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History of Football

You can smell the charcoal grills, fallen leaves – even a whiff of spray paint. Cars, lawn chairs, and sofas slide into the gaps between the trees. The buzz of a microphone cuts through the air, stirring awake a tradition of more than a century of excellence.

It’s autumn again at Scott S. Bair Stadium, and the Green Terror is ready to take the field.

Since the invention of the automobile, vehicles have encircled the bowl bottomed by a gridiron where legends have been born. From the hard running of Bill Shepherd on Hoffa Field in the 1930’s to the cannon-arm of Jamie “Boo” Harris in the new millennium, and all of the Tom Selecky’s, Brian Van Deusen’s and Torry Confer’s in between, and over to the sideline, graced by Richard “Dick” Harlow, Charlie Havens and Tim Keating, legends have been born, lost and found.

Even the mascot has its origins in legend. No one is quite sure of when the name “Green Terror” was first used, but the first known appearance in print is in the Western Maryland College Monthly, released October 15, 1923.  The name was used in describing the play of a hard-fought loss on the gridiron to Washington and Lee. Some tales have it as a name applied by the players wearing the Generals uniform to describe their opponent, yet others credit the phrase to coach D.K. Shroyer, who used it as an attempt to fire up his sullen troops. There is also a suggestion that a Lexington sportswriter used the moniker in his account of the game, while another school of thought holds alumnus W. Wilson Wingate, who wrote for the Baltimore Sun, accountable for the name.

Wherever its name came from, the Green Terror’s tales were woven into the College’s early football history when Carl Cleveland “Molly” Twigg, class of 1911, tossed the first forward pass, at least, that is, according to legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice. His revolutionary invention was patented in the autumn of 1908 and perfected against Lehigh in 1910. The six-foot-three Marylander shocked the Engineers by hooking up with Chandler Sprague 20 times (in 21 attempts) for 350 yards handing Lehigh, fresh off a win over the eastern powerhouse, Princeton, a 10-0 defeat.

But it was not just Twigg that forever intertwined the Green Terror and Grantland Rice. Nearly a quarter century later, the writer who gave us the “Legend of the Four Horsemen” offered a printed apology to Western Maryland running back Bill Shepherd after excluding the star from his All-America Team. Shepherd had led the entire nation in scoring in 1934 and went on to star in the East-West Shrine game, prompting Rice’s apology. In his final regular season game in 1934, Shepherd’s flock handed Georgetown a 13-0 loss before a Baltimore Stadium (the predecessor to Memorial Stadium at 33rd Street) crowd of 20,000, completing what was perhaps the finest season of Green Terror football.

During the halftime break of that game, Coach Dick Harlow was handed a telegraph, which carried an invitation to play in the first-ever Orange Bowl, a game conceived by Miami businessmen to attract attention to the mild, mid-winter climate, in a similar fashion to California’s young Rose Bowl. Ultimately, the Green Terror was forced to abandon its rightful place in football history. The hard economic times forbade such frivolity, and the College was unable to endure the expense of sending its football team to Miami.

Although the Green Terror was relegated to a footnote in Orange Bowl history, the College would get its chance to make history on the world stage. In 1992, 47 players boarded an airplane, bound for the Russian capital of Moscow. The Green Terror then became the first collegiate football team to compete on Russian soil. Then Western Maryland defeated the Euro-Asian League All-Stars, 47-7. The game, which was played at the Central Sports Club of the Red Army, was perilously close to not being played at all. The fall of the Soviet Empire during the planning phase nearly disrupted the game; however, despite the unstable political and economic conditions in Russia at that time, the Green Terror would not miss its place in history again.

And like the 1992 Green Terror, the coaches on the Hill have seized their place in history. Harlow, who led the Green Terror to five Maryland State Intercollegiate Championships in his nine years on the Hill, was an All-American tackle at Penn State. During the 1911 season, he is said to have blocked 17 punts in 7 games. Harlow went on to coach at Penn State around his service in World War I, before turning Colgate into a national power. He would accomplish the same feat with his Green Terror teams before moving onto Harvard where he finished his head coaching career with a 150-68-17 record. Like his time at Penn State, Harlow’s Harvard stint was split by his military service.

