Oct. 25, 1947 – The lone touchdown in the Princess Anne College Trojans’ Homecoming football game against the Broncos of Fayetteville State Teachers College came during the first play of the final quarter. Sylvester “Swifty” Polk threw a 38-yard pass to Mel Lewis in the end zone, and then kicked the extra point, making the score 7-0. The Trojans’ win was their fifth in a row.
The year 1947 was pivotal for the “Fighting Trojans” and Princess Anne College. As the team kept winning on its way to an undefeated season, things were changing all around. The college finally was receiving greater support from the state of Maryland, and a new leader, John Taylor Williams, took over as head of the institution.
Williams, the salutatorian of his graduating class and a three-time football All-American at Langston University in Oklahoma, brought new ideas and a no-nonsense attitude to the job of college president. His strategy was to expand academic offerings and to build a winning athletic program.
By the 1948 season, the college had a new name – Maryland State College – and as campus legend has it, a new mascot – a Hawk. J.C. “Rooster” Coffee, who led the 1947 Trojans to an undefeated season, stepped aside in 1948 to become an assistant under Vernon “Skip” McCain, whom Williams hired to be athletics director, head basketball coach and football coach.
Over 17 seasons leading the maroon-and-gray, McCain won a remarkable 81.6 percent of his games, topping all but eight coaches in the history of the game at the time of his retirement, according to his College Football Hall of Fame biography. McCain never lost in four head-to-head games against Grambling College coached by the legendary Eddie Robinson, his 2006 HOF profile also notes.
During McCain's tenure, the National Football League embraced integration, while the upstart American Football League aggressively signed black players – developments that boded well for Maryland State's talented players. McCain had turned the Hawks into a modern-era football powerhouse that made its mark on the college and professional games.
From 1958-1976, nearly three dozen players from the Princess Anne gridiron went on to professional football. Among them:
Johnny Sample: A rookie with Baltimore in 1958, Sample was part of the “greatest game ever played” when the Colts won the NFL championship with a victory over the New York Giants. In his final season in 1969, Sample suited up with fellow Hawks Emerson Boozer and Earl Christy as part of the New York Jets as they faced a Baltimore Colts team that included fellow Hawks Jim Duncan and Charles Stukes. That now-legendary game, Super Bowl III, which pitted Johnny Unitas’ Colts against Joe Namath’s Jets, ended with a surprising 16-9 Jets’ victory. Sample is the only professional player to earn a championship ring playing for a winning team in the old National Football League, the defunct American Football League and the Super Bowl.
Roger Brown: A massive lineman for his era, was drafted in the fourth round by the Detroit Lions in 1960. In 1962, Brown was named the NFL Pro Lineman of the Year and was a six-time Pro Bowl selection. He played six seasons with the Lions before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1967, where he became a member of the Rams’ "Fearsome Foursome" – replacing Rosie Grier. Brown was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Emerson Boozer: A sixth-round draft pick of the New York Jets, Boozer played for the franchise for 10 seasons. In 1966, the Pittsburgh Courier named him AFL Rookie of the Year and he was twice named to the Pro Bowl. Boozer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Art Shell: He finished his 14-year NFL career with the Oakland Raiders in 1982, having played in 207 regular season games, eight Pro Bowls and 23 post-season contests, including Super Bowl XI (1977) and Super Bowl XV (1981). In 1989, the late Raiders’ owner Al Davis made Shell the first African-American head football coach of the modern era. He was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in August 1989.
Among the other Hawks who played professionally: Mack Alston, Bill Belk, Willie Belton, Earl Christy, Leonard Clay, Marshall Cropper, Moses Denson, James Duncan, Curtis Gentry, Douglas Goodwin, Carl Hairston, John Hobbs, Charlie Holmes, Gerald Irons, Art Laster, Sherman Plunkett, Charles Stukes, Frank Sumpter, William Thompson, Vernon Vaughn, Erwin William, William Gray, Harold Gray and Robert Taylor.
Five members the 1962 Hawks' football team played professionally - Emerson Boozer, Earl Christy, Marshall Cropper, Curtis Gentry and Bob Taylor. Their teammate Clarence Clemons became a rock-n-roll saxophonist with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. (Hover over the picture to learn who's who.)
From the first known game in 1903 – an intramural contest – through the final season of Hawk football in 1980, the Princess Anne gridiron developed athleticism, character and an infallible spirit in the young men whose footprints left an indelible impression on the institution.
For many, the collegiate football experience generated enthusiasm and camaraderie throughout the campus community. Saturday afternoons were times when everyone reveled in the excitement of game day, whether it was students gathering with friends before and after the game, cheerleaders preparing to rally the crowd, members of the marching band tuning up their instruments, or the alumni returning to the campus to recapture moments of times past.
College football, to each, was more than a game, or a season. It was an opportunity to share moments outside the classroom, meet people and make lasting friendships. It was an opportunity to bond with the team and the institution.
-- KIMBERLY CONWAY DUMPSON with JOANNE JOHNSON-SHAW