Former URI sports announcer Jim Norman writes to remind us that this year marks anniversaries for some of URI football’s most glorious moments.


To the Editor:

URI has played football now for 115 seasons and only two teams since 1895 have gone undefeated in regular season or conference play—and each celebrate milestone anniversaries this fall.

Come back with me to 1955. Hal Kopp was head coach for what was to be the last of his five gridiron teams at Kingston. The Rams finished 6–0–2 (4–0–1 in the Yankee Conference), the only undefeated (regular season) team in URI football history, the first unbeaten in League play and first to win an outright title.

That was 60 years ago. Rhode Island didn’t do it again for 30 years, until 1985—which means this fall marks the 30th and 60th anniversaries of those most successful eras in Ram gridiron history.

The 1955 team included some of the finest athletes playing any sport at URI. The 37-man roster boasted a dozen players, and Coach Kopp, who were all eventually elected to the URI Athletic Hall of Fame.

Allowing only nine touchdowns, the Rams outscored opponents 162-67 en route to a final 6-1-2 record, including an invitation to play in the first bowl game in Rhody football annals.

The loss came at the Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Indiana, billed as the refrigerator capital of the nation. URI lost 12-10 to Jacksonville State (Alabama), but the appearance in one of only 15 bowl games played at any level in the nation that year was a major accomplishment.

In that game, Jim Jerue ’58 kicked a 38-yard field goal (the first of his life) and Ed DiSimone ’57 caught a TD pass from Bob Sammartino on a fake kick attempt to put the Rams up 10-6 in the third quarter. The Gamecocks scored late to win it, following a URI fumble. Chuck Hunt ’57 was credited with 17 tackles, playing in frigid (no pun intended) weather on Dec. 4 before 8,500 fans.

As the Rams left for Indiana, morning classes were delayed for a send-off rally on the quad. In a whirlwind, two-day “fund” drive, some 1,011 students paid a nickel each to sign a telegram of encouragement (no telling where the $50.55 went).

As editor-in-chief and former sports editor of the campus newspaper, the Beacon (now we have The Good 5 Cent Cigar), I was privileged to travel with the team (all expenses paid!) and was thrilled to be seated with Coach Kopp for the flight to Evansville. Little did we dream that many seasons later he would join me in the radio booth for our URI football broadcasts.

There were also firsts for yours truly at the game. As an undergraduate, I had broadcast all of Rhody’s football and men’s basketball games for WHOE (now WRIU) for four years, and one day before we embarked for Indiana, word was that Dean of Men John Quinn wanted to see me in his office (a bit scary, since most of the time you were in trouble if he beckoned).

Good news, though. The general manager of WEAN Radio (then owned by the Providence Journal) had called Dr. Quinn, inquiring if I‘d be interested in broadcasting the game back to Providence. Are you kidding?! We found out after the fact that WEAN fed the broadcast to several other stations, including ones in Boston and Springfield, attesting to fan interest.

As it turned out, it was my first professional broadcast—for which I was paid the princely sum of $25! (I would have done it for nothing.) We learned later that it was also the first commercial radio broadcast of a URI football game. At the time, I never would have predicted that I would have the privilege and pleasure of airing all the games for 34 years, starting in the fall of 1961.

Fast forward 30 years to 1985, capping a spectacular two-year gridiron era at Kingston. The Rams repeated 1984’s 10-3 record and won the Conference crown at 5-0, the only time URI has done it undefeated and untied.

With All-America QB Tom Ehrhardt ’86 at the helm, Rhode Island led the U.S. in passing, finished seventh in the country’s final 1AA poll (after placing second in the nation in 1984); won its second Lambert-Meadowlands Cup, symbolizing Eastern supremacy; gained Bob Griffin five coach-of-the-year plaudits; and played in the NCAA 1AA Tournament for a second straight year.

The key victory to the undefeated and untied Conference slate, and the automatic NCAA berth, was a come-from-behind, fingernail-biting contest against arch-rival Connecticut at Kingston, won by the Rams 56-42, after being behind at the half 42-28.

Ehrhardt tossed eight touchdown passes (one shy of the national record), with four each going for scores to Brian Forster ’87 and Dameon Reilly ’86, just part of an unbelievable 566-yard passing attack. Mark Brockwell led the Ram defense that held the Huskies scoreless the rest of the way, after allowing six UConn TDs in the first half. Quite an accomplishment!

That outstanding campaign gained yours truly another first. It marked the first and only time in my career as URI’s sports information director and broadcaster that the media wanted to interview me following a game, even before players and coaches. They wanted to know about records—and there were plenty of them after that historic contest.

I have often thought that gridiron contest was the most exciting of the more than 400 I covered in my career—and there were many others that stood out over the years.

The 1984-85 era resulted in the two NCAA play-off appearances, a combined 20-6 won-lost record, and 103 football marks set or tied. It also produced six All-Americans, two named All-East, 15 All-New England, 17 All-Conference, nine Coach-of-the-Year honors for Griffin, and six athletes who later played professionally. Heady stuff!

In 2005, both the ’84 and ‘85 squads (with some duplication) and their coaches were inducted en masse into the URI Athletic Hall of Fame, the only teams in any sport at Kingston to be so honored. Several players from that era, and Griffin, have also been inducted as individuals.

Time does go by, doesn’t it?

—Jim Norman ‘57