For someone who admittedly attended “only a few games” while a student, Richie Conta (FCRH ’68) has sure made up for it since graduation. An estimated 700-plus home games later, Conta has missed exactly 13 Rams men’s basketball contests at Rose Hill Gym, Madison Square Garden, and other “home” venues since 1970-71.
It’s that dedication to Fordham hoops through all those years, which continues today, that helped earn Conta the 2020 Posse Award, to be presented by the Michael J. Armstrong Foundation at Saturday’s Rebounders Reception at 12:30 p.m., prior to the Rams’ tip off vs. Richmond at 2 p.m. The Foundation honors the loss of the class of ’90 and fervent Rams supporter who passed away on 9/11/01, as well as his memory and the qualities and zest for life that made Mike the unique individual that many loved.
It was that Digger Phelps-led squad that went 26-3 and won two NCAA Eastern Regional games that got Conta hooked, and the fun of the games that brought him back again and again.
“I was in Madison Square Garden for those magic games, Notre Dame and Marquette,” said Conta. “It was so much fun, I just kept going and going and going, it became an obsession.”
This kind of dedication has led to a few concessions based on the team schedule, not just for Conta but his family.
“My eldest daughter decided to get married in November,” Conta explained, “but I said, ‘You can’t get married in November, because it’s probably on a Saturday, there might be a game.’ So she rescheduled for August. That was the year that Sandy hit in late October. The place she would have gone in November [on Long Island] was totally wiped out, and nobody could have gone to it. And it was one of the greatest weddings in August! Thank God for the Fordham Basketball team!”
That pride and commitment to the program made Conta a natural selection for the Posse award, according to Mike’s sisters Laura and Marian.
“Marian and I have noticed Richie for as long as we have been going to games, which started during the 2002-2003 season,” said Laura. “His presence is a constant. We sit just a row apart and have always admired how passionately he cheers on his beloved Rams, while also keeping a scorebook of each game’s stats. Surprisingly, the first time either of us actually spoke to Richie was when Marian approached him to ask that he be this year’s Posse Award recipient. As we have gotten to know Richie throughout the season, one of the facts that I find most fascinating is that he has missed only 13 games since he started attending games in 1971. Remarkable!”
Marian concurs. “To touch on what Laura said, even though we had never talked to Richie, we felt like we knew him from observation, which I know must sound so peculiar,” she added. “He was so outspoken and passionate from his seat and at the same time so detail oriented. We didn’t realize he was such a humble guy until we started talking to him.”
Conta feels a special honor in being selected for the Posse Award in its connection to 9/11.
“It was a tremendously traumatic event for the country. It really hit me hard,” he remembered. “My brother was supposed to be in the World Trade Center, but he got called to Baltimore. He lived on 16th St., and he got lung cancer. It was probably from that. Those people who died were our fellow Americans, so it means a lot to me.”
Conta doesn’t just watch the games from his familiar spot; for 49 years he has kept those meticulous scorebooks detailing the scoring and other plays. It’s a treasure trove of Fordham hoops history, witnessed by someone who has seen it all—the good times and the bad—over seven decades from the 1960s through now to the 2020s.
“I was a physics/math major, so numbers are my thing,” noted the New York native who has lived in Bloomfield, N.J., where his business was located, for more than 20 years. “I wanted to keep track of everything.”
Along the way, he’s had dozens of favorite games and players, but one sticks out in particular, and it’s one that probably only the most fervent of Rams fans would remember clearly.
“Nobody remembers John O’Neill [class of ’77], and he was my favorite of all time,” said Conta. “He would be a tremendous three-point shooter now. He was about 6-5, and I remember one St. John’s game, we lost, but he scored around 35 points and had like 15 rebounds and [St. John’s Coach] Lou Carnesecca said, ‘Who is this guy?’ He was a great player.”
With amazing recall, Conta counts two of his other favorite games, played more than two decades apart.
“Bevon Robin beating St. John’s at the Garden [12/9/2000], and there was a great game in the early ’70s, this guy Wendell Holland, he was a bench player, and we were playing Providence [Dec. 1971], we were down like 20 points, [Fordham Coach Hal] Wissel sends in Holland. Ernie DeGregorio was the guard, and Holland put on a one-man show, stealing the ball, and we won that game [77-72]. It was the great upset of the year.”
Conta has been there for it all, and epitomizes the Posse Award, whose winners range from Class of ’65 student-athlete Mike Fitzgerald last year to a pair of all-time Fordham supporters Joe Kraemer and Bill Smith Sr., both of whom recently passed away.
“Having our recipient be someone as humble as Richie is a real comfort to us this year,” noted Marian Armstrong, “given we are all so saddened by the passing of former recipient Bill Smith, Sr., in October and the recent death of our first recipient, Joe Kraemer, as well as the passing of Ray Baker, Sr., the father of our recipient Ray Baker. Both men passed on January 12th. These three great men were individuals my brother looked up to, and they were dear friends to us and to Fordham basketball. They will remain in our hearts and continue to be an enormous inspiration to us going forward.”