by Brian Quinn
November 14, 2003
Crist to enter county sports hall of fame
“I’m really thrilled and overwhelmed only because if I was on the committee (which made the selections) or if people were to ask me, (I would say) there were people who were more deserving,” said the 1968 Salamanca High School graduate, now the principal of Seneca Elementary School.
Who are some of these people? Crist mentioned names such as Louis Foy and Joe Sanfilippo.
“Foy really put Salamanca on the map and was big into Section VI politics,” Crist said. “There’s also Joe Sanfilippo who was my coach. Joe was just inducted into the Chautauqua County Sports Hall of Fame.”
Crist – a multi-sport star at Salamanca, a basketball player at Penn State University and a former safety with the New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers – will be inducted during a banquet at the Great Valley Fireman’s Club. One person from each of the other 11 school districts in Cattaraugus County will be honored as well. This is the second year of inductions for the Cattaraugus County Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’m excited and humbled that they chose me,” he said. “It’s nice to see that Ray Gray (representing Ellicottville) is going to be inducted. Heck, he goes back to the six-man football days in Ellicottville.
“There’s a lot of connections to a lot of these people. Ray Gray’s daughter and my wife were best friends in high school. Rod Rohl (Hinsdale inductee) and I coached against each other I coached at Cattaraugus for two years in the ‘80s and Rod coached at Hinsdale.”
Unfortunately, Crist will be unable to attend the banquet. He said he had planned well in advance to visit his daughter, Nicole, and his two grandchildren.
“My mom and dad are going to receive the award for me,” Crist said. “My brother (Dick) and his wife (Julie) are going as well. I’m going to have my brother read a brief acceptance speech and hopefully the committee will take a look at some of those people who were instrumental in putting the county on the map.”
Crist briefly mentioned an idea he had for Salamanca High School – a “foundation hall” to honor teachers, administrators, etc., who helped to shape the Salamanca tradition.
“Maybe this is the time,” he said. “We’ve never had anything like that here. We’ve retired jerseys and we’ve done some other things. I went to school here and I’ve always felt there was a certain mystique that we hold dear.”
Inevitably, though, the conversation returned to Crist’s athletic career. He earned varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track and field. He was on 8-0 Warrior football teams, one of them the first undefeated squad in Salamanca history. He finished his basketball career with 1,004 points and played on a 20-1 squad as a senior. Crist earned All-Western New York First Team and All-New York State Second Team honors that year. In track, he set a school record of 45-1 in the triple jump that still stands. In baseball, he was named to the all-conference team as a shortstop/pitcher.
Among the honors Crist received was Salamanca Athlete of the Year. His son, Scott (1989), and daughter, Nicole (1992), have earned the same award.
He went to Penn State on an athletic scholarship and played basketball. Crist was captain of the Nittany Lions team that went 17-8 in 1971-72.
“A lot of people ask ‘Why basketball instead of football,’” Crist said. “I don’t have any regret for the decision I made. I played four years of basketball there.”
Then he turned back to football, joining the New York Giants as a walk-on and playing there from 1972-75. He then played for the Saints and finished his career with San Francisco in 1978.
Crist said it was the connections that he had made that led to a pro football career. The basketball coach at Penn State knew the son of Giants co-owner Wellington Mara. That was something that gave Crist a chance, and with an ‘I have nothing to lose’ attitude, he ended up making the team. His first regular season game with the Giants was something special.
“When I walked on with the Giants, I took those three steps out of that dugout,” Crist said. “The hair on my neck just stood up. There was a smell and an aura about that place. It’s hard to explain to people. That was the most incredible feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
Crist said his hometown fans had chances to see him play.
“When I was with the Giants, we played in Cleveland. It seemed like half the town was there. They came to New York, too.”
Along with being a strongsaftey/free safety, Crist got in on special teams. “You know that wacky guy that runs down next to the kicker? That was me for two years,” he says. “In those days, they didn’t have post-concussion syndrome. I got knocked out five times my rookie year. Those were the days where if you couldn’t play, someone would take your spot.”
Crist added, somewhat humorously, “It’s something nice that I can look back on some day and tell my grandkids ‘Your old man was worth something.’”
Following his playing career, Crist was an assistant basketball coach for two years and served as a football team’s defensive coordinator for six years. He said by this time his wife, Patti, who owns Century 21 Town and Country, had started her career. The couple was married in 1970.
“During my time playing football, we moved so many times,” he said. “We were all over the place. She was so easygoing. It was my turn to give back to her what she gave to me.
“I enjoyed the coaching but it was one of those situations where either I was going to have to move on or we would have to move out,” he said. “I just couldn’t continue that. I guess we always felt that this was our home and asking them to move one more time just wasn’t in it for me.”
Crist was also thankful for the encouragement his wife gave him while he was at Penn State.
“Without her, I never would have finished college,” he said. “She was the one who said ‘You’re not going to come here and just play basketball. You’re going to get your degree.’ I would be remiss if I didn’t thank her.”