Author: Richard “Dick”Rosenbleeth, Class of ’54
On October 24, 2009, the Mungermen held their annual reunion brunch before the Penn-Yale football game. More than 100 people were there; 40 Mungermen plus family and friends. The Mungermen are those who played football under Coach George A. Munger (’33) from 1938 to 1953. They also include those who were an integral part of the Munger teams – assistant coaches, doctors, trainers, and administrative personnel. The reunions have taken place since 1956, always before a Penn football game. In the beginning, there were approximately 241 Mungermen and about 100 survive today.
I went to my first Penn football game in 1940 when I was eight years old. After that, I saw most games when I had a ticket and, later on, when I sold programs at Franklin Field. In 1950, I came to Penn and played freshman and varsity football under George Munger, graduating in 1954. So I have a clear picture of the Mungermen during the forties and fifties. I thought it would be timely to share the story of the Mungermen with others. Much has been written about George Munger and rightfully so, but little about the Mungermen as such.
The Mungermen have bonded together all this time based on shared experiences and the memory of George Munger who passed away 15 years ago. Although the range in Classes is 1939 to 1956, the age differential is of no significance. The idea for the reunions came from a meeting between George Munger, Jack Welch (’43), Bill Talarico (’49) and Bernie Lemonick (’51). Jack, Bill, and Bernie were Mungermen coaches and players. Bernie is the current very dedicated leader.
George Munger is a College Football Hall of Fame coach and, as an undergraduate, was a star in football and track and field. He was 28 years old when he became Head Coach and held that title for 16 years. He had a record of 82 wins, 42 losses, 10 ties and a winning percentage of .649. He left coaching in 1953 at age 44. Penn football was in turmoil then because of the collapse of President Harold Stassen’s “Victory with Honor” Program. He resigned because he and his long-time excellent assistant coaches Rae Crowther, Paul (PG) Riblett and Bill Talarico were blindsided by Penn’s decision to become part of the formal Ivy League. This not only impacted the coaches, but also the Mungermen Classes of 1954, 1955 and 1956.
The Ivy League Agreement banned spring practice and cut back on scholarships for football starting in 1953 and beyond. In addition, the rules were changed in 1953 banning two-platoon football. Games were already scheduled against the best teams in the country for the next three years. Despite all this, Munger and his staff stayed on for the 1953 season, his first and only losing season, but that was the end of the Munger era. After that, George Munger became Director of Physical Education and was never heard to complain about these events. He was a loyal Penn man to the end.
A “last hurrah” dinner honoring George Munger on his 80th birthday was held on November 22, 1974. The Dinner Program read:
“Here on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, we, his players, are gathered tonight with George Munger to celebrate the occasion of his 80th birthday.”
Football coach, role model, advisor, and friend to us all, he keeps the memories of the days when we wore the Red and Blue under his leadership fresh in our thoughts. Followers of Pennsylvania football will long remember his powerful single wing teams for their aggressive play and colorful performance.
During his 15 years as head coach, his teams were nationally recognized for their ability to play the best, and thousands came to Franklin Field autumn after autumn to spend an exciting afternoon of football.
We salute him in his 80th year for a job well done, for memories which are irreplaceable and for the unique pleasure of having been a “Mungerman” in a memorable era of Pennsylvania football.
This, in the main, explains why the Mungermen have stayed together all these years. But there is more to the story. George Munger had great affection for his players and that great affection was returned. My own personal experience confirms this. He was not the typical football coach. He was quietly articulate and inspiring; and preferred to be called George, not Coach Munger. He wanted his players to succeed as students, football players and after in their careers or professions. More than ninety percent of them graduated.
Each year before the last game of the year against Cornell, George told the team: “Fight like Hell, beat Cornell and no school [practice] Monday.” He would be pleased to know that his players still have “school on Monday,” even though it is only once every year.
The Mungermen during their playing days won 9 unofficial Ivy League titles (no formal Ivy League existed until after 1956); competed against the best teams and best players in the country; led the nation in attendance year after year; and achieved a winning record. The best teams were: 1940 (6-1-1), 1941 (7-1) and 1947 (7-0-1). The most memorable games were: Cornell 1940 (22-21), Duke 1944 (18-7), Navy 1946 (32-18), Princeton 1946 (14-17), Army 1947 (7-7) and 1948 (13-13), Dartmouth 1950 (42-26), Wisconsin 1950 (20-0) and California(7-14), Army 1951 (7-6), Princeton 1952 (13-7), ending Princeton’s 24 game winning streak, Navy 1953 (9-6), Notre Dame 1952 (7-7) and 1953 (20-28), and 1953 Ohio State (6-12) and Penn State (13-7).
Harlan Gustafson (’39), Ray Frick (’41), Frank Reagan (’41), Bernie Kuczyski (’42), Bob Odell (’43), George Savitsky (’48, four times), Skip Minisi (’48), Chuck Bednarik (’49, two times), Bull Schweder (’50), Reds Bagnell (’51), Bernie Lemonick (’51), Gerry Mcginley (’52), Eddie Bell (’53, two times), and Jack Shanafelt (’54) were All-Americans. Odell, Bednarik, and Bagnell won the Maxwell Award. Some were All East, named to All -Opponent teams and played in post season All-Star games. A few are in the College, Pro-Football, Pennsylvania State, and Penn Halls of Fame. Others were good solid players, some were substitutes and some “meatballs” who came to practice every day and helped the varsity prepare, but all were important to the football program. These were the glory years of Penn football when Franklin Field was filled to capacity every Saturday in the fall. The Penn football games were the talk of the town and Penn was nationally recognized as a football power.
The Mungermen have served their country in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and also served their communities. They have become successful doctors, dentists, lawyers, educators, artists, coaches, businessmen, executives and entrepreneurs. Quite a few have been active in alumni affairs as trustees and otherwise. Some have made significant financial contributions to the University.
In 1994, the Mungermen contributed 1.5 million dollars to establish the George A. Munger Endowment for Football at Penn. Our fine coach, Al Bagnoli, is currently the George A. Munger Head Coach for Football. Today a statue of George Munger stands at the West end of Franklin Field, erected with funds raised by the Mungermen. There was also a weight training room in Franklin Field funded by the Mungermen. All of these efforts were aided by contributions of Friends of the Mungermen.
This, then, is the story of the Mungermen, who have contributed so much to Penn football and to the University. I hope this has been a worthwhile trip down memory lane, both for those who are and are not familiar with this era of Penn football.
Don Rottenberg’s excellent 1985 book, Fight on Pennsylvania, was a very helpful source.