- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

ANSONIA, Conn. (AP) - It began as an idea in 2010.

But the real story dates back to 1948. That’s when 5-year-old Rich Marazzi saw his first game in New Haven’s Yale Bowl.

“It was Thanksgiving and I went with my father and my uncle to see Hillhouse play West Haven,” recalls Marazzi. “They played every year at Yale Bowl from 1939 to ‘57.”

But it wasn’t so much the action on the field that filled Marazzi’s young eyes.

“It was the size of the bowl, the number of people, the splendor,” he recalls. “I knew nothing about football. But the experience never left me.”

He next returned in 1955 at age 12 in the hopes of watching his hometown hero, Bob Kyasky, run wild for Army in its game against Yale.

And why not?

After all, Kyasky’s and Marazzi’s fathers, like most of the city’s dads, worked at Anaconda American Brass. Back then in the Naugatuck Valley, Bob Kyasky’s Army football exploits put him up there with Mickey Mantle and Elvis Presley in popularity.

“The year before, Army beat Yale 48-7 and Bob scored two touchdowns,” Marazzi said. “Everyone thought this would be a lay-up for Army.”

Instead, Yale pulled off one of its biggest upsets, winning 14-12. Even worse, Kyasky, nursing an injury, hardly played.

“I walked out of Yale Bowl devastated,” admits Marazzi.

He was devastated but bitten by the Yale football bug and his fever grew even stronger in 1959 when Yale completed its first five games undefeated and unscored upon.

“I’ve been to just about every Yale home game in the last 50 years,” said Marazzi, an author of six books and a rules consultant for six Major League Baseball teams.

Along with 50 years of watching Yale play comes a half-century of memories.

“Initially, my thought was to chronicle them for my sons and grandsons,” said Marazzi, a retired teacher (Mayor David Casetti was among his students), football and basketball coach, baseball umpire and “Inside Yankee Baseball” talk show host.

But while watching a baseball game at Yale Field on a spring 2011 day, Marazzi approached Carmen Cozza, Yale’s longtime football coach and now a radio football analyst.

“We talked about what I was doing and he thought a book was a great idea,” Marazzi said.

But not even Marazzi envisioned the eventual outcome would be a 406-page coffee-table-size book, titled “A Bowl Full of Memories: 100 Years of Football at the Yale Bowl,” filled with history, game stories and 377 photos. It was published for Yale Bowl’s 100th anniversary.

“What I tried to do is bring the reader onto the campus, into the huddle and behind the locker room doors,” said Marazzi. “I believe history is best told by the people who experienced it.”

So Marazzi set about interviewing as many former players and coaches as he could.

“Every Monday I would give five names of players to Don Scharf, the Yale Department of Athletics outreach head,” he said. “He would contact the individuals, ask them if they would agree to an interview and then tell me who to call.”

“I’d interview them, direct them to questions and then say, ‘Give me a Yale Football story that you’d tell at a cocktail party.’ “

And the 115 players gave him at least 115 stories.

“The most poignant involves Ben Balme (a Yale guard and 1960 first team All-American ) and Watts Humphrey (the 1963-65 quarterback) after their football days.”

As the story goes, Balme became an orthopedic surgeon. In 1967, he volunteered for a mobile Army surgical hospital unit in Vietnam. After graduation, Humphrey joined the Marines and was sent to Da Nang, where he was riddled with shrapnel during a rocket attack.

While stretchers of wounded Americans were being left at his unit, Balme’s orders were to prioritize the injured and leave Humphrey to die — he was too far gone.

But Balme looked at the Marine and recognized him as Yale’s former QB, who he’d watched play.

“He not only didn’t let Watts die, he saved his life and his arm,” Marazzi said. “Watts is now a businessman in Pittsburgh.”

And long before Notre Dame had Rudy Ruettiger, Yale had Charley Yeager.

Forty-years before Ruettiger’s Notre Dame story was told in the movie “Rudy,” Yeager experienced similar euphoria at Yale.

“Charlie was the football team’s student manager in 1952,” Marazzi said. “One day, Jordan Oliver, who was Yale’s coach, called Charlie over and said he liked the way he caught passes. He told him if Yale led Harvard late, Charlie would go in to catch an extra-point pass.”

As luck would have it Yale led 27-7 at halftime. Yeager put on uniform number 99. After Yale scored its 40th point, the 5-foot, 5-inch Yeager ran on the field for the extra point. But as he left the line, Yeager recalls being “bounced around … like a pinball.”

Still, Ed Malloy floated a pass into his arms and Yeager, the manager turned tight end scored, irking Harvard.

“What’s even more amazing,” said Marazzi, “is the cover of the game day program, which was probably designed months earlier, shows generic Yale players being led out of the tunnel and onto the field by a number 99.”

Then there’s the story of John Reese, a Yale linebacker from 1987 to ‘89, seriously injured when a drunken driver struck the car he was in nearly head-on on Halloween night 1989. The impact threw Reese’s head through the windshield breaking his jaw and nose, and tearing elbow ligaments.

“In my experience, most kids would be done for the year, never mind the week,” said Marazzi, the former coach. “But Reese got a family member to sign him out of the hospital and the Yale staff to design a special helmet that made him look like Darth Vader.”

Reese took the field against Cornell that Saturday, caused a fumble and made nine tackles in a 34-19 victory.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Reese told Marazzi he later interviewed for a position at Lehman Brothers and was rudely asked, “What makes you more qualified than the 500 or so applicants that are seeking the same job?”

“I told him about my accident story and how a man’s effort was so important in life. ‘If you teach me, I’ll do the job better than any of your applicants, “’ Reese told the interviewer.

He got the job.

But not all the book’s stories involve football players or even football.

There’s the one about Al Ostermann, who grew up near Yale Bowl, saw 499 of Yale’s first 500 games and may have been the first of 70,000 spectators to enter the bowl when it opened Nov. 21, 1914.

Before he died, Ostermann told Marazzi he dug a hole under a fence the night before the game and covered it with leaves. The next morning at 7:30, the 8-year-old Ostermann crawled under the fence, ran through an empty portal and sat in a top row, only to see Harvard win 36-0.

Then there’s the story of Stubby, the New Haven mongrel who became a decorated World War I hero because of his ability to sniff out German poison gas and warn American soldiers.

In 1917, the grassy area surrounding the bowl’s Derby Avenue side served as Camp Yale, a military base for the First Connecticut National Guard unit from Hartford and the Second Connecticut unit from New Haven.

Today, the street sign bears the words 102nd Infantry Way.

One of the soldiers, Pvt. J. Robert Conroy, adopted Stubby and smuggled him aboard the S.S. Minnesota, which shipped the soldiers to the war in France.

There, Stubby’s sharp nose was credited with saving dozens of lives. Stubby’s U.S. return included receptions at the White House and the awarding of American and French medals.

The story continues with Stubby accompanying Conroy to Georgetown Law School. There Stubby became the Hoyas’ mascot.

And there’s more: Marazzi writes about concerts and the New York Giants’ nearly two seasons there, as well as Yale’s years of hosting the NFL pre-season charitable Albie Booth Memorial Game.

There’s even a chapter on the broadcasters, including Mel Allen, Red Barber, Marty Glickman, Ernie Harwell and Bill Stern, who called games there.

In addition to Scharf’s help, Marazzi credits Don Kosakowski, his longtime friend from Oxford, who assisted in the research and some interviews; as well as Bill O’Brien, a Branford photographer who provided 22 photographs; Steve Conn, Yale’s sports publicity director; and Yale alumni like Bob Barton and Joel Alderman.

“In a sense, this book was meant to be,” Marazzi said.

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