April 4, 2007
By John Gearan
Holy Cross Magazine
Buster Carroll, a denizen of an Irish enclave in Queens, loved his heritage, his family, his country passionately. He joined the Marines to fight in World War II. Stationed in Ireland, he fell in love and eloped -- the Marines called it AWOL -- marrying a colleen named Letitia Allen. His wedding gift: an immediate transfer to the Pacific without his bride.
After the war, Buster and Letitia settled into an 800-square-foot apartment in College Point where he took a job as a bus driver. His aspirations took a back seat to the family's needs as the Carrolls had four roughhouse boys to raise within tight quarters and a tighter budget.
Buster (few called him Herbert) was a die-hard Notre Dame fan, a loyal member of its famed football fraternity known as the "subway alumni." He knew everything about the Fighting Irish and the oft-exaggerated exploits of legends such as Knute Rockne, The Gipper and The Four Horsemen.
In the early '60s, his son Kevin, a member of Holy Cross' last all-male class of 1972, remembers he and his dad watching the Crusaders playing on TV -- when the camera panned to a sideline shot of the coach.
"That's Eddie Anderson,'' Buster told his son. "The guy is a college head coach and a practicing doctor.
"Imagine that," his father wondered aloud. "How can anyone do that?"
Buster knew about the good doctor because Anderson had been a Notre Dame captain and All-American end under Rockne.
Kevin, a fine football safety and baseball outfielder at Holy Cross High in Flushing, N.Y., entered the College of the Holy Cross in 1968. As a walk-on, he played freshman football but was cut trying to make the varsity as a junior. In baseball, though, that year Carroll emerged as the Crusaders' starting right fielder.
"My senior season I fractured my elbow diving for a fly ball against Connecticut," Carroll recalls. "That was it.''
But his interest in Anderson was piqued again. "I learned a lot more about Doc while being taped up by our trainer, Jackie Scott," says Carroll.
During those tempestuous years of war protests and racial unrest, Carroll remained anchored to his father's Marine Corps moorings. He fought for the right of ROTC to remain on campus. And once, he climbed a drainpipe to tear down a Viet Cong flag and set it afire.
Rejected by the Marine Corps due to bleeding ulcers, Carroll continued his postgraduate education, receiving his master's degree in history from Northern Arizona University. He taught high school and coached football and baseball in the outpost towns of Grants and Belen, N.M.
Kevin married Linda Lawlis of Albuquerque, and the couple have two daughters: Letitia -- named in honor of Kevin's mom who died of cancer the summer before his senior year -- is in her second year at University of New Mexico Law School; McKinnon is a senior at UNM, aspiring to become an occupational therapist like her mom.
For the past 18 years, Carroll has been a history teacher and the head football coach (98-74) at Albuquerque Academy, a small coed prep school.
With the passing of each autumn, Carroll's curiosity about Anderson intensified.
How, he wondered, did Anderson do it all -- coach Holy Cross and Iowa in the Big Ten and practice medicine and help raise four kids? Buster Carroll died in 1983, bequeathing his son this intriguing question that needed to be explored by someone who loved history and sports.
"It was a perfect task for me," comments Kevin.
In 1999, Carroll undertook the quest to tell Anderson's story. Spending four years researching archives, he sifted through newspaper clippings and interviewed players and colleagues from Anderson's 39 seasons at four colleges. Carroll also talked at length with Anderson's four children: Nick, a retired businessman living in Florida; Jerry, an oral surgeon residing in Massachusetts; Jim, a 1962 Holy Cross graduate and retired businessman living in Connecticut; and Judy Anderson Moore, a bank attorney and resident of Pittsburgh.
Without a literary agent, it took Carroll another three years to convince a reputable publisher (McFarland Publishing of Jefferson, N.C.; www.mcfarlandpub.com) to print this fascinating, beautifully written and frank portrayal, titled Dr. Eddie Anderson: Hall of Fame College Football Coach, A Biography.
Doc Anderson's rich life is worthy of such an examination. He may not have attained "legendary" status for his gridiron feats, but he certainly mingled among the game's giants during a career that spanned six decades. And, without question, Doc Anderson resides near the peak of the Mount Olympus reserved for scholar-athletes.
Mull this over: Edward N. Anderson, while attending Rush Medical College in Chicago, also served as head football and basketball coach at DePaul University -- and was captain of the Chicago Cardinals, the 1925 National Football League champions.
"He had a clause in his pro-football contract that stated he didn't have to practice," says Carroll. "There were days when he would attend medical school, coach, study and, late at night, take a run for miles along the shores of Lake Michigan, reviewing in his head the details from his Cardinals' playbook and medical texts."
Carroll scrutinizes Anderson's four seasons as a first-string, two-way end at Notre Dame. Amusing vignettes provide a rare insight into the hurly-burly birth of big-time football as Carroll pinpricks much of its mythology. A 5-foot-10-inch, 165-pound scrapper from Mason City High in Iowa, Anderson blocked for the immortal George Gipp, tackled with bone-shivering authority and set a school record with three TD receptions against Northwestern -- the last thrown by The Gipper himself. In Anderson's last three seasons, Notre Dame lost only once, to his home state of Iowa. As a senior, Captain Anderson was a consensus first-team All-American.
Carroll does not shy away from controversy. He probes a scandal that tarnished the Golden Dome when Anderson and seven Notre Dame teammates got caught playing in a semipro game just a few days after the 1921 football season ended. He details how Anderson was banned from playing senior-year basketball and baseball when the story broke nationally.
Anderson's accomplishments are astounding. In his first year at Iowa, 1939, he was voted National Coach of the Year; his star, Nile Kinnick, won the Heisman Trophy. As Maj. Anderson in World War II, Doc labored to heal soldiers in England and in field hospitals in France and Germany. After the war, he treated veterans and disabled children. Anderson won 201 games from 1922 to 1964, including 129 at Holy Cross, where he retired as the "Dean of College Football Coaches."
The book is replete with anecdotes that shed light upon Anderson's character. Carroll paints a portrait of a taciturn taskmaster of rock-ribbed toughness, a nattily attired gentleman pacing the sidelines in a tailored suit and crisp-brimmed fedora.
Cast in the Rockne mold, he would drive the team hard in practice. Yet Anderson respected his players. Behind the scenes, he would go to bat for them when they ran into trouble. He emphasized education as the path to success. He never uttered a profanity, never cursed, never denigrated players in public. Only matters such as showing disrespect for the game or loafing or displaying a lack of sportsmanship could bring him to a boil.
Anderson could appear unemotional and aloof while coaching but be kind-hearted and sensitive away from the field of combat. He could at once convince his players to ignore pain, yet attend with a tender touch to his ailing patients.
Perhaps Vince Promuto '60 -- a Crusader Hall of Famer, a former Washington Redskins All-Pro guard and a lawyer -- sums it up best in Carroll's book: "Someone or something has to touch an emotion within you -- anger, pride, whatever -- to make you play beyond your own limits. In my career, only two coaches had the ability to reach that emotion. One was Vince Lombardi; the other was Dr. Anderson.''
Lombardi and Anderson, two men of stern principle, well worth reading about in this age when shallow celebrity so often trumps true character and earned respect.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
John W. Gearan '65, was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Woonsocket, R.I., with his wife, Karen Maguire, and their daughter, Molly.