SI Advance - November 03, 2010by Stephen Hart
But thanks to the generosity of Dr. Eugene Mosiello and his Lt. Nick Lia Foundation, the contest will mark the start of an annual award presented to the winning team of the rivalry.
The Capt. John Drennan/1st Lt. Nick Lia Trophy is named after two real-life heroes with ties to the competing schools "who did so much in a short period of time to influence future generations," said Mosiello, a close friend and Wagner College teammate of both Drennan, a former FDNY captain who died in 1994 from injuries suffered in a fire; and Lia, a U.S. Marine killed during his second tour in Vietnam in 1968.
"They left an example to others - not only in the way they lived, but in the way they died," said Mosiello, who will also give $1,000 each year to the football program of the victorious team.
"It's about their character ... what they stood for. Staten Island is blessed to have had these two favorite sons. They represented the three Ls: love, leadership and loyalty."
Drennan attended Tottenville when the school didn't have a football program, playing as a teenager for the Plainsmen, a sandlot team based in Pleasant Plains. He would play his college ball at Wagner, and joined Lia on the Seahawks' undefeated 1964 squad. He would return to Tottenville as its second-ever varsity football coach from 1972-75, leading the Pirates to an impressive 23-11 record during that time, highlighted by an upset of Monsignor Farrell in 1974.
The impact Drennan made on his players wasn't only evident on the gridiron; 52 of his Pirates followed him into the fire department.
"Jimmy Munson understands what John meant to the South Shore of the Island," Mosiello said.
"I'm looking at a big picture of him right now in our football office," said Munson, in his 19th season as Pirate helm. "He influenced so many kids and taught them how to be men. He was a great leader in football and in the fire department. When I was first hired as head coach, John called me up right away and said, 'I'm glad a Tottenville guy got it.' I never forgot that."
Lia played for Andy Barbieri's Warriors and then moved on to Wagner, a co-captain on the 1965 Seahawks. Lia's first tour of duty in the Marines as a tank commander was interrupted when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded, peppering his legs with shrapnel.
"Someone who was there later told me that Nick needed 1,400 stitches for his legs," recalled Mosiello, who has constantly honored his former Curtis teammate over the years, especially through youth football. "The doctor told him he could go home, but Nick refused to go."
In fact, it was at Lt. Nick Lia All-Star Game last year that the seeds for this trophy were planted.
"I saw both Jimmy and Peter (Gambardella, the Curtis coach) at the game and we started talking," said Mosiello. "They both respect what I do and why I do it, and thought it was a great idea."
"We were all together, and Doc Mosiello said he wanted to do something special to keep their memories alive," reflected Gambardella, a former standout running back for Curtis. "Since we're both on Staten Island and guaranteed to play each other every year, it seems like a natural. "Hopefully, the players on each side will take the time to find out about these two great men, who sacrificed their lives for others. We don't need any more incentive when you play another Staten Island team, but it's fitting to do something like this."
"Any time you can do something to draw greater interest than normal in a game, that's a good thing," added Munson. "It's something new. There's already a lot of excitement about this game, and this builds even more enthusiasm. It's really nice."
"I'm personally aware that both John and Nick loved their high schools more than anything," Mosiello said. "They inspired others, and they'll continue to do that through this trophy."