Calvert Hall snapper, holder and kicker celebrate the 50th anniversary of Turkey Bowl’s most iconic moment

by Nelson Coffin

After a half-century of good-natured needling by former teammates for having been the “high snapper” on the most iconic play in the 99 years that Calvert Hall College has been playing archival Loyola Blakefield in football, former center Bruce Wills simply smiled at the barbs during a gathering of the 1969 Cardinals at Liberatori’s Restaurant in Timonium on Friday evening.

Alternately described as a “great snap, high snap, good snap” by radio broadcaster Joe Croghan, it was good enough for senior holder Phil Popovec to catch the ball and set it down in time for junior Phil Marsiglia to kick it through the uprights from 42 yards to defeat the Dons, 17-14.

Wills, now the national sales director for Boordy Vinyards in Hydes, started the play that had to be made for the Cardinals prevail in the 50th gridiron battle between the cross-Towson rivals who will meet for the 100th year in succession Thanksgiving morning.

He also came up with the idea for the anniversary celebration that included 51 former players and coaches to recount the glory of that day while enjoying each other’s company.

A special surprise gift of a crystal football was given to Tom Bateman, who organized the event with the help of Wills, Tom Murray and others on an anniversary committee.

Bateman was an assistant coach on the ’69 team and played in several Thanksgiving Day games against Loyola before graduation from Calvert Hall in 1964.

Current Cardinal coach Donald Davis was also on hand to address the gathering and give some insight into what appears to be the making for a close encounter between teams ranked 6th (Loyola) and 7th (Calvert Hall) in the VSN Top 20 teams in the Baltimore Metro Area.

The Dons are 8-1 and the Cardinals 8-3 coming into the fracas that will kick off at at 10:00 a.m at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium.

If the 100th game comes close to matching the 50th edition of the series that began in 1920, fans in attendance and those watching on Channel 2 will be in for a real treat.

It was Nov. 27, 1969 when the two teams squared off in front of a crowd estimated at 14,000 at Memorial Stadium in what has become known as the Turkey Bowl, a term first used in the mid-1980s to describe what is now the longest consecutive football rivalry between Catholic schools in the United States.

With the score deadlocked, 14-14, after a strong second half by the Dons, their last-ditch effort to snap the deadlock fell short when quarterback John Baer’s final pass was incomplete on fourth down around midfield with just 19 second left in regulation (there were no provisions for overtime in 1969).

“I was starting to get nervous,” said Murray, a junior halfback on the ’69 Calvert Hall squad. “It was fierce out there, with guys running into each other. You could feel the tension.”

A 21-yard over-the-shoulder grab by senior receiver Gordy Bengal, who would play four years at Clemson, on a perfect pass from Popovec at the Loyola 26-yard line set up the dramatic conclusion.

With four seconds remaining, Calvert Hall coach Joe Carlozo summoned Marsiglia to his side.

“Coach said, ‘Marsigila, get out there, you can do it,’” Marsiglia remembered. “I didn’t think about the kick. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t worry about stuff like that, and that’s a requirement for a kicker.”

Special teams coach Dave Shannon said that he told Carlozo he thought that a kick was in order.

“Phil kept his head down and his chest down,” Shannon said. “He needed height and velocity in case they came through to block it. He could have kicked it from 10 yards father back and it still would have been good.”

Marsiglia’s teammates knew he had the leg to get the job done, although it would test even the best of kickers given the tense circumstances.

“I thought it was a prayer,” Murray said. “But I knew he could make it.”

Teammates Gary Tyler and Jeff Norris felt confident as well, they said.

“It was crazy,” then-junior halfback Bud McManus said. “I knew Phil could kick, but he had never been in a pressure situation like that before.”

“Everybody was stunned,” Tim Thompson, a junior end in ’69, said. “My mouth fell open, and then there was pandemonium. It was a great Thanksgiving.”

Pictured above: (from left) Calvert Hall’s Bruce Wills, Phil Popovec and Phil Marsiglia were in perfect harmony in the 1969 Thanksgiving Day game against archival Loyola when Wills snapped the ball to Popovec, who held it for Marsiglia’s game-winning 42-yard field goal as time expired.