It was Harlow who guided the school’s first undefeated, untied team to an 11-0 mark in 1929. In fact, he led his teams to a combined 60-13-7 record during his tenure on the Hill. That mark included a 27-game winning streak beginning in 1928 and ending in 1931. His 1929 and 1930 teams turned in a combined mark of 20-0-1. Harlow’s Green Terror squads were so successful, the University of Pennsylvania sought his skills in 1932, and the Boston Redskins made overtures in 1934. The same Redskins would pick up Harlow’s star running back, Bill Shepherd.

The two-time All-Pro selection had a stellar career with the Redskins and the Detroit Lions before rupturing his Achilles tendon. Shepherd was twice nominated to the National Football Hall of Fame.

A devout Christian, Harlow employed a “no-cussing” rule on his teams, but that rule was strictly for the birds. Literally. Harlow was an enthusiastic oologist (one who studies the eggs of birds), and he believed foul language upset birds. So avid was his love of his feathered friends that according to the college’s newspaper of that era, The Gold Bug, Harlow once set up stakes “around the nest of a field bird,” assuring that the college’s students would bypass the nest, leaving its eggs intact.

It was that type of humanitarianism that factored into Harlow’s selection for the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award in 1949. That award can be traced through Harlow’s coaching lineage right through his alma mater Penn State’s football history. It was Harlow who coached Charles “Rip” Engle, who coached Joe Paterno at Brown University. Engle then moved on to Penn State, where he would hire Paterno and groom him to succeed Engle at the helm of the Nittany Lions. Both Engle and Paterno would win the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award during their remarkable coaching careers.

After leaving Harvard, Harlow rejoined protégé and 1929 team captain Charlie Havens at the College in an advisory capacity in 1954. Three years earlier, Havens coached the 1951 edition of the Green Terror to its first unbeaten, untied season since 1929. It was the second of two Mason-Dixon Conference Championships won by Havens, who surpassed Harlow as the College’s most victorious coach with 77 wins to his credit.

No Green Terror team would go again unbeaten until the 1997 Green Terror posted a 10-0 regular-season mark, concluding with a 21-3 win before a crowd which included a good number of players from the 1951 squad. That season, the Green Terror earned its first of five straight NCAA playoff berths and kicked off a winning streak of Harlowesque proportions. Over the next 30 regular season games, the Green Terror would go unbeaten. It also managed to rattle off 33-straight Centennial Conference victories, all under the watchful eye of Tim Keating.

Led by the nearly-impossible-to-tackle Ron Sermarini at quarterback and the fierce tackler, Tommy Selecky, at linebacker, the Green Terror took on the same mystique that accompanies its namesake and its history. Jamie “Boo” Harris followed Sermarini. Matt Wilchinski followed Selecky, and an outstanding supporting cast surrounded them all. Sermarini and Harris would combine for five straight Centennial Conference Offensive Player of the Year Awards, while Selecky and Wilchinski bookend the four straight Defensive Player of the Year awards accumulated since the 1999 season.

Despite regular-season successes of the era, the Green Terror endured back-to-back playoff losses before picking up the elusive 11th win in a season. But 70 years after Harlow’s gridders defeated their state rivals from the University of Maryland to run their record to 11-0, the modern edition of the Green Terror defeated an old rival of the Harlow era, Catholic University, in the first round of the 1999 NCAA Playoffs. The 2000 team also racked up 11 wins to write itself into Green Terror history.

Keating, like Harlow and Havens before him, has also written his way into Green Terror history. The veteran coach picked up his 100th overall career victory in the fall of 2002, defeating his alma mater, Bethany College. That same day, the former wrestling coach at McDaniel, John Lowe, picked up his 100th wrestling win against his alma mater, Washington and Lee, as well. It is believed to be the only time two coaches from the same institution have recorded a 100th career win against their respective alma maters on the same day.

In 2007, Keating raised the program into the ranks of the 500-win club. With the 14-10 home win over Juniata, the Green Terror became the 25th team in Division III history to notch 500 wins.

Entering the 2009 season, Keating is the College’s most victorious coach, and is now left to chase one milestone. With two more wins, Keating will become the first coach to record 100 wins for the Green Terror.

This year, once again, Keating’s team is ready. As they rush onto the field, the Darth Vader theme will resound around the bowl, punctuated by beeping car horns and blaring air horns. This, the visitors know, is the force to be dealt with.

It’s game time.

--Written by Steve Peed '01