Above: John Morabito relaxes on the sideline at Salesianum’s Abessinio Stadium. He was an All-State guard at Sallies in 1973. Photo by Butch Comegys.
By Bob Yearick
John Morabito’s football odyssey has come full circle.
It started around the time he was 8, when he would burst out the front door of his home at 20th and Broom, cross the street, and watch awe-struck as the powerful Salesianum squad practiced. That 1968 Sallies team, boasting studs like Kevin Reilly, Mike Webb, and nine others who would receive college scholarships, went undefeated.
Reilly, something of a local legend who starred at Villanova and became special teams captain with the Philadelphia Eagles, has vivid memories of those days and of little John Morabito.
“In the 1960s nobody gave you water at any practice, even during double sessions in the summer,” Reilly says. “But John was a huge fan of ours and he would load up his cargo shorts with ice cubes and secretly slip them into our hands.”
A few years later, Morabito would achieve his boyhood dream by growing into a 6-0, 203-pound, All-State offensive guard for Sallies, then go on to play at Ferrum (Va.) Junior College (now Ferrum College) and Shippensburg (Pa.) State College (now Shippensburg University), captaining each of those teams.
A 30-year coaching career followed, including stints as offensive line coach at Ferrum and The Glen Mills (Pa.) Schools, offensive line coach and then offensive coordinator at Sallies, and a year as defensive coordinator at St. Joseph’s High School in St. Augustine, Fla.
Three Games Per Weekend
Now the 66-year-old Morabito is back to his roots: retired, residing in Wilmington since 2013, and living the life of a super fan. In fact, over the years, his fanatical fandom may qualify for what his friend, long-time Delaware high school coach George Kosanovich, calls “some kind of record that nobody knows about.”
This past season was perhaps a little busier than usual for Morabito. “I probably went to an average of three high school or college games per weekend,” he says. Most were in Delaware, but he also traveled to Pennsylvania and Maryland for his gridiron fix. “I went to a few CYO games, too,” he adds. OK, make the total around 50 games for the season.
Then there was the post-season. Between Dec. 19 (Myrtle Beach Bowl, Marshall vs. Connecticut) and Jan. 2 (Citrus Bowl, LSU vs. Purdue), Morabito attended seven bowls — four in Florida and one each in Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia.
His taste for the post-season was whetted back in 1979, when, as a senior at Shippensburg, he, his roommate, and some of his roommate’s friends crowded into a van for a trip to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. In that classic showdown, No. 1 Penn State fell to No. 2 Alabama, 14-7, giving Bear Bryant his fifth national championship. Morabito was hooked.
He dislikes flying, so he usually drives to games in his 1988 Honda Civic, whose odometer recently hit 288,000 miles. Sometimes his girlfriend, Juli Tankersley, goes with him, but he often travels alone.
On his bowl expeditions, Morabito usually re-connects with former teammates, coaching colleagues, and players, as well as his two sons — Matthew, in Jacksonville, and Cory, in Ann Arbor, Mich. His friends frequently provide a place to stay and sometimes ticket connections, and press credentials from a brief stint as a sports talk show host in St. Augustine get him into many stadiums.
Not just a fan, Morabito continues to be an astute student of the game. Carl Bond, a former Sallies offensive lineman who went on to play in three bowl games for the Maryland Terrapins, says it’s not unusual for his old coach to call after an Eagles game and discuss offensive line play.
“He can talk all kinds of techniques,” says Bond, a retired state police officer who’s now a constable in the Colonial School District. Not surprisingly, the conversations tend to get lengthy. Laughing, Bond says, “Sometimes John forgets I have a job.”
12 New Friends
Jim Jez, an insurance consultant in Plano, Texas, calls his former Ferrum teammate “a football genius” who made up for his relative lack of size as an offensive tackle with excellent technique and footwork. The two have attended golf outings and other Ferrum alumni functions where the barrel-chested, gravel-voiced Morabito’s expansive personality is on full display.
“One night we went to a club where we didn’t know anybody,” remembers Jez. “The next thing I knew we had 12 new friends, thanks to John.”
Morabito’s passion for football isn’t limited to the game itself. In the story about the 1973 All-State team — which included a St. Mark’s defensive back named John Carney —the Wilmington Morning News noted that the Sallies guard was a “music lover, with Allman Brothers Band and Neil Young among favorites.”
That love extends to marching bands, which of course are a big part of every college football game. Morabito always tries to sit near the band, and he’s been known to tear up during the national anthem and even some fight songs.
He does enjoy other sports — he attended the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and he’s been to plenty of Phillies games — but nothing compares to football. In mid-January, he was already bemoaning “the long grind” to September and the beginning of next season.
Then again, at the same time he also was working on a connection that got him into the club level at the Eagles first playoff game, against the New York Giants. You can be sure he thoroughly analyzed the performance of Jayson Kelce, Lane Johnson, and the rest of the Birds’ offensive line.