would take the field having lost seven graduating seniors. But as the war in Europe got hotter and conscription started in the United States, the team lost two players to the National Guard. On top of that the team also lost a couple of men to injuries before the season started. Nonetheless the team started well, winning its first three games but then the season fell apart as more injuries hurt the squad. The Tommies lost two in a row, beat LaSalle, tied Niagara, and lost the final game of the season. They finished with a 4-3-1 record.
After America entered the war many colleges began dropping sports. Frank O'Hara stated "If opponents can be booked there will definitely be a football team." Three teams on the 1942 schedule, Lasalle Niagara and St. Francis, dropped football during the spring of 1942 leaving the University trying to set up games with military camps. Colleges that did not drop sports allowed freshmen to compete on varsity teams in order to make up the manpower shortage. The football team suffered another problem when a flood that swept through the Lackawanna Valley flooded Athletic Park where the University's football equipment was stored.
In spite of all these problems the Tommies were optimistic at the beginning of the season. They defeated Canisius in the opener (the first of two victorious meetings with their old rival) but then lost to the Army team of Fort Monmouth. Among their new military opponents, the Purple and White tied the Lakehurst Naval Station and beat Fort Totten ending the season 5-4-1. There is a mystery concerning the end of the 1942 season. The summary sheet in the athletic department records for 1942 lists the season record as 5-4-1 but only shows nine games. Furthermore the last game it shows is a November 21 victory over Marshall 34-7 in a game played in Huntington WV. The Aquinas and the Scranton Times show the Tommies having lost 27-0 to the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard team on Nov. 22 and then finishing the season with a 34-7 victory over Camp Kilmer on Nov. 28. Lt. Jack Dempsey, former heavyweight boxing champion and Manhattan Coast Guard director of physical education, had been scheduled to appear at the Nov. 22 game and to speak at halftime. This expected appearance had taken on the aura of a public celebration with an official welcome planned. Dempsey's failure to show without warning disappointed fans as much as the loss did. According to the Coast Guard he had been transferred to the West Coast and members of the team said it was a "naval secret." The 10th game of the season, a victory over Camp Joyce Kilmer on a muddy snow covered field, was an unofficial post-season game to support a war relief fund promoted by the West Side Lions Club of Wilkes-Barre.
In March 1943 football coach Robert "Pops" Jones resigned his position to accept a job on the YMCA recreational staff. He departed with an 11-11-4 record and a reputation for having been a hard driver with a brusque manner. Pete Carlesimo became head coach. He had been hired the previous year as assistant coach. Carlesimo, who would become the University's longest lasting head coach, had graduated from Fordham in 1940. He had played guard at Fordham and had served as replacement for captain Mike Kochel on the "seven blocks of granite."
Carlesimo was unable to field a varsity team in 1943 and the season was canceled. They did however play an unofficial season. The team lost to Wyoming Seminary 7-6, defeated St. John's of Pittston 7-6, beat St. Dominic's 13-0, and lost again to Wyoming Seminary 20-6.
Football returned to the University of Scranton in 1944. Carlesimo fielded a 29 man squad, including Tommy Flanagan, possibly the University's first African-American athlete, who was the star of the season. Carlesimo brought the "T" formation to Scranton in 1944. The season started with a 6-0 upset victory over Franklin and Marshall. Besides only fielding fewer than 30 players against Franklin Marshall's 55 players, the Scranton team was also one of the few all civilian football squads playing in college football that year. Most teams were a combination of civilians and military inductees. The Tomcats then lost to Villanova 13-7 and to Michigan state 40-12. The team rebounded with a 39-0 trouncing of the Bloomsburg Naval Unit but then lost to the Atlantic City Naval Air Base squad 21-7 and to the Naval Academy Plebes 18-6. Although the Tomcats lost to the Naval Academy, they were the first team to score on the Plebes in Annapolis in five years. Unfortunately the Tomcats were then trounced by the Sampson Naval Training Unit 39-0. Although the team lost in a landslide, Tom Flanagan provided much of the Tomcats offense and prevented the rout from getting any worse by single-handedly preventing three touchdowns. The team finished the season with a 32-6 victory over the Bloomsburg Naval Unit for a 3-5-0 record.
