HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Chances are you have no idea who Joe Maniaci is. I certainly did not. Some stories you stumble into, looking for information on the internet for something else. This is certainly one of them.
Maniaci was the first graduate of Hasbrouck Heights High School to play in the NFL, a bruising fullback/defensive back in the days of two-way football.
Maniaci was born January 23, 1914 and passed away on September 15, 1986, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. A graduate of Hasbrouck Heights High School in 1932, Maniaci was a multi-sport star, playing football, baseball, basketball and wrestling. According to his Windsor Star obituary, (Ontario, Canada) Maniaci took all state honors in each of the four sports.
Nicknamed the Maniac (for obvious reasons), Maniaci played at Fordham (when the Rams were still a football school) and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Bears from 1936 till his retirement in 1941.
Maniaci was the Rams’ team captain in 1935 and was elected to the Fordham Athletic Hall of Fame in 1976. He pre-dated Vince Lombardi and the Seven Blocks of Granite by only a few years, back when Northeast college football was more popular than the NFL.
The starting halfback for the College Football All-Stars, he led the collegians to a 7-7 tie in front of 108,000 fans at Chicago's Soldier Field. At the time, in a tradition that lasted until the 1960s, the College All Stars would play against the NFL champions in an exhibition game each year.
A bruising fullback at 6-1, 212 pounds, Maniaci to this day holds the record for the Chicago Bears record for highest average yards per carry in a single game, 11.8. On October 2, 1939, he carried twelve times for 141 yards, including a 75 yard run from scrimmage for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the longest run of his career, in the best year of his career.
(Note: The Pittsburgh Pirates would later become the Steelers. The Dodgers would go out of business in 1945).
He finished the year with 544 yards rushing, good for third in the league, and his average of 7.1 per carry was tops in the NFL, and stands as the ninth highest total of all time. The Bears went 8-3, and finished second in the Western Division, missing the playoffs by one game.
In 1940 and 1941 the Bears made the playoffs, winning the championship each of the two seasons. Maniaci carried six times for 60 yards, and caught three passes for 39 yards in the Bears 73-0 victory over the Washington Redskins, the most lopsided game in NFL championship history. He also had an interception, and kicked one of two extra points.
In 1941, Maniaci played a limited role in securing the Bears second consecutive championship, carrying six times over two games, catching one pass, and a kicking an extra point, as the Bears defeated the Packers and Giants.
In his career, he carried the ball 404 times for 1855 yards, a 4.6 yards per carry average, while catching 16 passed for 184 yards. He also kicked 29 extra points, and picked off two passes during the 1940 season. He was a two time All-Star.
He then went on to coach at the United States Naval Training Station, Bainbridge in Fort Deposit, Maryland, winning two service championships in 1943 and 1944, compiling a perfect 17-0 record as a head coach.
Maniaci later went on to coach St. Louis University, compiling a 6-13-1 as head coach in 1948 and 1949.
But the question remains, why is he not more associated with Hasbrouck Heights football. One, is obvious, the time frame. The NFL in the 1930’s was a fledgling sport, and media attention was modest to say the least. Not many people are still around to talk about that era of football.
The second reason is one that, today seems odd. Maniaci, and his brother Sam, lived in Lodi. But at the time, Lodi did not have a high school, and the Maniaci brothers went to Hasbrouck Heights High School. Lodi High School opened in 1934.
He is a member of the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.
(Editors note: What I found on the internet was the following article, which provided some details, which lead to more research. Maglionico, Artie. The Brothers Maniaci: football greats Lodi History Highlights, Lodi Public Library, August 2008)