By now most state fans of college football are well aware that the meeting between the Universities of Connecticut and South Florida at Rentschler Field in Hartford, scheduled for Saturday, was canceled 48 hours before Hurricane Irma reached Florida. But how many knew that 32 years ago, well before the current players were born, another hurricane (Gloria) was the cause of a similar decision not to play?
It was supposed to be UConn’s annual visit to the Yale Bowl on September 28, 1985, but it never happened. And while the decision this year was made by both institutions, the contest in 1985 was shut down by Biagio DiLieto, the mayor of New Haven, the city where it was to have been played.
The major difference is in the timing. This year the game was canceled before the hurricane struck. But in 1985 a game was called off after the storm had passed, leaving in its wake a trail of damage.
However, there is a strange parallel between this year and 1985. Both games were originally shifted to either another time or another day, before they were finally abandoned.
The Connecticut-South Florida meeting this Saturday, which was to have started at noon, was first moved up to a 10:30 AM kickoff. Less than a day later it was decided that it would have been unwise for the Bulls to make the trip from their home in Tampa to Hartford and then return (or try to return) to the area expected to sustain mass destruction. So the game was called off and the USF team and personnel stayed home to confront Hurricane Irma.
Similarly, in 1985, UConn’s visit to Yale was first rescheduled one day from a Saturday to Sunday, to give New Haven and surrounding towns more time to clean up after Hurricane Gloria that took place on the previous Friday. Soon afterward, the Mayor decreed the game not be played at all, at least in New Haven.
A considerable portion of the city’s Westville area, including the Yale Bowl, was left without power. Had a game been played there, the scoreboard and time clock, public address system, lighting and electrical outlets in the press box and field house dressing quarters, among other necessities, would have been affected.
At first, Yale said it would be willing if the game could be played Sunday at the Huskies’ campus, where there was a small field known as Memorial Stadium. But reason prevailed enough to abandon the idea in the face of fallen trees, numerous out of service traffic lights, and snapped power lines that were exposed and lying in the streets.
Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day in New Haven, weather wise. However the conditions for a game and a crowd were hardly ideal.
Reaction and disappointment on both sides
Players on both teams were stoic but disappointed. So were about 40,000 people who were expected to attend what in that era was a big rivalry game.
Nate Cotton, a Connecticut sophomore lineman from New Haven, said “Everybody I knew was coming . . . I was planning on walking home after the game. I only live four blocks from the Bowl.”
Peter Lane of Westport, UConn’s junior quarterback, remarked that “the more I think about it the worse it hurts. . . . They (Yale) were excited about playing and we were excited. It was like a playoff game.”
For another teammate, sophomore David Dunn of Middletown, “it was such a downer. The only good thing that came out of it was that nobody got hurt.”
On the Yale side, its captain, Carmen Ilacqua, said that when the decision was made “I couldn’t even talk to the players. I was just crushed. I felt cheated. I thought we should’ve just packed both teams up in buses and played the game somewhere without spectators.”
Coaches’ views now and then
Current UConn coach Randy Edsall’s reaction to the elimination of the FSU game was to say “I hope that Coach (Charlie) Strong, his team and the entire community impacted by this storm remain safe and know that we are thinking about them as they deal with this. . . . We certainly are disappointed, but clearly understand that this is something totally out of everyone’s control.”
And back in 1985 Yale Coach Carm Cozza said, in effect, the same thing. “The storm is something you have to live with. There’s nothing you can do about it but roll with the punches.”
And, he could have added — not play.