Homecoming Reunion Rekindles Memories Of 1976 European Tour
The Texas A&I Javelina football team was selected 30 years ago to make a three-week exhibition tour of Europe to introduce American football to fans in Austria, France and Germany.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and Intercontinental Football League co-sponsored the trip.
The Javelinas were chosen along with Henderson (Ark.) State to make the trip and play games in Berlin, Germany; Vienna, Austria; Mannheim, Germany; Nuremberg, Germany, and Paris, France.
The Javelinas and Reddies had played for the 1974 NAIA national championship and had ranked first and second in the final 1975 poll. The Javs took the 1974 title and ranked No. 1 in 1974 and 1975.
Texas A&I was allowed a travel party of 53, including coaches, players, staff members and fans.
Some of the Javelinas’ opponents felt that by playing the five exhibition games, it gave the South Texans an advantage heading into the 1976 season. Gil Steinke, Javelina head coach, disagreed.
“First, there’s always the chance you’ll get somebody hurt,” Steinke said. “And there won’t be much time for recovery. When we get back June 20, there will be less than two months before we report for fall drills.
“Some of the players were depending on summer jobs to help finance their way in college. And there are those who need summer school hours in order to meet their eligibility requirements.”
The games weren’t conventional. “We’ll be playing under somewhat different conditions than those to which we’re accustomed,” Steinke explained. “They want us to pass at least 50 percent of the time and they prefer that we throw from a drop-back pattern. They’ve asked that we run basic defensive patterns.”
“The objective of the games is to excite the fans. To the seasoned football fan, tough defense, good faking and a veer offense are exciting. But the fan who is just learning the game wants to see the football being thrown.”
Steinke also felt that by having his players go through spring training, play three weeks during the summer and then begin pre-season drills in early August, there wouldn’t be enough time for the athletes to take a break.
“There’s a chance they’ll get burned out on the game.”
Several of the Javelina players didn’t make the trip because of jobs and summer school and some were left home recovering from injuries and surgeries.
Those making the trip called it “the experience of a lifetime”.
“I appreciated the opportunity to see a lot of things I never would have seen had it not been for the trip,” center Dan St. Leger, junior from Devine, said. “The football experience also helped but the real value came in the many historic sites we visited and being able to meet the many people of Europe and those from Henderson State.”
Offensive lineman Larry McFarland, junior from San Antonio (Highlands), said, “It was an educational experience, exciting and culturally beneficial. We learned to appreciate the difference in people in other areas of the world and if I had the chance I’d go again.”
David Marquez, freshman offensive lineman from Houston (South Houston), said he was especially impressed with the Berlin Olympic Stadium. “Playing in a stadium with so much history was a great experience. I’d like to go again next year and would like to play at some other sites.”
Defensive lineman Gary Allen, sophomore from Corpus Christi (Miller), found Paris the most fascinating place on the tour. “The monuments and palaces in Paris impressed me most. But I would call the whole experience a trip of a lifetime. I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”
Larry Hirt, junior defensive lineman from Santa Ana, Calif. who is now the athletic director for the Victoria Independent School District, said Paris and the Louve were the highlights. “And I liked the various types of food we ate. These changed from country to country and it was interesting, discovering the differences.
“We played too many games for the short period of time we were there but the trip was great. I learned a lot at each site we visited. I saw some famous and historic sites I never knew existed before the trip. I, too, found playing in Berlin and in the Olympic Stadium an impressive experience.”
Offensive lineman Mark Dizdar, freshman from McAllen, found the friendliness of the people evident throughout the trip and he enjoyed “seeing firsthand the different countries and people.”
Steinke said the logistics of moving two football teams, complete with coaching staffs, trainers, managers and administrative personnel, through three European countries was an adventure in itself.
“I feel, and I’m sure all of the players would agree, that the tour was successful. We saw things that many of us would never have been able to see had it not been for this tour. And we feel extremely fortunate to have been so successful on the field. We never dreamed we would be able to defeat a team of Henderson’s caliber five times.”
Fred Jonas, defensive coordinator, said that football-wise, the trip was a success in that the Europeans reacted favorably to the game and the way the teams performed. “The games in Berlin, Vienna and Paris were especially significant in that they were played before European audiences. And they were well-received. It’s a good feeling to know that Texas A&I helped introduce American football to these fans.
“Some day, we may be thought of as pioneers in Europe when it comes to United States football.”
The games in Mannheim and Nuremberg had mostly U.S. military personnel in the stands.
Offensive coordinator Pete Murray said, “It was a unique experience. We learned a lot about Europeans by seeing their countries and lifestyles firsthand and to be able to do this was a rare opportunity…an opportunity no other football team has had.”
The tour group traveled on a charter plane, flying into Berlin and departing from Paris. The weight of the plane, especially with its cargo of players and equipment, forced stopovers at two airports each way.
Not only did the Texas A&I football team have an enjoyable three-week trip in Europe in 1976, the Javelinas also displayed why the program had been and was considered one of the best in the U.S.
The squad won its five exhibition games, taking a 17-8 victory in Berlin, 21-7 win in Vienna, 20-6 decision in Mannheim, 17-15 victory in Nuremberg and 21-13 win in Paris.
Statistically, the Javelinas amassed an average of 321.4 yards a game while holding Henderson to 165.0 yards a game. The Javelinas averaged 186.8 yards a game rushing and had a 6.8 per-carry norm. The squad picked up 134.6 yards passing.
Quarterback Richard Ritchie, junior from Mineral Wells, was A&I’s offensive leader, averaging 164.6 yards a game. He had 123.6 passing and 41.0 rushing. He completed 33 of 51 passes for 618 yards and six touchdowns and was intercepted once.
Larry Collins, sophomore running back from San Antonio (Edison), led the team in rushing with 66.4 yards a game and 8.5 yards a carry. He scored three times. His biggest game came when he rushed for 179 yards in the Paris contest.
Glenn Starks, sophomore wide receiver from Houston (Jones), brought the most cheers from the crowds with his fakes and outstanding catches. He had 19 receptions for 374 yards and five touchdowns, and he led the team in scoring with 30 points.
Doug Greene, freshman defensive back from Houston (Yates), had five interceptions, getting three of these in the opener in Berlin.
The Javelinas held Henderson to 113.0 yards a game on the ground and a 3.4 per-carry average. The Javelinas gave up 52.0 yards a game through the air and allowed a .379 completion percentage while picking off seven passes.The 1976 Javelina team is holding a reunion at this weekend’s homecoming festivities.