Mount Union honors World War II veterans at 2008 grid opener

September 15, 2008

During halftime of Saturday's Mount Union vs. St. John Fisher game, Vince Marotta was asked about his thoughts.

He rattled off "impressive," "incredible," "unbelievable" and "special."

Then Marotta started talking about the football team.

"They are pretty good aren't they?" he asked. "I am glad I came back to see this."

Marotta was one of 29 former athletes honored during halftime of the Purple Raiders' home opener. The distinguished group of gentlemen all served during World War II and were part of sports teams at Mount Union in 1946 and 1947.

Among those in attendance were Virgil "Red" Artino, Duke Barret, Napoleon Bell, John Benincasa, Jack Dawson, Ed Degregrio, Calvin Eckert, Donald Evans, Harry Geltz, Harold Hall, Jim Halls, Jim Hart, Hartley Johnson, Dan Kibler, Frank Lauterbur, Tony Lee, Marotta, Richard McFall, Joe McInerney, Lowell Myers, John Plegge, Randy Pope, Jesse Reese, Jim Rodman, Warren Strub, Lee Thompson and Karl Zellers. Unable to attend was R.R. Denny Clunk, and representing the late football coach, Willard Pederson, was his wife, Frances Pederson.

Pederson coached the Purple Raiders in 1942 and again after the war from 1946-49. Due to the war, there was no football team from 1943-45.

Marotta played for Pederson and recalled how special his days were on campus.

"This is a great honor to be back here," said Marotta. "I am enjoying the chance to visit with old friends, old classmates and to see some of the guys I played football with here."

For most of the honorees, Saturday marked one of the few times they had been back to the campus since graduating in the early 1950s. For two of the honorees, they enjoyed the opportunity to catch up on old times.

Marotta and Bell grew close on and off the football field. Both also share the distinction of being one of the few to have a shot at a career in professional football after their Purple Raider playing days.

Bell, who was a history major at Mount Union, was offered an NFL contract by the Los Angeles Rams but turned downed the opportunity to attend law school at Case Western Reserve University. Bell practiced law for 45 years before retiring and moving near Las Vegas, Nev.

"I've enjoyed my career since graduating from Mount Union," Bell said on the college's Web site.

Marotta's chance to play professional football came when two teams -- the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants -- were interested in him. Shortly after being drafted by the NFL's Giants, Marotta was courted by the Browns -- who were in the All-American Football Conference -- and Major League Baseball's St. Louis Cardinals.

Marotta chose to sign with the Cardinals but never got the shot to play professional baseball after getting called to active military duty again.

Until this past spring, Marotta was known best for being the founder of Mr. Coffee. Upon extensive research, it was discovered that Marotta was Mount Union's first ever professional football draft pick. The Giants selected Marotta in the 26th round (236th pick) in the 1948 draft.

Exactly 60 years later, when the Indianapolis Colts selected Pierre Garcon in the sixth round, it came time to hold the coffee and pay attention to Pierre. Marotta's reign as Mount Union's lone NFL draft pick was over, but he doesn't mind one bit.

"It was exciting to hear about him and all of the publicity for the college," said Marotta. "The league is a lot different now. There is just one league and the facilities and stadiums are much nicer now."

Right on cue, Marotta started talking about the renovations his alma mater has undergone. Mount Union's campus has kept up with the ever-changing times by adding state-of-the-art buildings, computer labs and residence halls. The college's enrollment has continued to grow with each passing year.

"The buildings here are beautiful and the campus is just unbelievable right now. I am so impressed when I look around and see all of the new buildings and athletic facilities," said Marotta. "There are probably three times the number of buildings now than when I went to school here."

Asked about the biggest difference between Mount Union then and now, Marotta said the number of people around the campus.

"Where did all these people come from?" he asked. "I think there are more people on the football team than we had in the school."

Currently, there are approximately 250 students on Mount Union's football roster. Many of those players saw action during the Purple Raiders' 33-3 season-opening win against St. John Fisher.

Marotta said the young men playing today will realize how special their time in college truly is when they look back and reflect upon it.

"This is just a special place," he said. "I have two kids, both of whom went to Yale, and they always ask me about Mount Union. I tell them all the time, if I had to do everything all over again I wouldn't change a thing. I would still be a Purple Raider."

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