University of San Francisco football star Joseph “Scooter” Scudero. (Courtesy / USF Dons Athletics)

Joseph “Scooter” Scudero, Dons football star, passes away

Member of 1951 undefeated San Francisco football team succumbs to cancer at 89

University of San Francisco football legend Joseph “Scooter” Scudero — a member of the Dons’ 1951 team — passed away on Sept. 11 after a battle with cancer, the university has announced.

Born July 2, 1930 in the City, Scudero was an all-city selection from Mission High School, a member of the Dons’ undefeated 1949 frosh team and lettered for San Francisco in 1950 and 1951.

A promising speedster when he arrived on the Hilltop, Scudero scored nine touchdowns in his first year on the varsity team, one of the greatest first-year varsity performances in Dons history. At just 5-foot-1, Scudero was one of the shortest men on the team, and one of the best receivers.

In his first year he gained 361 yards on 89 carries and caught five passes for 142 yards, two of them for touchdowns. He led the squad in punt and kickoff returns. As a sophomore against St. Mary’s, he scored twice, and later, he brought a 62-yard punt return to the house for a touchdown against Loyola Marymount.

Before his junior season, Dink Templeton wrote in the Call Bulletin: “Frankly, I got more thrill out of the slashing running of little sophomore Joe Scudero than any other back all season.” Highlights of his junior year included snaring five passes against San Jose State and a touchdown on a 50-yard punt return in the win over Idaho.

Fast, quick thinking and a scrappy competitor, Scudero had the misfortune of playing in the shadow of star Ollie Matson. In a post-season Call Bulletin article, coach Joe Kuharich said, “Scudero, at a great personal sacrifice, let Matson do most of the ball carrying. Joe is a great runner himself and… willingly and unselfishly gave way to Ollie.”

Following a 9-0 season in 1951, the Dons were invited to play in the 1952 Orange Bowl, on the condition that the team’s African-American stars Matson and Burl Toler would not play. The Dons refused, and two days after the final game of the season, the program was discontinued.

After the program was canceled, Scudero enrolled at the University of South Carolina, but forced to stay out of football due to eligibility rules, he decided to withdraw and return to USF where he earned his BA degree. In 1953, he joined the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League where he earned all-league honors. He spent the next season with the Washington Redskins, and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1955, starting a six-year NFL career in which he gained 1,738 yards on returns.

A veteran of the USF College Players, Scudero made several appearances on television and stage, notably on Gunsmoke and Dragnet.

Scudero is survived by his daughter Darcy, his sister Dolores and 14 of his teammates from the 1951 team.

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