New book catalogues Villanovans in professional sports

Hannah Misner

Did you know that a Villanovan shot the NBA’s first 3-pointer? Or that there were two Villanovans in the infamous Black Sox game?

These are only a tiny sample of the plethora of intriguing facts behind the cover of “The Wildcats: A History of Villanovans in Professional Sports” by Michael P. Connolly, ’72. The author passed away on Sept. 10, 2001, and his wife, Nancy E. Brown-Connolly, ’73, completed and published the book on his behalf.

“[Michael] felt that the University was losing its own history and that we needed to know who we are as an institution and what values we represent so that they won’t be lost but valued and preserved,” Connolly said. “This was his way of preserving the value of his Villanova years and highlighting the history and value that comes with a Catholic education.”

Connolly emphasized the dedication of her husband to this task. “[He] had to spend an enormous amount of time and effort to research and interview all of the athletes represented,” she said. “This was no easy task – he went to every sports hall of fame in this country, interviewed surviving family members and even one woman in a nursing home who was so pleased that someone would remember her late husband.” She said that her husband dedicated over 25 years of his life to this book.

The 400-page coffee table book contains over 600 pictures and 175 biographies of individual athletes who have gone on to play at the professional level throughout Villanova’s history. Contrary to the present-day fixation on the men’s basketball team, Connolly’s book encompasses a wide range of Villanova sports, making it a true embodiment of the ‘Nova Nation.

“I think after reading the book you will see that all sports, and some you hadn’t thought about, deserve to be recognized and lauded,” Connolly said. “Michael wanted to make sure the book was balanced and recognized the contributions of all sports at Villanova. I think he succeeded.”

However, the book is not just about sports; it also highlights the history of the University’s community.

“[The book] catalogues a history that is rich and diverse; a history that most people are unaware of,” Connolly said. “It is a history that shows connections between people and institutions and exemplifies a set of values that is important.”

While reading the biographies and captions, it becomes evident that a chronicle of Villanovan sports reveals interesting facts about the University’s history as a whole because the stories mirror the state of the University at that time. For instance, our first sport, baseball, used to be played on what is now known as Mendel field.

Student-athletes recall the construction of buildings and the most prominent issues on campus during their time at Villanova. For example, athletic programs have endured hardships throughout the years, such as when the football program was suspended for a short time in the 1980s.

The University has also been forced to close down twice, once to serve as a hospital during the Civil War and once for safety precautions during the Catholic riots in Philadelphia. The book even describes the people behind the names of the Jake Nevin Field House and Goodreau Stadium, commonly called Villanova Stadium.

“The Wildcats” illustrates how many former Villanovan athletes have dedicated their lives to helping others and giving back to the community, which Connolly said is “a legacy by example that we should value and know about.”

The crucial aspect that separates Villanovan athletes from other college athletes is the University’s emphasis on service and community. An enthusiastic Connolly believes that “those are embedded values and a part of our Catholic values and education, and that is at the root of [athletic success].”

“Villanova attracts students who want to work hard and perform well but also have a value system,” she said. “Athletics allows students to learn lessons about competition and try to excel past what they thought they could do; it also gives balance and it is healthy.”

Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Michael P. Connolly Legacy Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit organization formed to provide scholarships to Villanova students who, due to the death of a parent, are financially unable to continue their education. The University does not currently have such a program, and the death of a parent usually affects one or two students every year.

“Contrary to popular belief, not every family who goes to Villanova is well-healed and even some of those in the middle are struggling, and everyone is not always well insured,” Connolly said. “Students at Villanova have worked hard to get there and stay there, and I think we should have a fund that supports them during this time of loss.”

She would like to encourage past and present members of the Villanova community to help make this foundation a reality. “I am donating the proceeds of the book as my contribution, but we need to sell 10,000 [copies] to make this a reality,” she said. “That is the Villanova community’s contribution.”

“The Wildcats” is an ideal holiday gift for any history or sports buff and, of course, any Villanovan.

There are copies available to borrow from the Falvey Memorial Library and for sale at the University Book Store or mail orders can be placed through or Each copy is $78 plus $8 for shipping and handling.