DICK BIDDLE PLAYS TO WIN
by John D. Hubbard
In the final seconds of the last game of the season with the end of a vivid November day swiftly creeping Dick Biddle calls for a pass.
The decision capped Biddles first season as a head coach after a lifetime spent in football as a boy in West Virginia, an all-America at Duke and through 23 seasons as an assistant.
Ten of those autumns Biddle served Colgate, first under Fred Dunlap 50 coaching the defensive line and then, after stints at Virginia Tech (where he coached Bruce Smith, the Buffalo Bills all-pro), Minnesota (on Lou Holtzs staff) and Navy, as defensive coordinator for Mike Foley 77.
Biddle was intense, imposing and taciturn and those who knew him wondered just what he would have to say at the press conference held to introduce him as Colgates 29th head football coach. The team had just finished 0-11, the program was seemingly in disarray and "hi" from Bids could be considered an extended conversation.
Addressing the gathering of media, friends of Colgate football and players, Dick Biddle spoke eloquently, movingly, about his love of Colgate, his respect for the athletes he coached, his regard for the role football played throughout the history of the university.
It was an inspiring session, a glimpse inside at a man who was heralded as a great position coach, an adroit recruiter and the person who had been handed the future of Colgate football at a time when its storied past was threatening to come undone.
The mood swing was breathtaking and at the team banquet just two weeks after the most disastrous season in more than 100 years of Red Raider football there was almost giddy optimism, fueled in part by Biddles announcement that Dunlap was coming out of retirement to be the offensive coordinator. No more handoffs to the fullback on third and long.
That optimism was sorely tested, however, when Colgate lost its first four games of the Biddle era.
"The first three games we played hard and were competitive. I was concerned, but we had chances to win. When we played Penn (the fourth game), I felt we came apart. Thats probably the most upset, maybe even discouraged, I was all season."
According to Biddle it was at that point the players said "enough is enough." They beat Brown the next week and thus began a string of six victories that set the stage for the final game of the season against Bucknell.
Colgate fell behind early but tied the game 14-all at the half, then took a touchdown lead into the fourth quarter. Bucknell tied the game to set up an overtime showdown.
Bucknell scored a touchdown and kicked an extra point on its first possession in the tiebreaker. Colgate then was given the ball on the 25. Anthony Caravetta 97 scored on third down to bring Colgate within a point at 28-27.
It was then that Biddle called on freshman quarterback Ryan Vena, who had played such a key role in Colgates revival, to throw the ball. The pass was batted down and Bucknell won the game and the Patriot League championship.
It wasnt easy to see in the Pennsylvania twilight all that Colgate accomplished last year, but the view is clear now.
Last years Red Raiders made autumn Saturdays fun again. Their turnaround Colgate is only the third team to go from a winless season to a winning season was recognized with a host of post-season honors, including Patriot League Coach of the Year for Biddle.
"I just wanted to win," Biddle says today of his November decision. "I thought we would win. I have regrets it didnt work but I have no regrets going for two points."
The decision has become emblematic of Colgates approach under Biddle. Once poised to be a laughingstock, Colgate is again the object of high expectations, something Biddle feels sets the program apart.
"I have an obligation to the players who played here before and who are here now," says Biddle.
The 97 team is young, depth is needed in spots, but the shift that began last season continues. "The attitude has changed," says Biddle. "I think the players feel good about themselves and they have an understanding of how important football is to Colgate.
"I want them to go out and play and enjoy it. The players are the most important aspect. They do all the hard work; they should get the credit."
Director of Athletics Mark Murphy 76 is quick to make sure Biddle gets his due also.
"Its really amazing what Dick has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time. Within a year he not only changed the attitude of the players but the alumni and public perception," says Murphy. "What impresses me most is his intense desire to win."
Colgate has always played to win, whether its the football field or the classroom be it in Cotterell Court or Olin Hall, the desire to go for it marks the people of this university.
With the late autumn cold descending last year, Colgate played to win, and this season, with Dick Biddle leading the charge, the Red Raiders will play to win Saturday after Saturday.
The pride is back.