The brightest star in the Bald Eagle Area football galaxy winked out Wednesday, extinguished by cancer.
It’s been 53 years since Mike Condo scored his last touchdown for the Eagles, but he remains the gold standard against which all running backs at BEA have been measured. He died on his 70th birthday.
It was the fall of 1960, and the BEA varsity football team was waiting to get on the field for a Thursday night walk-through. We had to wait for the junior high game to be completed so we gathered and watched the eighth- and ninth-graders finish their game. And what we got was a glimpse of future stardom as Condo, then a freshman, made a one-handed catch in the end zone.
We had heard about this blond, freckle-faced kid with a raspy voice and tremendous potential but had never actually seen him in action. We were impressed.
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He came along at the right time in the school’s history. Some credit him, and his unbeaten 1963 team, with finally melding the school together after eight years under roof at Wingate. Until then, the kids at BEA looked at themselves as students from the Mountaintop, Howard, Port Matilda, Milesburg and Unionville and the result was a student body with no unified identity. The 1963 team ended the identity issues when it went 8-0-1.
“That team put Bald Eagle on the map as Bald Eagle Area,” said Ron Signorino, who coached the Eagles in 1962 and 1963.
After finishing 7-1-1 in 1962 with a team top-heavy with Condo’s junior class, the 1963 team was saddled with high expectations. It got off to a fast start, which included wins over State College and Lock Haven. Then came back-to-back games that defined the season.
The first was a meeting with Chief Logan (now part of the Mifflin County jointure) at Wingate. Both teams were 5-0. Chief Logan was led by Dave Bradley, a big end who caught six passes for 113 yards against an undersized BEA secondary. Bradley went on to start at offensive tackle on the unbeaten 1968 Penn State team. For BEA, Condo carried the ball 19 times for 102 yards and a three-yard touchdown and caught four passes for 107 yards, one of which was a 68-yard scoring pass. The game ended in a 26-26 tie with Chief Logan on the BEA one-foot line when time ran out. An estimated 5,000 fans ringed the field for the game for what is still regarded as one of the greatest high school games ever played on Centre County turf.
The following week it was BEA and Bellefonte at Bellefonte, and again, more than 5,000 fans were in attendance. It was estimated that 2,000 cars were parked in the area surrounding what is now Rogers Stadium. In keeping with the rivalry at that time, Bellefonte students hung Condo in effigy in the week leading up to the game.
And it was in this game that Condo gained legendary status. With the score knotted at 0-0 with 6:20 left in the game, Condo broke free on a sweep around left end and went 76 yards for a touchdown. The rumor, which neither would confirm, was that as Condo went past the Bellefonte bench he winked at Raider coach Bill Luther. Gary Weaver kicked the PAT to give BEA a 7-0 win.
At the end of that undefeated season, Condo was named first-team all-state and became BEA’s first Big 33 selection. He went on to start in the secondary for three years at Minnesota, playing against stars like Leroy Keyes and Bob Griese. Despite the fact that he was playing his high school ball 15 miles from campus, Penn State never showed any interest in him.
“Being a Penn State graduate, one of my big disappointments was that Penn State never offered him a scholarship,’’ Signorino said. “They had to know about him, being right here under their nose. But he never complained. He didn’t say anything. He just went to Minnesota and started three years there.”
Adding to his superstar status was the fact that he was dating Patricia Hoover, who was generally considered the prettiest girl in school. They were voted homecoming king and queen and later married.
Yet despite his accolades, his talents and his social status, there was no jealousy toward Condo from his teammates.
“He was just so likeable,” said Signorino, who left BEA after the end of the 1963-64 school year to become the head coach at Toms River, N.J. “His teammates loved him. He was always smiling, always laughing. I can still see that smile on his face. And he was very coachable, very humble.”
Gary Dyke, who played alongside Condo in the secondary at BEA, echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“Mike was a leader but he was quiet,” Dyke said. “He let his actions speak for him. He really was the heart and soul of our team. He never complained about anything or anybody. He was a teammate and not just to the guys who played but to everyone. From the word go, he was a class act. I can’t think of anyone in that school who didn’t like him. Everyone looked up to him.”
Condo had several bouts with cancer in recent years, but was always able to fend it off.
“I talked to him a couple of times lately and the first time he sounded very weak but then the next time we had a nice chat for about half an hour. He said he had battled cancer four other times and he was going to beat it this time,” Signorino said.
Condo began his varsity career by returning a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown in the 1961 season-opening game against Bald Eagle-Nittany, which is now part of the Central Mountain jointure.
That was the first time he got to show off his tremendous speed, which he later used to win the 100-yard dash title in the District 6 meet during his senior year. That was at a time when BEA had no track team. He went on to place sixth in the PIAA meet.
Condo finished his career at BEA with 42 touchdowns, a number that could have been greater except BEA won so many lopsided games that he seldom played in the second half. He scored four touchdowns on punt returns, which gives him a share of the Centre County record in that category. He gained 2,307 yards rushing and has the school record for the longest touchdown run (88 yards) and also holds the school record for most 100-yard games with 10. He rushed for 182 yards against Chief Logan in 1962, his best single-game effort.
Perhaps a postgame comment from an opposing coach serves best as Condo’s epitaph.
After BEA beat State College 21-6 in 1963, a game in which Condo scored on a 36-yard run and a 65-yard punt return, Little Lion coach Bill Leonard summed up the game this way: “Too much Condo.”