The brilliant autumn afternoon shone postcard pretty Nov. 14, 1964 when West Scranton’s native son Cosmo Iacavazzi captained his Princeton Tigers into the legendary Yale Bowl for a battle of the Ivy League unbeatens.
Waiting for them with high hopes of wrecking the Tiger juggernaut were the Yale Bulldogs and the equally touted fullback Chuck Mercein, a future New York Giant.
After an illustrious career at West Scranton High, the scholar-athlete chose Princeton from among many prestigious colleges that came knocking, Notre Dame and Penn State among them.
That afternoon both teams took the field undefeated, the Tigers 7-0 and the Bulldogs 6-0-1. At game’s end only the Tigers remained so thanks largely to the West Sider’s 185 rushing yards and two fourth quarter’s touchdowns that provided a 35-17 triumph and the Ivy League championship. The next Saturday the Tigers wrapped up the season by defeating Cornell to log Princeton’s perfect campaign.
Fifty years later that team was honored during halftime of the Princeton-Harvard game. On that day, Cosmo remembered the 1964 clash as one of his most memorable.
“First and foremost, it was the game that won the Ivy League championship up there at the Yale Bowl in front of 73,000 people. ... I had one of my best games. ... It was the game of the season for us.”
It was 2002 when the fullback from West Scranton was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame with a class that included other greats Dan Marino, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, Kellen Winslow and Napoleon McCallum.
In an article that appeared in Town Topics, a Princeton, New Jersey, publication, Bob Casciola, the Princeton coach who recruited Iacavazzi, remembers his prize catch this way:
“Cosmo was driven and committed in everything he did. It was contagious, his presence added to everything we did. In practice he would sprint 40 yards on every play, not to be a show-off but because he thought that was the right way to do things. A player like Cosmo comes across once in a coach’s career, maybe twice if you’re lucky.”
Iacavazzi, who played one season as a back-up with the New York Jets, has applied his drive and charisma to a variety of pursuits since college, including engineering, working in finance on Wall Street, starting a cable television company, serving as the mayor of Hillsborough, New Jersey, and running a property management company.
Recalling that he worked from 7 a.m. straight through to 2 a.m. the next day at times during his Princeton career to master his coursework, Iacavazzi believes that football paved the way for his later success.
“I’ve learned some indelible lessons from football, they were imprinted on me early,” said Iacavazzi, who currently lives in Mercer County, New Jersey. Among those who taught him lessons early was a football legend in his own right, the late Sam Donato of Dunmore who produced one championship team after another at West Scranton High School during the 50s, often at the expense of his scholastic alma mater in Bucktown.
“My high school coach Sam Donato had the greatest influence on me other than family members,” Cosmo said. “Sam taught me that you give your best effort all the time no matter what you are doing so that’s what I did. I’ve never been that big or fast so I thought I’ll just give it my best effort, that was my edge. I was taught a framework to create success through football that has stayed with me.”
Now Cosmo spends a lot of spare time on the golf course, often with his wife, Marion – his high school sweetheart – and just a few weeks ago played in the annual tournament of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.