COLLEGE PARK – The Maryland Terrapins are celebrating the 50th anniversary of its only undefeated season in the 109-year history of its football program with its best attempt at duplicating the feat in years.
Saturday’s homecoming celebration of the 1951 Terrapin team comes as the Maryland football program is resurgent, and none could be happier about it than members of the 1951 squad.
“I really like what I see,” said Dave Cianelli, a senior co-captain on the 1951 Terps. “(Head Coach Ralph Friedgen) has taken some material and turned them into a hell of a football team.”
The homecoming reunion of about 50 players from the undefeated team marks the first time many have seen each other since leaving Maryland. Alumni will come from as far away as California, Texas, Colorado and Florida to be honored.
The Terps of that time remember a star-crossed team – undefeated, but bypassed for the national championship.
They defeated top-ranked Tennessee 28-13 in the Sugar Bowl, but bowl games did not count in determining a national champion, so Tennessee was declared No. 1, while Maryland was ranked third.
“In our hearts, we were champions,” said then junior quarterback Jack Scarbath. “When you knock the top guy off, you feel that you deserve that accolade.”
The tables turned in 1953 when Maryland finished the regular season 10-0 and ranked No. 1, before losing to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Lineman Stan Jones and coach Jim Tatum were part of the only undefeated and national championship squads in Maryland history.
The 1951 team was led by All-American tackle Bob Ward, brothers Dick and Ed Modzelewski, a defensive lineman and running back, respectively, and Scarbath. Maryland easily defeated its first three opponents by a combined score of 130-27 before sliding by North Carolina 14-7 to end a 10-game losing streak to the Tar Heels.
After shutting out Louisiana State on the road and Missouri at homecoming, the Terps had a tougher time with intrastate rival Navy at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.
“They were the only team ahead of us that we had to come from behind on,” said Paul Nestor, the defensive left end, remembering the 40-21 Maryland victory.
After two blowout wins in the team’s second year at Byrd Stadium, Maryland accepted a bid to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans as Southern Conference co- champion.
Although Maryland was the underdog, Ed Modzelewski’s 153 rushing yards and an all-around game from Ed Fullerton upended the Volunteers – touted as the best team in the South – possibly the biggest win in Maryland football history. Fullerton threw for a touchdown, ran for another, and returned an interception 46 yards for a score to seal the flawless season.
“Everybody was ecstatic,” said Cianelli, the team’s defensive left end. “We felt before we entered the game we could beat those guys, so we didn’t think it was an upset. We beat them worse than the score indicated. We were flying sky high.”
Scarbath, now a businessman and chairman of the Maryland Education Foundation, remembers returning from the bowl game to a cheering crowd of 5,000 people at the airport and campus.
Tatum, who holds the best coaching record at Maryland, has called the 1951 Sugar Bowl victory his greatest game, according to Cianelli.
“You can’t accomplish that without a good staff and guys who worked hard,” said Nestor, now a Florida dentist.
Cianelli praised the team’s toughness, exemplified by Bernie Faloney, a starting sophomore defensive back who broke his jaw during a game and came back to play the following week.
“We had the determination and the will and the forces to win,” said Cianelli, a retired Bethlehem Steel lobbyist.
The current Maryland team has the same drive – forced this year to overcome the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a devastating tornado that damaged the team’s practice field and killed two students. The two squads – ’51 and ’01 – also share the distraction of war.
World War II and the Korean War prompted a six-to-eight-year age difference among the players, Scarbath said. Cianelli, for example, served in the Marine Corps and was one of the team’s older players.
“I think it (the age difference) pulled us together,” said Scarbath. “It made my job very easy playing with those guys. It was a very well-balanced team.”
Many players from the undefeated team made great successes of the rest of their lives.
More than 15 of the 1951 Terps played professional football, with college and professional hall of famer Stan Jones and Dick Modzelewski achieving the most success.
Dick Modzelewski, an All-Pro player with the New York Giants, Dick Nolan and Ron Waller became NFL head coaches. Waller, drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, was 1955 Rookie of the Year.
Faloney is the only coach in Canadian Football League history to take four different teams to the Grey Cup.
Players then and now have praised first-year coach and Maryland alumnus Ralph Friedgen, who has led the team to its best start since 1978 at 6-0.
“Ralph is doing a tremendous job,” said Scarbath, a former member of the Maryland Board of Regents. “I think there are a lot of similarities between Coach Tatum and Coach Friedgen. They are both uncanny motivators and both totally disciplined. The team executes extremely well and does not make mistakes, and mistakes in football kill you.”
Cianelli and Scarbath hope that a Terrapin team will someday equal their undefeated season.
“Records are made to be broken,” Cianelli said. Even though an undefeated season isn’t a breakable record, he said, “You can only equal it and that would be great.”
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