Wanamaker 'about as good as it gets' for Villanova

Villanova football players joined coach Andy Talley (center) in accepting the Wanamaker Award.
Villanova football players joined coach Andy Talley (center) in accepting the Wanamaker Award.
Posted: June 30, 2010

Amid a video back drop showcasing memorable Philadelphia sports moments such as Julius "Doctor J" Erving going reverse with one hand on the Lakers and Bernie Parent and the Flyers' title years, Villanova University football etched its place in city sports lore.

The team was awarded the John Wanamaker Athletic Award yesterday at the Wanamaker Building for a historical season that ended with the school's first football championship. The Wildcats finished the year 14-1 and defeated then-No. 1 Montana, 23-21, for the Football Championship Subdivision title.

The Philadelphia Sports Congress, a division of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau, presents the awards each year in conjunction with Amerimar/Behringer Harvard, owner of the Wanamaker building and longtime sponsor of the award.

Head coach Andy Talley, a Haverford High graduate who took over the Villanova football program in 1984, is well aware of the city's passionate fans.

"If you take a look at the people who have won the award, to be in that group where the air is rare is pretty sensational," Talley said. "To be honored in your hometown is about as good as it gets. I think being honored by the city of Philadelphia and having grown up in the area certainly means more to me really than a national championship."

After watching a congratulatory video from former Wildcat Howie Long, Talley noted the true city spirit that his team displayed, starting with a 27-24 victory over Temple in the inaugural Mayor's Cup at Lincoln Financial Field.

And his team proved it can measure up on the gridiron as well as the basketball court. The three previous Villanova teams to win the Wanamaker Award were the 1985 and 2006 men's basketball teams and the 2003 women's basketball team.

"People actually do know who you are and appreciate what you did," Talley said. "The games were on ESPN so everybody got a chance to watch us play and were rooting for us. I think there is a real awareness of who we are coupled with our basketball success. A lot of people were impressed with the style of play that we have and recognize Villanova football as a strong sport. I think all of the coaches at Villanova have a lot of pride in what they do. I think everyone has a chance to be successful at our school."

And Talley has set a great example. In 2008, he received the Community Service Award (now the Robert P. Levy Community Service Award) for his work with the National Marrow Donor Program. Matt Szcur, the do-everything star of the Wildcats and recent Chicago Cubs signee, showed the team dedication to this cause by being a stem-cell donor to help save the life of a young girl earlier this year.

"The humanitarian award probably is more meaningful to me," Talley said. "I think what we are trying to do is save lives. To be recognized and drawing people in and their attention to bone-marrow transplant, it's fantastic."

This year's Robert P. Levy Award was given to SquashSmarts. Based out of Drexel University and the Lenfest Center in North Philadelphia, the organization provides academic, personal and leadership development to underprivileged youth by using the sport of squash.

With the school drop-out rate in some major cities at or over 50 percent, executive director Stephen S. Gregg was pleased to announce that for the third straight year each high school senior in the program will graduate and go to college.

"This is a tremendous occasion for us and the SquashSmart students," Gregg said. "They have beaten the odds. They are accepting this award for all kids that use sports as a vehicle. It's an honor to be recognized by the Philadelphia Sports Congress and a privilege to be in the company of another city champion."

Sakora Miller is a testament to the positive impact of the program. The team captain is one of the seniors continuing her education.

"I always had the dream to go to college," Miller said. "SquashSmarts has given me the keys and opened the doors for me to get to college."

"I want to congratulate SquashSmarts," said Villanova senior defensive tackle and captain Phil Matusz, who accepted the Wanamaker Award along with Talley. "What they are doing, they are giving kids an opportunity. That is truly remarkable. Being here is something I will remember for the rest of my life."

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