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1959 Championship Football Team Collection

An inventory of its collection at the Syracuse University Archives

Finding aid created by: Anna Obermayer
Date: 2015

Historical Note

On January 1, 1960, Syracuse University's football team reached the height of its undefeated season. Competing against the University of Texas in the Cotton Bowl, Syracuse triumphed and earned its first football national championship.

Photograph of the 1959 Syracuse University football team

A number of factors contributed to making Syracuse’s 1959 team great. Syracuse University attracted talented players by offering scholarships, and, unlike many universities at the time, Syracuse recruited black players and had an integrated team. Head Coach Ben Schwartzwalder also recruited physically large players, whom commentators referred to as giants and other teams found physically intimidating on the field. Several of the 1959 players credited the team's group of experienced and motivated coaches as well. The Syracuse University team was ultimately lucky to have many talented players that year, including Ernie Davis.

The Syracuse team started off their undefeated season in 1959 by winning against Kansas University and then went on to win against others including the United States Naval Academy, earning Syracuse national recognition. The match against Pennsylvania State University, the undefeated number one Eastern school, was considered by many to be the turning point for Syracuse. Its win against Penn State, Syracuse 20 to Penn State 18, meant that Syracuse University was now the best team among the Eastern schools. Syracuse also faced University of California, Los Angeles, who were also experiencing a winning streak. Yet Syracuse still won 36 to UCLA 8. Syracuse football then headed to a bowl game.

Syracuse University's football team faced some challenges in the Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1, 1960. Ernie Davis was injured during practice before the players even arrived in Texas, and his injury raised questions about the team's ability to defeat the University of Texas, a consistently strong team. When the two teams met in Dallas, tensions rose. Schwartzwalder did not think the game was being called correctly by the officials, whom he believed favored Texas over Syracuse. On the field there was some racial tension between players from the all-white Texas team and the black Syracuse players. At one point in the game violence broke out between Syracuse player John Brown and a Texas player who had been calling him racially-charged names. Both teams were drawn in, requiring the coaches to break up the fight so the match could continue. Despite the tension, Syracuse University still won 23 to Texas 14. Syracuse also set a record with the longest touchdown pass in the Cotton Bowl's history when Gerhard Schwedes threw an 87-yard pass to Ernie Davis. After the game Davis was awarded the Most Valuable Player trophy for his part in the match, and Syracuse finished up a perfect season.

Scope and Content Note

The 1959 Championship Football Team Collection, made up of a variety of materials related the Syracuse championship team, is divided into two series. Memorabilia contains commemorative souvenirs such as buttons, drinking glasses, license plates, footballs, and “National Champions 1959" ribbons. The Team and Game Materials series includes a copy of Sports Illustrated with an article on the team, a book about the 1959 championship team, the program for the 1960 Cotton Bowl, a prospectus, and other printed information.


Access Restrictions:

Please note that the collection is housed off-site, and advance notice is required to allow time to have the materials brought to the Reading Room on campus.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from the Syracuse University Archives and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

More information can be found in the Archives' Clippings Files, Men's Football Reference Collection, the Photograph Collection, and the Ben Schwartzwalder Papers.

Selected Search Terms


Davis, Ernie, 1939-1963.
Schwartzwalder, Ben.
Syracuse University -- History.
Syracuse University.


Cotton Bowl (Football game)
Football players.
Higher education.

Types of Material

Baseball caps.
Buttons (information artifacts)
Drinking glasses.
Footballs (balls for sports)
License plates.
Plates (general, dishes)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

1959 Championship Football Team Collection,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

The materials that make up the collection were donated by Lois Hart Carnahan, Alice Whitney Carter, Leonard S. Elman, Edward J. Gschwender Jr. and other donors.

Processing Information

The collection has been placed in acid free boxes.


The collection is arranged alphabetically.

Table of Contents


Team and Game Materials