Friday, August 29, 2008

Joey Biden's Gone But Tradition Lives On

The University of Delaware, emblematic of small-college football at its finest, opens its 119th season tomorrow against the University of Maryland (3:45 p.m. EDT on ESPN-NU).

Gone this year will be record-smashing quarterback Joe Flacco (above), who was a first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens

But there are bound to be frequent reminders through the season of a long-gone player: Joey Biden, a self-admitted "mediocre" halfback on the Fighting Blue Hen's 1962 freshman team who has been much in the news lately and probably will be unable to attend the usual full compliment of games this fall at reliably sold-out Delaware Stadium.

I remember pointing him out to the DF&C at last year's season opener and confidently saying, "There's the next secretary of state." Ha!

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Delaware, which wears the distinctive Michigan "Flying Wing" helmets, went 11-4 last season, falling to Appalachian State in the Football Championship Series national championship game.

About those helmets:

They date to the early 1930s and to Princeton and not Ann Arbor. Princeton was coached by the legendary Fritz Crisler, who seized on the helmet design, then in the school's black and orange colors, to enable his quarterbacks to better see downfield receivers.

When Crisler moved to Michigan in 1938, he took the helmet design and changed the colors to the Wolverines' maize and blue scheme. Enter Dave Nelson, who played for Crisler and adopted the design, now with blue and white colors, when he became head coach at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Nelson then brought the helmet with him to Harvard (in black and crimson), later to Maine (in blue and white) and finally to Delaware (in blue and gold).

My Delaware roots run deep. My Uncle Jim was captain of its undefeated 1942 team, a predecessor of the six national championship teams, while I attended Delaware (as did the managers of both the Obama and McCain campaigns), work in its internationally renowned rare book and manuscript library and am a season ticket holder.

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