When Jim Brown returned to his old high school last week, everybody had stories about how he dominated five different sports.
I also learned something about a friend of mine, the late Dick Schaap. Somehow, I had never known Dick played lacrosse – against Jim Brown – when Dick was at Cornell and Brown was at Syracuse. Back in the day, Cornell used to compete with its upstate neighbor in many sports. I did know that.
The lacrosse history was in Dick’s autobiography which came out before he died at the end of 2001, but either I skipped over it, or forgot.
I thought of Dick as a great and gregarious journalist, who knew everybody, and threw great Super Bowl parties, but I never knew of this bond between two Long Island guys, Schaap from Freeport and Brown from Manhasset.
Now I know they played against each other on May 18, 1955. Brown was a sophomore star in football and basketball, and was building his legend as the greatest lacrosse player ever.
Dick was the goalkeeper for Cornell, wearing No. 21. He later claimed Brown fired a dozen or more goals past him, one of which he actually saw. But the Cornell Chronicle set the record straight in its tribute to Dick when he passed:
“Probably the most notable lacrosse game during Schaap's athletic career was on May 18, 1955. Syracuse barely beat Cornell, 13-12, scoring the winning goal with about a minute left in double overtime. Syracuse's Jim Brown, who would later become a National Football League legend, scored four goals against Schaap, who made 20 saves in that game.”
Schaap liked to play up the terror he felt at seeing Brown in a lacrosse uniform. That may have been the same day that Cornell’s football coach, Lefty James, saw Brown jog out to play lacrosse, and said something to the effect of, ''Oh my goodness, they let him play with a stick?''
The fact that Schaap was a jock before he was a celebrity made me enjoy a photo, entitled Three Great Cornell Goalies. Dick is on the left. Ken Dryden who helped win a national hockey championship with Cornell in 1967 and six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, is in the middle. And Bob Rule, who won the first official N.C.A.A. lacrosse title with Cornell in 1971, is on the right.
Rule was also a backup goalie on the Cornell hockey team that won the national title in 1970, which, according to Arthur Kaminsky, another member of the Cornell tribe, makes Rule the only athlete to win N.C.A.A. titles in two team sports.
And Dick Schaap almost beat Jim Brown. (Some of these details were verified by another Cornell guy, Jeremy Schaap, the terrific ESPN journalist, Dick’s son, who notes that his dad was named second team All-East as a senior.)
Dick had such regard for Brown that he would not participate in the Heisman Trophy voting for decades because Brown had been passed over for the Heisman after his senior year at Syracuse. As the saying goes, learn something every day. .
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Two more things about Jim Brown: My friend and neighbor Paul Nuzzolese played baseball against Brown when Paul was a sophomore in nearby Port Washington. Paul thinks he struck out Brown (“That was the least of his sports.”)
Paul was out of the game when Brown scored on a Mookie-esque dribbler. The first baseman backed away from contact with Brown and a throw went past him. Brown kept going and was sliding into third base, but the third baseman sidestepped him and the ball zipped past, and Brown raced home. Under-standable, Nuzzolese said, considering everybody had seen Brown run over people during the football season.
Nuzzolese recently saw Brown visit the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, N.Y., which does such great work with severely disabled students. (Brown’s old Manhasset teammate, Michael Pascucci, is involved with the school.) Nuzzolese said Brown could not have been nicer with the students, talking with them, up close and personal. In old age, when he comes home, Jim Brown adds to his legend.
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