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Today's Tidbit... The Most Famous Player You've Never Heard Of
New York University calls Manhattan's Greenwich Village home, and when they played big-time football back in 1935, they never left New York City. The Violets played and won six of the first seven games on their home field at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, with another victory over Rutgers at the Bronx's Ohio Field. NYU typically had 10,000 to 20,000 fan pass through the turnstiles for their games, but the season-ender versus Fordham at Yankee Stadium on Thanksgiving Day drew 72,000.
Despite having Rose Bowl hopes, NYU entered the game as underdogs to the 5-1-2 Fordham Rams, who had played a tougher schedule, including a loss to Purdue and ties with Pitt and St. Mary's. The Violets were led by second-year coach Mal Stevens, a former Yale player who, after graduating in 1925, assisted the Yalies before becoming the head coach, all while attending its medical school. He continued coaching while practicing orthopedic medicine and moved to NYU for the 1934 season. Smith liked to throw the ball. Entering the Fordham game, the Violets had completed 61 of 102 for 900 yards, which was high-volume pea tossing for the time. Their top tosser was Ed Smith, who had thrown for 466 yards and completed 14 of 15 passes in one game.
Smith grew up in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood and remained in touch with a high school friend, Frank Eliscu, who became a prominent sculptor with several federal installations and Gerald Ford's inaugural medal to his credit. Ed Smith posed for Eliscu on several occasions wearing his NYU football gear.
Anyway, let's return to the big game that disappointed the Violets. It turned out the oddsmakers were right. Fordham was the more formidable team. Their line opened holes all day, allowing the Rams to gain 230 yards on the ground and contributing to two first-quarter touchdowns. Smith was under pressure all day from the Fordham line. In the style of the day, he kept backing up when pressured, reducing his accuracy, so the Violets' vaunted aerial attack completed only 9 of 25 attempts. In the end, the Rams feasted on the Violets that Thanksgiving Day, stuffing NYU in a 21-0 laugher.
It was a brutal way for Ed Smith to end his college career, but he played a bit more football. The Boston Redskins took him in the third round of the first NFL draft, and he saws action in the Redskins championship game loss to Green Bay. He began the next season playing for the Packers, but a knee injury ended his professional career.
Remember that part about Smith posing for his sculptor friend? Artists of the time often withheld the nature of their work from their models, so Smith did not think much of the modeling sessions until 1982, when he was 69. At that point, he learned the modeling sessions with Eliscu resulted in a bronze statue cast for the Downtown Athletic Club, a copy of which went to Jay Berwanger as the top collegiate football player east of the Mississippi in 1935.
The following year, the Downtown Athletic Club award was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy in honor of John Heisman, who had died earlier in the year. Besides learning of his fame in 1982, the Downtown Athletic Club presented Smith, best known as a passer, a copy of the famous statue he had posed for as a runner nearly fifty years earlier.
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