Early ‘Poppa Bear’ Banks

Earl “Poppa Bear” Banks

I love the fall…the cooler weather, the changing colors, and, of course, the football. Football’s roots run deep in Maryland.  The City-Poly Game (or Poly-City Game if you are a Poly alumnus) is the second-oldest football rivalry in the country.  Loyola and Calvert Hall’s rivalry is almost as old.  Our colleges, too, have long football traditions.  The Naval Academy, Maryland and Johns Hopkins all boast histories of football legends dating back to the nineteenth century.

One of my favorites comes from MorganStateUniversity.  Throughout the 1960s Morgan State was a football powerhouse.  Led by Earl “Poppa Bear” Banks, Morgan had one of the most dominating football programs in the country. Like any football coach Banks was tough.  But Poppa Bear led his team to a 94-34 record with three unbeaten seasons and five conference championships.  Over a five year period from 1964-’68 the Bears won 32 games in a row!  His .839 winning record as head coach placed Banks’ name among the elite in his field.

But Earl Banks wanted more than to develop his players’ athletic abilities, he wanted to develop their character. 

“About two days a week I talk life, not football, to my boys.  I tell them if they act like a man they will be treated like one.  They may come to us as boys, but they leave as men.  Good men with a purpose in life. I want to develop a good citizen, a man who can contribute something-give something back to society” 

He claimed that 99 percent of his players graduated.  True or not, 35 of his boys made it to the NFL.  Four made it all the way to Canton!

Football is uniquely American.  We get it and the rest of the world doesn’t.  It is loud, rough, and full of tradition.  Yes, it is also dangerous…but we like that aspect.  It has its cast of characters.  Earl “Poppa Bear” Banks was certainly one of them.  He inspired his players and, in the process, gave all of Maryland something to be proud of.

Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.