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It was the summer of ’70 in Brooklyn, NY, ‘Garden Spot of the World’. I was entering my third year of a seven year stint as a university student at Brooklyn College ( best way to avoid the draft). A year earlier a handful of us football loving guys showered the campus with our petitions to get a varsity football team at BC. Our efforts succeeded. Of course, it was as close to varsity as possible with our being allowed into the ‘ Club Football’ scheme that other metropolitan area schools joined. This was real college football minus scholarships. Much more egalitarian and a quicker way to get us into action on the gridiron. We few stalwarts really never got the accolades we deserved. Matter of fact, the Assistant Athletic Director bragged a year earlier that ‘ You will never get a team started for at least five years.’ Screw him, we did it!

One of our Phys Ed instructors, Frank McCahill, volunteered for the job as head coach. He was joined by ‘ Hip’, Phys Ed teacher Mike Hipscher, a former BC student, Varsity Soccer  goalie and Viet Nam vet. {Frank, as he allowed me to call him (being only a few years older than me),was a true intellectual thinker. I would spend hours with him talking everything but football}. He somehow obtained  the Stanford University playbook of coach Bill Walsh ( later to achieve fame as THE SF Forty Niners Super Bowl winning coach THREE TIMES OVER). ‘ Hip’ would run the defense with Frank orchestrating his cerebral offense. Things were looking up.

For our first season we had been able to schedule seven games if memory serves me. The interesting thing is that our roster was made up of almost exactly 50% white and black players. Now this was the tail end of the rocky 1960s where any place one looked there had been racial friction. Blacks and whites  in most case in Brooklyn did not even live near each other. No, Brooklyn was a segregated town of over 3 million. Yes, in the poorest neighborhoods, as in most urban areas of the country, those too downtrodden to stay above water cared not what face their next door neighbor had. Such is, in a twisted way, the ‘ Democracy of Poverty’. Sad but true. Yet, when it came to the BC Kingsmen Football Team, our guys dressed together, played together and showered together. I cannot honestly remember one fight between teammates off the field, other than the usual Offense vs. Defense fits of anger on the field. It is true that once the practices were over the black and white players did not interact with each other much. Perhaps in the school cafeteria the guys would hang out a bit over a burger and fries with a Coke.

This writer always had this Aquarian way about me that I vibrated to people who were different than me. Well, being a white Italian American from a segregated neighborhood I was attracted to different races and creeds. An interesting incident occurred during the Fall registration. I met this black girl and was very attracted to her, and she to me. We hit it off and on the day of registration we took a walk by the little water garden on campus. Before you knew it we were making out. She then asked me to accompany her inside the building so she could register. We were holding hands, I remember, as we entered. We were passing a group of kids, black students, men and women, when the catcalls began. ” What you doing with that white boy, girl? Don’t like your own hah?” I had witnessed a reverse of that growing up, but this was the first time I was the victim of such prejudice. The girl I was with just gave it back to that group as quickly as we got it. Me, I was so embarrassed.

It was late August and we had just finished our football camp. The college had secured us a week at the Echo Hotel in the Catskills. Being thrown together in such an atmosphere with two a day practices in the summer heat brought the guys closer together. Again, the only tensions were once again acted out on the practice field. The team was starting to feel like a well tuned engine. Back in Brooklyn when we resumed our daily practices a couple of my black teammates approached me about a party in my neck of the woods, the Sheepshead Bay area. I didn’t know, honestly, what to expect. I knew the party was  in an area where black people lived. In that locale there once was a thoroughbred racetrack at the turn of the century. Most of the jockeys were black and most of the grooms and other workers were also black. Their successive families stayed there, surrounded by the rest of the white segregated Sheepshead Bay neighborhood.

I borrowed my dad’s car and made sure I looked snazzy. My hair was blown out nice and I had my best bellbottom jeans on. As I drove there I asked myself if I could handle it if all the people at the party   were black? Since I liked women with no prejudice against non whites of any kind, my only concern was would it be like that time at registration? How would I be received? Was it safe for me to even be at such a party? Again, this was 53 years ago and as I stated before, this was a city ripe with racial tensions. I also drove a yellow taxi part time and heard of many cabbie stories of racial anger. Well, this is how things went down that late summer August night. I parked in front of the house and could see a small bunch of black guys and girls sitting on the front stoop. Let me wait for my teammates to show up I decided. After 15 minutes and no friends yet I got out and sauntered across the street. ” Excuse me, do you know if Mike Tates and Keith Lord are here?” A girl, maybe 16 or 17, looked up and shouted to me ” Why don’t you just go home white boy, we don’t want you here.” The rest of the kids with her just laughed and repeated her response. They all then got up and went back to the party through the basement entrance down the alley. I felt like shit and reached for my keys to just go home. At almost that very moment an old white van pulled up, with pot smoke just seeping out in all directions. The rear door burst open and out climbed my four teammates, pushing aside the marijuana vapors. ” Come on Foogio, the boys are here man”  shouted Keith. I sheepishly told my tale of woe. Mike laughed and said ” Well, let’s go see about that.” I followed them to the rear entrance and the five of us went one by one down the stairs. Suddenly the music stopped and the whole party looked our way. Before the same girl who got snotty with me could finish a sentence Keith shouted ” Hey, whose the niggers that dissed my man Foogio, Hah?” Silence. Mike got real close to a group of guys and girls, looked around and shouted ” Man, we drove all the way down here for these ugly bitches. Let’s get outta here man!” When we got to the end of the driveway Keith said ” Hey Foogio, come with us to another party. Don’t let those faggots get to ya.” I thanked them and drove on home, seeing both prejudice and camaraderie first hand.

The following season our team still remained equally black and white. We also now had a black head coach, the former team trainer, Health Education Professor Chisolm. It was the game against Rutgers of Livingston that contained a remarkable incident. Rutgers of Livingston was primarily a black team wearing the Oakland Raider colors, black and silver. They had scouted us and knew that I was the primary wide receiver. So, they had their top cornerback playing me bump and run, with a safety to pick me up deep. The kid guarding me was a bit of a hotdog, talking trash each time we were head to head. On a certain play I rolled off of his bump and went downfield and made a nice catch. He landed on top of me, and I did what I always did under those circumstances: I pushed him off of me with my cleats, stood up and handed him the ball. ” Here asshole , keep this!” He took the ball and threw it at me. I looked at the ref, saw the yellow penalty flag thrown and laughed. ” Fifteen yards asshole!” as I started walking away. At that moment the crowd in the stands rushed down to the bottom of the bleacher fence, shouting at me. I turned to them, raised my fist like Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the ’68 Olympics and shouted ” Power to the people!” All hell broke loose on the field. Our guys and their guys in a real ballyhoo all over the place. Chris Jackman, our biggest and baddest defensive lineman ( and black) spun me around and said ” Get off the field Foogio, let the brothers handle this!” He then continued his battles with the opposing team. I’ll never forget how good that made me feel.

PA Farruggio
April 1st, 2023