The game was an appropriate end to the season. Team co-captain Jamie Smith intercepted a pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown with 4:21 remaining to give the Mules a 24-17 lead. The Greyhounds scored a touchdown with 2:08 to go, but for the second straight week the defense foiled a two-point attempt - this time when Chris Horton sacked the quarterback - to save the day and send the beloved coach home a winner.
"Frank was the glue through the whole season," said DiGregorio. "He meant a lot to us, as he did to thousands of kids at Muhlenberg." Marino's hold on his ex-players remains so strong that when it came time for members of the reunion team to go around the room and introduce family members, each ended with a testimonial to Marino.
The final tally for the Kardiac Kulans was an 8-1 record, Muhlenberg's best since 1947. Six of the eight wins were by a touchdown or less, and all of those games came down to the very end.
"This team probably had more size and a little less speed as compared to teams in the past," said Marino in the 1981 school yearbook, "Ciarla." "But they were among the most memorable when it came to character." The team, and the season, remain memorable 20 years later (so much so that Mottola wore his Kardiac Kulans T-shirt to the reunion) and probably will continue to live on for much longer.
"The one thing that came out of the reunion was how special the season was," said DiGregorio. "It's something we take with us every day."
Half a century later, freshman football returns
The freshmen could scrimmage with the varsity but played their own schedule against freshmen squads of other schools. In 1950, Muhlenberg fielded its first undefeated freshman football team. With freshman eligibility restored by the NCAA in the early 1960s, freshman football became a thing of the past.
Although the significance of that undefeated team may be difficult to grasp by today's standards, it was plenty significant for those who were a part of it.
"We were playing teams that had a lot more than we had," said Jim Skidmore, a quarterback on that team and now CEO of Science Management Corp. in Bridgewater, N.J. "We were the little guys, and we were going to fight the big guys."
The "Little Mules," or "Pony Mules," won the Lehigh Valley championship by knocking off Lafayette (19-14) and Lehigh (20-7) in their first two games. Muhlenberg then blanked Gettysburg, 26-0, and capped the perfect season with its most dramatic win, as Richard Cassels booted a 25-yard field goal in the waning seconds for a 9-7 defeat of Delaware.
The undefeated freshmen did not experience nearly the same team success as varsity players, winning only six games in three seasons, but several members had noteworthy individual accomplishments. Skidmore set a still-standing school record by throwing a 90-yard touchdown pass in 1951. Dave Ehlers returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Bucknell in 1952, the same year Larry Dottor led the big team in scoring.
Many of the individuals also went on to have productive careers in the military, and then in the civilian world, after leaving Muhlenberg. "We struggled and got a good foundation," said Skidmore (No. 67 in the picture) of his teammates. "I don't think we understood it when we were going through it, but playing freshman football at Muhlenberg really did a lot for us."