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Although only 180 miles separate their campuses, it took more than a century for the game born at Rutgers University in 1869 to make its way to UAlbany.
Alright – that might not be entirely true. But the present-day incarnation of UAlbany football, competing in the 2019 FCS Playoffs, did not begin until 1970.
Innovations such as the forward pass, radio and motor-powered car were still decades away when Rutgers and Princeton first played 150 years ago. The world may not be as drastically different now compared to UAlbany’s first season in 1970, but it’s undergone its share of evolution.
In 2019, the 50th season of Great Danes football can be viewed around the globe in the palm of a fan’s hand. Imagine running that idea by Alexander Graham Bell and Guglielmo Marconi.
Football was still a primarily ground-based game in 1970, with both sides jockeying for field position.
Today, Jeff Undercuffler airs it out to the tune of 39 touchdowns. That’s 16 more than Brian Sipe’s nation-leading total in 1970 – and Sipe played in the famed “Air Coryell” offense, thusly named because San Diego State passed so often.
And, in its first season, UAlbany fielded a club team.
The concept of Great Danes football growing from those roots to a program competing for a Div. I national championship might not have been as mind-blowing in 1970 as live-streaming a game would have been in the late 19th century – but it’s probably close.
A 42-14 blowout of Central Connecticut State marked an important milestone in the evolution of UAlbany football, a program that in its 20 years of Division I status, had never won a playoff game.
“When you’re trying to build a program in a conference like the CAA, it’s a huge accomplishment for our players and a great thing for our university,” Great Danes coach Greg Gattuso said.
The importance of its first round romp to UAlbany was evident when tight end L.J. Wesneski caught the fourth of Undercuffler’s six touchdown passes. Wesneski ran through the end zone to the guard rail, where a group of Great Danes supporters were lined.
He hugged the cheering fans, a moment indicative of a season-long celebration.
In a season that college football collectively celebrated the sport’s 150th birthday with jersey patches, logos painted onto fields and TV specials, UAlbany has celebrated its 50th anniversary winning in unprecedented fashion.
Miss the game?— CAA Football (@CAAFootball) November 30, 2019
Check out the highlights ? https://t.co/jwZFiY9rSF
The Great Danes are appearing in the playoffs for just the second time in program history, eight years after in-state rival Stony Brook ended their only previous stay as Northeast Conference representative early. UAlbany finished alone in second place against a Colonial Athletic Association that cannibalized itself throughout the campaign.
A No. 2 finish, behind only perennial powerhouse James Madison, signified the program’s best CAA finish since joining the conference in 2013.
By simply moving to the CAA, UAlbany took a monumental step in the half-century life of the program. It had been less than two decades before the Great Danes played their first game as a member of the strongest top-to-bottom FCS conference that they were competing in non-scholarship Div. III.
Upon moving up to Div. I in 1999, UAlbany transitioned while playing with a partial-scholarship roster as a member of the NEC.
And overseeing each step – from club to varsity designation, from DIII to DI, and into its first season in the CAA – was Bob Ford.
Ford is one of the true, if not unsung, legends of coaching. His 265 career wins trail future Hall of Famer Frank Beamer by just 15 games, and lead 2004 inductee LaVell Edwards by eight.
Not that Ford is counting, though.
“Winning was important, but there are a lot more embarrassing things in life than losing a football game,” he said in the university’s statement of its 50th season celebration. “We believed in graduation. We believed in good grades. And we believed in having each student-athlete achieve his potential. We’re proud of what our young men were able to accomplish, on and off the field.”
UAlbany accomplished plenty on the field under Ford. Along the way in his 43 years at the helm was one history-making victory after another – among them the 2002 ECAC Bowl.
The 23-0 shutout of Duquesne signaled an important milestone in UAlbany’s Div. I presence, much in the same way as the Great Danes’ playoff rout of Central Connecticut State. And in a coincidental twist, Ford’s team that day beat a Dukes bunch coached by Greg Gattuso.
Gattuso is just the second head coach in UAlbany history, but is fast helping to write new and impressive chapters in the history of Great Danes football. Ford’s legacy is at the foundation – in as close to a literal sense as is possible.
Gattuso noted ahead of the first round win the significance of UAlbany being chosen to host a playoff at “The Bob” – Bob Ford Field, that is. The future of UAlbany is being built on grounds that recognize the past.
What that future might hold 50 years or 150 years from now, we don’t know any more than Bell could have foreseen live-streaming football on a phone. But the future of UAlbany football is being built now in these immediately historic games.