December 15, 2023
In the World

Still Fresh After 50 Years

Wittenberg’s 1973 National Championship Football Team To Be Recognized Before 2023 Title Game

It has been 50 years, but the memories are still fresh. The best ones usually are.

Members of Wittenberg University’s 1973 football team, which won the first-ever NCAA Division III Tournament, have enjoyed opportunities to reconvene on campus over the years, including multiple times when they have been saluted by the home crowd. Most recently, team members gathered during Homecoming Weekend 2023 to be inducted as a group into Wittenberg’s Athletics Hall of Honor.

But there’s something special about looking back after 50 years. On the occasion of Stagg Bowl 50, to be played at 7 p.m. tonight at Salem Stadium in Salem, Virginia (to be televised by ESPNU), two of the captains from that groundbreaking Wittenberg team will proudly represent their teammates and their beloved alma mater by participating in a pre-game reception and on-field ceremonies, including the coin toss, prior to the game between SUNY Cortland and North Central College.

All three Wittenberg captains, Steve Drongowski ’74, Randy DeMont ’74, and John Paoloni ’74, were invited to participate in tonight’s pre-game ceremonies. DeMont and Paoloni made the long trek from Colorado and Florida, respectively, to be on hand for the event.

“Wittenberg University had the best winning percentage in all of college football in the 1960s and finished 9-0 in 1970, but in the ’71 and ’72 seasons we were only 5-4 each year,” said DeMont, who led the Tigers in interceptions in both 1972 and 1973 and was rewarded with Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior. “I felt like we needed to take a step toward the success of the previous teams.

“We got off to a good start and it grew. Great coaching, total commitment to teamwork, no interest in individual accomplishments, and a great focus on the task ahead. We had incredible contributions from our junior, sophomore, and freshman classes.”

Led by future College Football Hall of Fame head coach Dave Maurer, all three 1973 team captains point to that team-first mentality as a key to achieving their historic feat. The captains all mentioned contributions from assistant coaches, including Ron Murphy, Bob Rosencrans, and Dick Fahrney, and even an unsung hero like Ron Sortman ’72, a computer engineer who analyzed details about opposing team tendencies long before it became customary to gather that information.

“My favorite memories of the ’73 season are of the way our team came together and won as a team,” said Paoloni, an all-conference defensive lineman who ranked third on the team in tackles in 1973 and was inducted into Wittenberg’s Athletics Hall of Honor in 2022. “There were some great players on the team, but they never put themselves above the team. Our coaches put each of us in position to be successful.”

Wittenberg was ranked in the national polls through most of the 1973 season, thanks to a dominating run through the regular season and a 35-7 win over Marietta in the OAC championship game. Just four teams were selected to participate in the first-ever NCAA Division III Tournament, and Wittenberg made history with a thrilling 21-14 home win over San Diego in the semifinals and a convincing 41-0 victory over Juniata in the title game on December 8, 1973, in Phenix City, Alabama.

Sure, we won ‘em all. Nobody went to Wittenberg back then expecting to lose any of ‘em. Why? Because our coaches were teachers who taught us how to win. Maurer, Fahrney, Murphy, and Rosy – I’d say we were better coached than any team we faced on our way to Phenix City.
Steve Drongowski '74, offensive lineman, OAC Offensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American in 1973

DeMont added, “The results exceeded our expectations. It was truly a milestone in hindsight. John, Steve, and I are proud but humbled to represent Wittenberg University and our 1973 undefeated national championship team.”

After winning the title game in such lopsided fashion, which Paoloni summed up by saying “we couldn’t do anything wrong in that game,” the team was welcomed by a large crowd at the airport when they returned to Ohio. Everyone involved could feel the Wittenberg tradition at that moment, even if it has taken 50 years to truly appreciate the experience.

“I really didn’t think what we did, winning the first NCAA Division III national championship, was a big deal at the time,” Paoloni said. “Now, I realize the gravity of that event. When people ask me about it, I always hear that you were one of a few teams in the country to accomplish that. There is no question it built my confidence to be successful in my business career, as well as, my raising my family.”

Ryan Maurer
Ryan Maurer
Associate Director of Athletics for Communications, Web Strategy & Content

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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