Sunday, December 6, 2009
FRIENDS MAKE AN INDELIBLE MARK AT WAGNER
By JAY PRICE, Advance Sports Columnist
There are, as a general rule, two types of people who give money — real money, the kind that can make a difference at a place like Wagner College — to their old school.
There are guys who want to see their name on the side of a building so they can feel important when they go back for the homecoming tailgate.
And then there are guys like Greg Knapp (in photos above) and Tommy Moles (at right), who had such a good time in their years on Grymes Hill, they figured it was only right to give something back.
“Greg loved this place,” Moles was saying on the steps of Wagner’s Spiro Sports Center, on his way to dedicate the new varsity strength room he helped build in memory of his friend.
Knapp and Moles didn’t have to go to Wagner to get to be buddies.
They were teammates at St. Cecelia’s in Englewood, N.J., the little Catholic school that gave Vince Lombardi his first coaching job, where Knapp earned a reputation as a hard-nosed fullback and linebacker. “The Horse,” the local newspaper called him.
“He was a tough guy, even then,” Moles said. “I think he scored six touchdowns his senior year by backing into the end zone.
“That’s how tough he was to get down.”
Wagner hit the jackpot at St. Cecelia’s, snagging three players — Moles, Knapp and quarterback Dan Coughlin — who wound up vital parts of an undefeated season in 1964.
For Moles and Knapp, it was only one more chapter in a lifelong friendship.
Some of that came from Wagner.
Some of it came from their time as Marines during the Vietnam War. (Photo here: Greg Knapp and Tom Moles in Quang Tri, Vietnam, January 1968.)
Knapp went to war as an officer, after going through the Marines’ platoon leaders program.
Moles, whose stay at Wagner outlasted his student deferments, wound up enlisting.
The shared experience only strengthened the bond between them.
That much was pretty clear a few months ago, when they inducted Knapp into the Wagner Hall of Fame.
On that occasion, after watching Walt Hameline, the Wagner football coach, and the college’s president, Richard Guarasci, get weak in the knees trying to talk about Knapp, Moles toughed his way through an dedication speech. Because if he didn’t say what had to be said about his best friend, who else was going to do it?
“I’ve got one more thing to say,” Moles said at the end of that speech, and maybe the Marines in the room saw it coming.
After Vietnam, the two buddies came home, went to work, and made a bunch of money as investment bankers. They even bought homes in the same community in Florida, where Knapp, still tough to bring down, fought the homeowners association for the right to fly the Marine Corps flag along with the American flag.
Want to guess who won that one?
Years later, they went back to Vietnam as tourists; Moles wrote a book about the experience. (Photo at right: Tom Moles and Greg Knapp in Quang Tri, Vietnam, October 1995.)
By then, they were both trustees at Wagner, ready to step up when the college was going through some tough times.
Knapp and Hameline were on the football field one day many falls ago, when Knapp noticed the bleachers were missing.
“What happened to the stands?”
Hameline explained that the portable bleachers, which didn’t belong to the school, were needed elsewhere, and would be brought back in time for Wagner’s next home game.
Moles shook his head.
“We need a stadium,” he said. “We need to build a stadium.”
And that’s what they did.
There are two plaques in the home team’s locker room at the new Wagner football stadium, opened in 1997. Knapp’s name is on one. Moles’ is on the other.
And when Wagner built the Spiro Center, Moles and Knapp were part of that, too.
Then Greg Knapp died.
“I haven’t gotten over it,” Moles says. “I probably never will.”
So, Tom and Polly Moles did the next best thing. They threw their own time and money into outfitting a 3,000-square foot weight room for Seahawk athletes in what used to be the wrestling room, freeing up the fitness center upstairs for the rest of the student body.
Outside the new room, there’s a photograph of a much younger Knapp and Moles, both wearing combat fatigues, leaning against a Jeep in Vietnam.
“Greg stole that Jeep so he could come see me,” Moles was saying outside the new Gregory P. Knapp Strength Room, a monument to strength, loyalty and the kind of friendship that doesn’t die.
Hoo-rah to that.
READ MORE about Greg Knapp on the Wagner College Web site.