Hall-of-fame members of the football team reminisce
The 1962 football team was significant because it went undefeated (7-0), shut out its last five opponents, and several members of the team are in the JCU Athletic Hall of Fame. John Carroll magazine discussed the memorable season with a few of the players – Gordon Priemer ’64 (halfback), John Kovach ’64 (defensive end), Gus McPhie ’64 (quarterback), and Dick Koenig ’64 (tight end), as well as Frank Kelley ’64 (friend and fan).
JCM: Set the stage for that season.
GM: Our group came in as a freshman class and had an outstanding year. We formed the nucleus of the ’62 team. We were coming off a couple of what, in John Ray’s terms, would’ve been mediocre years. In fact, our freshman year, the varsity had a losing season. Then we were 5-2 when we were sophomores. We had many returning guys from the ’61 team.
JCM: What are your impressions of Coach Ray?
DK: He was a positive figure for us. He was enthusiastic and comforting. He was tough because he needed to be, but he was more concerned about your personal welfare. His philosophy was that if he takes care of all players, they’re going to form themselves into the team he wanted them to be. He was approachable. When we’d get in trouble, we could see him, or he’d come and see you. We’d have an adult conversation. He was a great educator and terrific teacher. I learned a lot about football and an awful lot about life.
GM: He was a father-figure, literally, because my father passed away our freshman year. He secured additional financial aid for me, and was very much like a second father. That’s something I’ll always cherish.
JK: He was my mentor. There wasn’t enough I could do for the guy. I loved it when he grabbed my helmet and shook my head and said, “Don’t you understand anything, Kovach.” He brought me to reality. That relationship remained until his death. He never really realized what he could do. Our potential was tremendous based on his guidance. I can’t say enough about the guy.
GP: He got every last ounce of you every game.
JK: Without a doubt. There was never a time you could let up. He had his expectations and professed them to you. There was no way you were going to let him down.
GP: Ray made sure that if you needed help you received financial aid. He also found jobs for you on campus.
DK: I painted the racquetball courts a couple of times for 50 bucks. He was there to help you get through your daily life.
JCM: What kind of support did you have from your classmates?
GP: We had a close-knit class, and even though a number of us played football, basketball, tennis, or ran track, everybody acted as a class. People came to our games and got as much pleasure out of a win as we did. It was a class event.
GM: We formed a lifelong bond among all our classmates. Throughout the years, we’ve been recognized for giving money to the school, attending reunions, and those kinds of things. There are many theories about the role successful football plays with those follow-up events. Having a team like we did contributed significantly to that lifelong attachment to Carroll.
JCM: Did the football program have a certain reputation at the time?
GP: There wasn’t a lot of prominence. There probably was more prominence in the ’50s because of Don Shula ’51 and Carl Taseff ’51. Coach Herb Eisele had a good record and was well known. He became the athletic director, but there wasn’t any national or regional recognition.
JK: Not until our undefeated season when many people noticed our NCAA records. Some guys on the squad started to be recognized for their personal contributions. But it was John’s plan to build a winning team. He wanted to put together a winning program to take him to his next spot, which was Notre Dame.
JCM: How did the season start?
GP: There were high expectations heading into our sophomore year. I felt pressure like we had something to fulfill.
DK: There was pressure because we were second-year guys, and many of us were playing varsity. I was intimidated by the seniors, but after the first couple wins, we gained or earned a sense of capability that we might be inexperienced, but we could play the game. John gave us the feeling we could win. Even though we were young, we had the talent, energy, and passion.
GM: Coach Ray had a way to motivate us to do bigger things than we might have thought was possible. When that sort of a positive, forceful motivational approach paid off, we scored big time in the first two games – more than 100 points. The big one being at Wayne State when we won 67-14. If that doesn’t build confidence …
GP: I don’t think we thought about losing once we started the season. We had enough confidence in our offense to score and enough confidence in our defense that they could hold anybody. We had about five people who had try- outs for the pros.
JCM: Was there a big game in which you weren’t expected to win?
GM: I wouldn’t characterize any of the games as us being the underdog because of the way we started the season and continued. The only close one was the Western Reserve game, which we won 7-0.
JK: We couldn’t lose because of Coach Ray and what he expected us to do. We weren’t cocky; we were confident. We worked as a team.
JCM: Did support from the fans swell during the season, and was it different than in years past?
DK: They got on the bandwagon early on. We had a vocal class, so it was difficult to hear signals sometimes in the huddle. Our fans were noisy, and hundreds of them brought their enthusiasm to support the team before, during, and after the game.
GM: Our classmates followed us. Some of those guys are as noisy now as they were our junior year. They were good guys who loved to party and have a good time. They were supportive on the field and in the dorms. They always asked how you were doing.
JCM: Was there a game that was more memorable or exciting than others?
GM: The Theil game, which was the second to last game of the year. It rained all week. We didn’t even go outdoors Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. We stayed in the gym and practiced. The field at Cleveland Heights High School was muddy. Midway through the first quarter you couldn’t tell one team from the other except that we had white helmets and they had yellow. We were drenched in mud. After the game, we returned to school and went directly to the showers with our uniforms on to get the mud off first.
FK: The Western Reserve game was the most dramatic. It was homecoming, and they had a lot of fans. You could feel the tension in the stands, but our defense rose to the occasion.
JCM: Anything else about the season?
JK: I’ll always remember the sign hanging over the locker room: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That stuck with me all through my life. Coach Ray would approach you and say, “You’re my boy.” He’d do that with each one of us because that’s who we were. He was our idol.
JCM: Have you kept a special bond throughout the years?
GM: There’s no question about it. We’ve had good returns for reunions. You can take up just where you left off without pretenses. There’s no, “this is what I’ve accomplished” stuff. It was always just, “How are you doing; how’s your family; hope things get better if you’ve had something go wrong.” The bond starts when you spend so much time together on the football field, traveling, and the good things that come with that. These are lifelong friends. There’s nothing like it in my experience. I’ve had friends in the business world but nothing like the kind of warmth I feel for these guys.
JK: The scariest part about this is it’s been 50 years. It feels like it, yet it doesn’t. JCU