A Long-Delayed Honor: Henry Woronicz is Inducted to the Boston College Hall of Fame

When the Boston College Varsity Club established its athletic Hall of Fame 48 years ago, the first class of 20 inductees included seven members of the 1940 football squad that went undefeated and won the Sugar Bowl against Tennessee.  That was fitting. It had been BC’s greatest achievement in intercollegiate sports, the highlight of the school’s first golden era in the last golden days before World War II.

The man who did the most to make that bowl victory possible, other than perhaps “Chuckin’” Charlie O’Rourke, was Henry Woronicz.  

Henry was not included in that first class of inductees. Nor was he named over the course of many years as, finally, all of the starting lineup of that team had been enshrined. All but Henry Woronicz.

Decades passed. Memories faded. Nominating and selection committees came and went. Henry’s name came up from time to time, but he never received enough support in the voting.  Until this year.  Kudos to the selection committee, and especially to Varsity Club president Richard Schoenfeld, for their commitment to reviewing the merits of “old-timers” who, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.

One of my most enjoyable assignments each year is compiling the biographies of the inductees for the 2017 induction ceremony, which is on October 6. Henry’s story follows. He and his wife Marian both died 25 years ago. It’s a shame they won’t be there in person, but we know they’ll be there in spirit, and watching from the Second Balcony.

Henry Woronicz ’42: A Big-Play Guy

Big plays decide championships. Henry Bronislaw Woronicz was a big-play guy.

With the exception of quarterback Charlie O’Rourke, Henry Woronicz made more critical, tide-turning plays, in the most important games, than any of his teammates during Boston College’s glorious, undefeated 1940 season.  That season ended with a 19-13 win over Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Now he joins all of the other starters from that team in the Eagles’ Hall of Fame.

“Henry Woronicz Paves Way to Boston College Victory” trumpeted the newspaper headline. The story’s subhead read “Triumph Over Mighty Men of Tennessee Real Lift for New England Football – Henry Woronicz Blocks Kick to Turn Tide.”

As one writer described it, “the breakaway plays, snap passes, and vicious line play kept the record throng at Tulane Stadium in a uproar.” At left end on both offense and defense, Henry Woronicz was right in the thick of that vicious line play for almost the entire contest.

Woronicz suffered a cracked cheekbone in the first quarter when he was smashed by an offensive lineman while rushing the passer. But he played almost every down anyway.

Henry Woronicz (right) with, from left, Mickey Connolly, Mike Holovak, and Ted Williams.

Tennessee led 7-0 at halftime.   On the Vols’ first possession of the third quarter, Woronicz broke through and smothered Bob Foxx’s punt.  It was the first block of a Tennessee kick in three years. Joe Zabilski recovered, and a few plays later the Eagles tied the score.

But it wasn’t just a blocked kick by the farm kid from Bridgewater that led to the Eagles’ victory. On the “glory play, the lace curtain clincher” in the words of the Boston Globe’s Jerry Nason, Woronicz made it happen.

The score was tied at 13, and the clock was winding down. O’Rourke passes of 19, 24, and seven yards brought the ball to the Tennessee 24. With the Vols all thinking pass, Chuckin’ Charlie faded back and cocked his arm.  But then he tucked it and ran around Woronicz’s left end. Henry mowed down the tacklers and Charlie dashed into the end zone.

But perhaps none of those Sugar Bowl exploits would have been possible had Henry not also turned the tide against Georgetown earlier in the season. He was one of three Eagles who played the entire 60 minutes of that 19-18 triumph, called by revered sportswriter Grantland Rice, “The greatest football game ever played by colleges or pros.”

The weather was so cold and rainy that week that Boston College had to practice indoors, at the Boston Latin School gymnasium. Georgetown raced to a 10-0 lead so effortlessly that, as the book “Honor on the Line” describes, it “left Eagle fans with their collective countenance dark as the leaden sky.”

But with the situation becoming desperate, coach Frank Leahy called a play that was “..the great unveiling. O’Rourke lateraled to Lou Montgomery who rolled to his right and, while in the grasp of Augie Lio, crossed up the defense by passing the ball downfield.  It grazed the fingertips of defender Allen Matuza before falling into the arms of Henry Woronicz at the three yard line, and Woronicz walked in for the first Eagle touchdown.”

Yes, Henry Woronicz was a big-play man. For both the “great unveiling” and the “lace curtain clincher,” he was Leahy’s go-to guy. But he was a hard-luck guy too. That cracked cheekbone against Tennessee was the least of his woes. A severe knee injury two years before almost ended his football days.

After a stellar career at Brockton High, Henry played on an undefeated BC freshman team and cracked the starting lineup as a sophomore. But in spring practice in 1938, he took a hit from the future Monsignor George Kerr and tore up the knee. He withdrew from school and went home to work.

Boston College didn’t forget him. A year later, down to Bridgewater came a delegation from the school – athletic director John Curley, Father “Red” Collins, and backfield coach Ed McKeever – to ask Henry to return to the Heights.  They were persuasive, as was Henry’s future wife Marian Mitchell, about completing his education. So in January of 1940, he re-enrolled.

After the Sugar Bowl season, Leahy moved on and Woronicz played for Denny Myers. In the second game of 1941, a Tulane blocker chopped him from behind and sidelined him for seven games.  Henry played the final game, against Holy Cross at Fenway Park, wearing a big knee brace.

Woronicz was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and got a look from the Philadelphia Eagles. He served four years in the Navy before returning to a career of teaching and coaching. His high school stops included head coaching Bridgewater High for two years and assisting at Waltham High for two. He was also head coach of the Bridgewater Rams and the Randolph Rams, both semi-pro teams.

At the college level, Henry assisted old BC mates O’Rourke and Zabilski. He worked for Chuckin’ Charlie at UMass Amherst in the late 1950s. His last stop was a five-year stint with Joe, from 1964 to 1968, at Northeastern.

In 1985, when he retired from 25 years of teaching physical education at Waltham, the evening’s program read “Henry was Waltham’s answer to Vince Lombardi; he taught by example that effort and perseverance equal success.”

Henry and Marian, who were married in November 1942, had five children: Elizabeth, Janet, Sheila, Stephen and Henry M. They also had seven grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. In retirement, they made several cross-country treks by car. Both Henry and Marian passed away in 1992.

Let’s let Charlie O’Rourke have the last word about the guy who did so much to make his own pigskin heroics possible:

“Henry was a helluva player. He was a good, rough tough kid who played both ways for us. He was equally good at both positions.  At defensive end, nobody got around him and he was always putting pressure on the passer. As a tight end, he could block with the best. He could block and catch the football. He could also demonstrate very well as a coach and was well-liked by the players.”

2 Responses to “A Long-Delayed Honor: Henry Woronicz is Inducted to the Boston College Hall of Fame”

  1. Patrick J. Daly (@pjdaly7) Says:

    Nice to see a fitting honor being bestowed, even one unduly delayed, to a deserving Eagle. I’m sure the family will cherish your kind words & the deserving recognition to a key piece of an honored athletic memory.

  2. veteranscribe Says:

    Pat – this is what Halls of Fame are all about — or should be.

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