Celebrating the 1959 SU football team

Orange Nation

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The year was 1959. Coach Ben Schwartzwalder and the SU football team were having a great season.

But what was Coach Ben like?

“He was a real taskmaster. He wanted perfection. He was also very innovative. He had a line up that no one else in the country had ever used. He overloaded one side of the line,” said Gerhard Schwedes.

It was that game plan and a team roster including Ernie Davis that lead them to an undefeated season to the Cotton Bowl in Texas. Gerhard Schwedes was the captain that year and recalled a camaraderie like no other even amidst the height of segregation.

Gerhard said, “There was a meeting regularly about every two weeks with the chancellor, the athletic director, Ben and I as captain of the team about how we could avoid any problems because we were going south with three black players and we had it pretty well worked out. The football team didn’t go anyplace that our three black players couldn’t go. So we had solidarity. So when we got to Dallas where we had to play the game, the hotel that the University had worked with putting some disclaimers about black players so at the last minute, we ditched that hotel and took the hotel we stayed in because we’d have no problems with our black players walking through the lobby. We also made sure that if they wanted to go any place that they had money for cabs or they were driven by a congregation member.”

Today Gerhard still recalls the memories of his football years and marvels at the ties that bind them all.

“Do you attribute the way that the team felt to the leadership of Coach Ben?” Sistina asked.

Gerhard replied, “Yeah. We were also very close. If some guy says I’m going to the movies they’d line up and about 10, 12 of them would line up and go. On Sunday nights the University didn’t provide meals and we went as a team somewhere and pick a restaurant and go. If we had girlfriends, they came along. We were so darn close it was unbelievable. To this day we’re close. I know where everyone lives. I know everyone’s wife’s name. Of course, we pick a game every year. We watch the Syracuse game and we get together.”

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SU Football Schedule

  • Saturday, August 31, 6 p.m.: SU at Liberty: SU 24, Liberty 0
  • Saturday, September 7, 12 p.m.: SU at Maryland: SU 20, Maryland 63
  • Saturday, September 14, 7:30 p.m.: Clemson at SU (on NewsChannel 9)
  • Saturday, September 21, TBD: Western Michigan vs. SU
  • Saturday, September 28, TBD: Holy Cross vs. SU
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