Pitt and Fordham: Trench Warfare In The Polo Grounds

So powerful were the Fordham “Seven Blocks of Granite” teams of the 1930s that their school’s nickname was adopted in tribute by the newly-formed Cleveland Rams of the NFL, the same team later in Los Angeles and now in St. Louis. With their home games played in the Polo Grounds and a “subway alumni” following that rivaled Notre Dame’s, there wasn’t a school in the country that looked forward to a visit to 155th Street.

Even more powerful during the 1937 season were the defending Rose Bowl champions, the mighty Panthers of Pittsburgh. Regularly running roughshod over the likes of Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska, Army, Navy, Stanford and Southern Cal, the Panthers had a shutout streak extending back to the previous year, and were installed as 12 to 5 favorites against Fordham in the era before point spreads measured the betting line. But the Rams had rolled through their first two opponents by a combined 114 to 0, and with the past two meetings of these teams having ended in scoreless ties, the anticipation was palpable. Imagine a meeting between the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens and you’ll have an idea of what the 53,000 fans in the Polo Grounds might have been expecting as the opening kickoff loomed.

As it turned out, it was trench warfare once again, and by the end of the afternoon the Rams and the Panthers were still looking for their first points. The defenses once again ruled supreme, and when a holding penalty negated a 40-yard touchdown sprint by Pitt All-American Marshall Goldberg, the two teams settled down to clouds of dust and a series of back-and-forth fumbles that ruined any chances of scoring.

By the end of the year, in what was to be the high spot of the two teams’ pre-war fortunes, the Panthers made it to the top of the national polls, while the Rams at # 3 trailed only Pitt and California. But while the Panthers behind Tony Dorsett eventually returned to the top of the heap in the 70s, the Rams had but a few short years of gridiron glory left, and after a 1942 Sugar Bowl win over Missouri the program quickly retrenched in the aftermath of World War II, and was dropped altogether after the 1954 season. It was a relatively brief moment in the sun, but while it lasted it was glorious.

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