Long Island’s Super Connection

February 8, 2010

When a first quarter pass zipped in and bounced off his chest on Sunday night, you wondered what the game had in store for Marques Colston. The entire world watched as the New Orleans Saints receiver killed a promising drive with this drop.

Long Island’s lone connection to Super Bowl XLIV, Colston thrived in the spotlight all season as one of the NFL’s elite pass catchers. Now the former Hofstra University star had the look of a goat.

But Drew Brees went right back to Colston on the next drive as the Saints began to claw their way out of a 10-0 hole. The wideout ended up setting up the go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown and finished with seven catches for 83 yards.

“This is what I have dreamed about since I was four years old,’’ Colston said afterward. “It’s incredible.”

There were no shortage of New York storylines for Super Bowl XLIV, and each played a key role as the New Orleans Saints rallied past the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17.

They mostly revolved around former Jets and Giants castoffs Sean Payton, Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma finding redemption as Saints. Payton was the one-time Giants offensive coordinator who lost his groove and was fired. Vilma was once the heart of the Jets defense who the brass traded away because of a bum knee. And Shockey, well, he had simply proved impossible to tame and was shipped to the exile of New Orleans.

Each found new life with the Saints. And each had Super moments against the Colts.

But Long Island’s Colston probably had the longest odds of reaching the grand stage of the Super Bowl. That’s because the Harrisburg, Penn. native saw his father die at 14 and played Division I-AA football in college at overlooked and unheralded Hofstra.

“Coming out of high school, I was 175 or 180 pounds,’’ Colston recalled in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. “I wasn’t very polished as a receiver or a player. Hofstra ended up offering me a scholarship and gave me an opportunity to grow at a rate that I needed to grow. I just continued to work to get better as a player. Hopefully I’ve shown you guys what I am capable of doing.”

He played all four seasons for the Pride, starting 37 games and catching 182 passes for a school-record 2,834 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Saints drafted him in the seventh round in 2006. In just his fourth pro season, Colston is already fourth in franchise history in receptions and receiving yards and touchdowns.

Colston, now 6-4, 225 pounds, led the Saints in receiving this season with 70 catches for 1,074 yards and nine touchdowns. And in Super Bowl XLIV, he turned in a workmanlike performance. Forgotten was the early miscue. What people will remember about Marques Colston is his championship mettle.

“We knew coming in this was going to be a hard Super Bowl,” Colston said. “But we believed in one another and we got it done today.”

Colston is the fifth player from Hofstra to participate in the Super Bowl, joining Ricky Bryant (Patriots, 2004 season), Willie Colon (Pittsburgh, 2008), Mike D’Amato (Jets, 1968) and John Schmitt (Jets, 1968). And considering that Hofstra shuttered its football program in December, Colston will likely be the last.

Colston represented Long Island well. And on a night when the Super Bowl couldn’t have been further away from New Yorkers in body and spirit, he gave us all someone to root for.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Contemplating Long Island Without Hofstra Football

December 7, 2009

In a week of stunning announcements – from Tom Suozzi’s concession to ‘Junior’ Gotti’s mistrial – nothing compared with the sudden death of Hofstra University football.

School president Stuart Rabinowitz made the announcement to immediately terminate the football program at a hastily-called press conference Thursday morning, and the news struck the Long Island sports community like a punch to the gut.

There’s no arguing the merits of the decision. Running a major college football program can be prohibitively expensive. And in these tough economic times, the small private school in Hempstead – investing $4.5 million annually on the sport – made a prudent call with the best interest of the institution at heart.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be lasting repercussions. Football stirs a sense of pride – even among students who have never attended a game – that no other function or event can replicate.

The football program also served as a calling card to all of Long Island for 72 years. There was no better ambassador. The connections ran deep.

To name two: Wandy Williams began his career at Hofstra before moving on to the NFL in 1969 and then settling into decades as a successful high school basketball coach in Long Beach. Freeport football coach Russ Cellan, who just guided the Red Devils to the Long Island Class I championship, routinely called on the staff at Hofstra for coaching insight.

Hofstra regularly gave tickets to high school and youth league groups. The entire coaching staff, from Dave Cohen on down, served as a resource for coaches across Long Island. The skills camps the Pride ran helped aspiring teenagers grow.

Even the facilities were wide open to any number of events, including the Long Island football championships. The Road to Hofstra meant something to every budding high school athlete in Nassau County, hoping to make the playoffs and land a scholarship to play at the next level.

Now Hofstra’s 63 scholarship players, many of them from Long Island, must attempt to find new homes or give up the game. An entire football community must look elsewhere for inspiration too.

Sure, Stony Brook’s growing football program (this was their first year as a fully-funded scholarship Division I-AA team) will reap the rewards. Greater exposure. A monopoly of talent. It will even land a few of Hofstra’s best players in an instant talent infusion. But it cannot ever completely fill the void.

It’s a sad state for Long Island sports fans. The New York Nets of the ABA once played at the Nassau Coliseum. So did the Arena Football League’s Dragons. And the Saints of indoor lacrosse. The women’s pro soccer league Power played down the street at Mitchel Athletic Complex.

Let’s not forget that the New York Jets relocated their home office from Hofstra to new digs in New Jersey after the 2007 season.

Those are just a few of the pro teams that once called the region home. Now the Islanders are threatening to bolt if the Lighthouse project doesn’t get green lit. With a new Nassau County executive set to step into the fray, that’s a big if.

So Hofstra’s capitulation is more heartbreak on top of decades of heartbreak. Say it ain’t so.

Four former Hofstra stars are still carrying the banner by playing in the NFL, from New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen, Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Willie Colon to New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston. Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris spent his formative years at Hofstra.

They will continue to represent Hofstra Pride for years to come. In fact, Colston converted a big third down in overtime on Sunday, setting the stage for Garrett Hartley’s 18-yard game-winning field goal as the Saints moved to 12-0 with a 33-30 win over host Washington.

Colston finished with two catches for 46 yards, highlighted by a second-quarter 40-yard touchdown grab. Colston is on pace for another 1,000-yard season. And his Saints may well reach the Super Bowl. His play offers some consolation.

Hofstra may have pulled the plug on football, but Hofstra football isn’t dead yet.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com