By John Hollinger
In Part I we relived the history of the football team prior to the 50’s— which included turning down the likes of Vince Lombardi as head coach. In the final part of this two-part series, we relive the football times from 1950- 2002.
Although they lost their first and only pro-bowl game ever in 1948 to John Carroll University, which was coached by Don Shula, the Canisius football team would discontinue playing NCAA Division I just a few years later after the 1949 season. After turning down Vince Lombardi as head coach prior to the 1948 season, the program would be discontinued just two years later.
On Feb. 8, 1950, the Canisius College football team was officially disbanded. However, it wasn’t until 1965 when the proposal of a club football team was made that would revitalize the program in the coming years. Dr. James Lauffenburger, ‘60, PhD, was approached by students to become the moderator for the team. The acceptance by Lauffenburger kicked off the ‘club football era’ in 1966.
Lauffenburger would go on to stay actively involved with the football program at Canisius– guiding the program to NCAA Division III status, and eventually back to Division I.
Lauffenburger recalled a particular game that first year of club football in 1966 that was worth remembering. If you were to ask Lauffenburger, he would tell you about the time Canisius had 2,000 fans watch its one and only two-hand-touch football game against Niagara. When asked about the score of the game, Lauffenburger replied “We got our butts kicked.”
The next year, in 1967, the pads were on, as Canisius could play football at the club level, an improvement from the the single two hand touch game the year prior. They took on Niagara, Siena, Marist, Jersey City University, and the University of Scranton according to Lauffenburger.
They would continue to play in football at the Independent club level from 1967-72. In 1973 the team was brought back to NCAA competition, this time at the division III level. This was a big success according to Lauffenburger as the team had been absent from the NCAA for 23 years.
Within the years in division III, Bill Maher, who is the current Director of Athletics at Canisius, played for the team as an offensive lineman. Maher played from 1985-88 and said how they did not have a bad team by any means.
“It was a quality team,” said Maher, “We were always one win or one tie out of it [conference championship].”
Maher also mentioned how great it was playing alongside Mike Panepinto—a 5-foot-7 running back who ended up playing for the Buffalo Bills in 1987. As an offensive lineman, Maher blocked for Panepinto. Today, Panepinto is the guidance counselor at Kenmore High School.
Another player Maher played alongside was Ottis Flowers, whom he played alongside for all four years. Flowers is still involved with football today as a defensive backs and special teams coach at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. Maher recalled the time when they were playing against Saint John Fisher College, and on that team was Russ Brandon, who is currently the president of the Bills, Sabres, the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, and Pegula Sports and Entertainment
According to Maher, Brandon said that Flowers was “the biggest and meanest guy on the team.”
Eventually the program would find it’s way back to NCAA division I-AA status again in 1993 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
But the team would last less than a decade, as the program was cut in 2002. One of the players who was on that last team was Tom Perkovich. Standing at 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds, Perkovich played an intricate role for the football team and for Canisius athletics. He walked on to the basketball team his freshman year and played both sports all four years but says he loved football more.
None of the players on the team were on scholarship and the team was not winning. The team had only won four games during Perkovich’s four years from 1999-02.
“There was a lot of camaraderie, blood, sweat, and tears, but we were not successful,” said Perkovich.
As a result, with three games to go in the 2002 season the team was cut, which was not easy for Perkovich who had such a passion for the game.
“We worked really hard, but were not successful. That was the toughest thing to swallow.” said Perkovich. The team was coached by Ed Argast, who Perkovich said helped guide to him to where he is today.
“He helped me get into this profession [of coaching], get that first job, and all that I’ve done.” said Tonawanda, NY native. After playing, Perkovich pursued coaching and is the current head coach at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania.
“I really wouldn’t be here without him [Argast], I truly believe that,” said Perkovich. Argast is the current offensive line coach at Bryant University.
Although the team wasn’t as successful as Perkovich had wanted, it is the people that he remembers the most and what made his days at Canisius memorable.
Although Perkovich doesn’t have a football team to root for at his alma mater he says that he really values his experience at Canisius.
“I remember the people the most, that is what made the experience,” said Perkavich. “I wouldn’t trade the experience. I love what I got out of Canisius.”