The state of Robert Morris football kind of reflects the university’s namesake. Robert Morris helped finance the Revolutionary War and is credited with introducing the dollar sign and putting his name on a couple of famous documents. He went from George Washington’s right-hand man, all the way to debtor’s prison.
That’s where we find the school’s football program at the moment. The winners of six league championships since their inception during the Clinton administration, last season the Colonials found themselves at the bottom of the Northeast Conference.
Head coach John Banaszak looks to improve on a 1-10 effort. A pretty good player in his own right, Banaszak, a former defensive end, has four championship rings — three from the Steelers in the 1970s and one from the long-gone but never completely forgotten USFL. Although I’m guessing no one ever asks to see his Michigan Panthers jewelry.
It’s never easy to replace a legend, and there is no bigger legend at RMU than Joe Walton. Walton invented the football program from scratch 21 years ago, and the stadium even has his name on it. He is Bear Bryant, Knute Rockne and Eddie Robinson all rolled into one, but with a Beaver County accent. After graduating from Pitt, Joe turned pro and played offense and defense for Washington in the late 1950s. Then onto the New York Giants, where he shared a locker room with Y.A. Tittle (sorry, I can’t help giggling) and Frank Gifford.
Walton wasn’t like the spoiled kids of the modern football era who have access to trainers, advanced medicine and protective gear. Walton played in the 1950s, when you strapped on your comical leather helmet, put a raw steak on your eye when you got punched in it three times a game and, after getting smacked in the mouth, spit out your tooth so you could get back on the field. He was even the head coach of the New York Jets in the 1980s. Just try to replace that.
Leading rusher Rameses Owens returns to the Colonials offense for his sophomore season. Jake Tkach (84 tackles last season), Mike Stojkovic (82 tackles) and Andy Smigiera (74 tackles, three interceptions) all return on defense. The Colonials are predicted to come in seventh this season, which wouldn’t sound bad if it weren’t a seven-team league. The good news: Predictions are meaningless. The last time the team was predicted to come in last was 2006 — and it went 8-3.
So let’s give Robert Morris football a chance. It’s really had only one bad year. Born in 1994, this is a small football program that is just barely old enough to drink. It’s put three players in the NFL, including Hank Fraley, who cashed a check in the pros for 10 years with the Eagles, Browns and Rams.
Take a drive to Moon Township to check out RMU’s squad this season. The Colonials open the season against the Dayton Flyers on Sept. 5, at noon. Then it’s off to Youngstown, a city best known for giving us Ed O’Neill, Boom Boom Mancini, the mafia and meth labs. So get out to Joe Walton stadium. Single-game tickets are $10 for adults (notice the dollar sign?) and $5 for kids and old adults. With prices like that, at least you won’t end up in debtor’s prison.
Mike Wysocki is a standup comedian and member of Jim Krenn’s Q Morning Show each weekday morning on Q92.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @ItsMikeWysocki