The Hawk Will Never Die


In 1953, Jack Savage went up against Wilt Chamberlain-

In 1953, Jack Savage went up against Wilt Chamberlain-and outplayed him. Wikimedia
In 1953, Jack Savage went up against Wilt Chamberlain-and outplayed him. Wikimedia

By Pat Costello

The 1953 Philadelphia City Championship game will go down as one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports. The high powered Overbrook High was favored over the lesser West Catholic High School.

Overbrook had a seven-foot sophomore center by the name Wilt Chamberlain, who had set the city ablaze with his high scoring games and impenetrable defense. West Catholic, a school with only 2,500 students at the time, had 400 kids try out for the basketball team. One of the men they kept was named Jack Savage. Savage told the story of his upset over The Stilt in 1953 many times.

Leading up to the game, West Catholic did everything it could to prepare for the young phenom, Chamberlain, including having a priest stand on a table near the basket and wave a broom in the air to simulate the Overbrook center. The two teams finally met in the historic Palestra in Philadelphia, home to some of the best high school and college basketball games in history.

The game was fierce, but Savage’s underdog squad overcame the odds and beat Overbrook 54-42.
After high school, Savage continued his education at St. Joseph’s University, staying in Philadelphia. He decided to walk onto the basketball team, which was coached by the legendary Dr. Jack Ramsay.

During his freshman season, Savage was not allowed to play, but when he was a sophomore he was a full-time member of the team. On one occasion, in a game against Muhlenberg, Savage finally got some playing time. Savage was on the bench for most of the game, but was always ready for his name to be called. During the course of the action, the point guard from St. Joe’s, Dan Dougherty, went down hard after getting fouled while going up for a shot. Ramsay pointed his finger to Savage, knowing that he was a great free throw shooter.

Savage stepped up to the line and made both shots, and was promptly subbed back out in favor of Dougherty. His name appeared in the box score for his deuce even though he hadn’t registered any official playing time. In the locker room after the game, Savage was praised by his teammates due to the fact that the Hawks won by only two points, Ramsay walked up to him and matter-of-factly said, “Hey, you did your job.”

By the time Savage was a senior, he was so well-liked that he was voted team captain. That same season, St. Joe’s qualified for the National Invitational Tournament. The NIT was a big deal in the late ’50s and was considered by many to be a better tournament than the NCAA Tournament, mostly due to the fact that they could get more media coverage at Madison Square Garden than almost anywhere else in the country.

The Hawks won their first round game over Saint Peter’s, but lost by four in the quarterfinals to St. Bonaventure, effectively ending Savage’s basketball career.

Savage passed away this past weekend at the age of 78. To many, he was more than a basketball player. He was a loving husband and father, a caring friend and, to me, an amazing grandfather. In the end he succumbed to Alzheimer’s, but he never forgot one moment of his basketball career. His life was full of wonderful stories that will be remembered forever, proving true the adage that the Hawk will never die.