The 1945 season saw the team back up to normal strength, fielding 40 players. Once again the University played a mix of colleges and military service teams. Once again the young Purple and White team played to mixed results ending the season with a 4-4-1 record. The low point came with a 42-0 trouncing by Detroit University but the Tommies did manage to beat the City College of New York 27-0. The team also featured the services of Anthony Capone who weighed in at 315 pounds and played tackle. Bob Streeter of Bucknell University wrote to the department of athletics at the University of Scranton inquiring about Capone "Am I seeing things, or does your reserve tackle, Capone, actually weigh 315 pounds?...If he actually is that big, would you please send me a collect wire confirming that fact." Team captain Len Modzelesky, left tackle, was named to the Associated Press All Pennsylvania College Eleven.
The team struggled again in 1946 as it slowly returned to an all college schedule. One major change occurred. Even though the school had been the University of Scranton for almost a decade, the team was still being called the Tomcats as they had been during the days of St. Thomas College. Rev. John J. Conif, S J. Director of Athletics announced that the team would now be called the Royals. A contest had been held to solicit new names for the team but none of the submissions were approved by the administration. Consequently the new team name was picked by a University official. The nearest runners up, who all received a five dollar prize, were Royal Purple, Pioneers, Knights, Laurels, and Warriors. Most were rejected because other teams already had the name.
The season started on a good note with a 26-6 drubbing of Lock Haven State Teachers College. This however was followed by a 32-13 defeat at the hands of Detroit University and a 33-7 defeat to St. Bonaventure. The team rebounded with a rout of Fort Monmouth and a solid defeat of Albright. Unfortunately the Royals lost all but one of the remaining games, a 13-13 tie with Canisius. They ended the season with a 4-5-1 record.
As had often been the case, fan turnout and school spirit was low throughout the season. An Aquinas column chastised the student body for its low turnout and condemned fans who spent the game berating coach Carlesimo.
One wonders whether the 1947 schedule, which only featured three home games as opposed to six away games, was a response to the negative fan reaction of the previous year. The Royals lost their first away game convincingly to Dayton University 28-6. But then Scranton team turned the season around quickly. They routed American International 54-6 and Niagara 39-6 and defeated the next two opponents, Youngstown University at home and Canisius away. The next home game featured a 43-0 rout of Albright. Unfortunately the team had a letdown near the end of the season losing two of their last three and ending the season 6-3-0.
But school spirit had picked up. The Youngstown victory helped turn the school's Homecoming Celebration into "the greatest display of college spirit ever witnessed at the University of Scranton" according to the Aquinas. And a large pep rally preceded the Royals destruction of Albright. Although the season ended with two losses in their last three games the Royals had four players nominated for All-American honors on the American Football Coaches Association squad.
While the 1948 team put in another good 6-3-0 season, the team didn't catch fire until the middle of the season. They only won two of the first five games before finishing 4-0. This season started with a victory over Moravian but that game was followed by a 13-0 defeat at the hands of Boston University and an 18-14 defeat by Muhlenberg. The team rebounded against Lebanon Valley but lost to Canisius before finishing the season with four consecutive wins including shutouts of St. Vincent's and Albright. Team captain Len Modzelesky was nominated as a first string tackle on Pennsylvania's All-State eleven. Even more impressive, Modzelesky and quarterback Mike DeNoia signed contracts with the San Francisco 49ers.
Spring training season in 1949 offered something new for Royals fans. The team played full-fledged scrimmages against other college opponents. The Royals traveled to Colgate where they played to a 32-32 tie. Syracuse visited Scranton and played a three and a half hour, seven period, scrimmage which resulted in a 24-18 Syracuse victory.
The 1949 season was a so-so affair. The team ended the season with a 5-5-0 record and was outscored by its opponents 211-150. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the season was a 33-13 loss to Fordham, Carlesimo's first game against his alma mater, on homecoming day. The only highlights of the season were convincing victories against Niagara, Lebanon Valley, and perennial punching bag Albright. The team suffered its most lopsided loss in recorded memory a 54-0 defeat at the hands of Dayton. But the school also inaugurated a "Dad's Day" game which fortunately turned out to be a 33-6 defeat of Albright. Guard Al Applegate was selected as a number of the Associated Press All-Pennsylvania Second Team. Halfback Tony Orsini and tackle Jim McHale were given honorable mentions. Fullback Pete Mondati was drafted by the Chicago Bears but then traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, he was not happy at being turned into a blocking back by the Steelers and left the team.