When Xavier University Ruled the Gridiron

December 01, 2018 6 Comments

Corcoran Stadium Xavier

While the University of Cincinnati has lately had a respected and successful football program, many forget that crosstown rival Xavier was once a powerhouse on the gridiron.

The nation’s fourth-oldest Jesuit University fielded its first football team in 1901 when the school was known as St. Xavier College. Back then, the team was nicknamed the Saints. In its first few seasons, the football team played mostly area high schools like Walnut Hills, Woodward, and Hughes. After a few years, games against other colleges were scheduled and St. Xavier soon developed a fierce rivalry with St. Mary’s Institute, now the University of Dayton.

In 1929, Corcoran Stadium (above) opened on campus as the home of the newly renamed Musketeers. That was the same year the Governor’s Cup was awarded to the winner of the St. Xavier College/University of Dayton game. A year after that, the college was renamed Xavier University. At some point, the Mayor’s Cup became the prize for the annual contest against the University of Cincinnati.

It was the late 1940s when the team saw its greatest success, finishing 10-1 in 1949 and in turn was invited to play in the Salad Bowl (yes, it was really called that) in Phoenix, AZ against Arizona State University (ASU). After falling behind early, the Musketeers stormed back to win 33-21 gaining a win in their one and only bowl appearance.

Xavier tops ASU in the 1950 Salad Bowl in Phoenix, AZ.

The game was played in Montgomery Stadium on the campus of Phoenix Union High School. The Salad Bowl was played from 1947 to 1955 with proceeds going to local charities. Miami University beat ASU the following year by an almost identical score (34-21).  Contrary to other reports, the Salad Bowl has no connection to the Fiesta Bowl which began in 1968 in nearby Tempe. Today, Montgomery Stadium is still in use, minus the stands, as an athletic field on ASU’s campus.

In 1951, Xavier’s football team achieved its only perfect season, going 10-0. Oddly, it still could not crack the AP Top 20 college football poll. Nonetheless, the team’s winning ways continued through the 50s, even as clouds formed on the horizon.

The team’s post-war success was aided by returning military personnel who used their G.I. Bills to cover tuition costs. This swelled the ranks of even the smallest schools and their sports programs. By the middle of the '50s, though, those students had graduated. And while college football remained popular, especially among big schools, pro football was starting to attract more fans. Across Ohio, including the Cincinnati area, the Cleveland Browns became the team to follow.

Still, Xavier’s football team continued to play well into the 1960s, but costs were becoming a concern. The program was running a deficit of some $200,000 by the early 1970s. When the Bengals arrived in 1968, the local sports pie had to be divvied up even more, further hurting attendance at Corcoran Stadium.

In December of 1973, the university chose to dissolve the football program, a move made by many fellow Catholic universities years earlier. Seton Hall folded its program in 1981, while, St. John’s and St. Mary’s soldiered on until 2002 and 2003 respectively. Today, Notre Dame, Boston College, Villanova, and X’s old gridiron rivals Dayton are the only Catholic schools that field football teams in the NCAA’s Division I.

At Xavier, the stands at Corcoran Stadium were removed in 1988, making it Corcoran Field which is still in use by the university, primarily by the school’s other outdoor sports teams. In 2006, the Xavier football team was featured in the film We Are Marshall which chronicled the rebuilding of that West Virginia school’s football program after a plane crash claimed the lives of most of the team in 1970. The new Marshall squad captured its first win by downing  Xavier 15-13 in September of 1971.

Miami University has some archival footage online of their football team’s game films from the 1950s, including contests against Xavier. Overall, Xavier was 10-19-3 against Miami University, 12-18 against UC.

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Kevin O Donovan
Kevin O Donovan

December 22, 2018

Tom Cecchini had the team at 5-5-1 and heading in the right direction then Fr. Mulligan pulled the rug out from under him. Xavier should have gone DIII like Dayton. Miss the games at Corcoran field. Heck, X could be playing in the PFL. And no, football doesn’t hurt Villanova BB either.

Peter Mense
Peter Mense

December 04, 2018

My dad, William Mense was one of the athletic trainers for the ‘73 team.

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