ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Some guys just don't know when to let go.

It's been 45 years since Saint Louis University last fielded a football team. Generations have passed and the school has thrived without shoulder pads and helmets. But a group of diehards known as the Dinosaurs can't forget.

And so they get together once a year for a reunion and picnic, carrying the torch for a tradition long extinct.

``They come from all over the United States,'' said Jack Walsh, 72, a defensive back on the 1946 team. ``It's just like we saw them yesterday.''

The alumni include a couple of players who made it to the NFL, and more who enjoyed professional success. Not that any of the attendees need to flaunt their credentials.

``We have doctors, lawyers, businessmen,'' said Walsh, who headed the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission for several years. ``We've got some guys who made it very big in business, and some who haven't.

``Nobody knows when they show up. They're all just ex-football players.''

The club was formed about 10 years ago when Walsh and others went through the laborious process of matching names from team photographs to the alumni list. The club has about 250 members.

Some played on teams as far back as the 1920s and '30s. The late Percy Carroll, who played against the legendary Jim Thorpe and later became a general on Douglas MacArthur's staff, attended a few of the early reunions. Henry Knight, 90, a halfback from the early '20s, was there this year.

But for obvious reasons, most of those who attend the reunions played on teams in the late '40s.

``Membership has fallen off, as you can imagine,'' Walsh said. ``We've lost quite a few players to the inevitable.''

Still, about 90 former players showed up for this year's reunion. Even the Rev. Paul Reinert, the school's former chancellor who called the shot on giving up football, attended.

``Everyone pretty much agreed he did the right thing,'' said Joe Kniest, 74, a retired stockbroker who was equipment manager for teams in the late '40s.

``I doubt if Saint Louis will have football again. It just costs too much, and I would think it would compromise the academic standards.''

That attitude is good news to the school's administration, which has its hands full with the sports it has. The men's basketball team reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 37 years in 1993-94, and the men's soccer team is perennially nationally ranked.

Adding a football team might double the budget, new Athletic Director Doug Woolard said.

``It's just so difficult from a financial standpoint to be able to add Division I football,'' Woolard said. ``And when you're Division I in other sports, I don't think it makes much sense to anything other than Division I for football.''

There's also the issue of gender equity. The NCAA allows 86 scholarships for football, a factor that would put the school in a position of noncompliance with guidelines.

Facilities such as office space, locker rooms, weight-training facilities and a physical complex also are not available. So for the foreseeable future, football is not a factor at Saint Louis.

If there's no room for football, there's plenty of room for memories.

``When I was a kid I remember the 33-33 tie against the Rolla School of Mines (now University of Missouri-Rolla),'' said Kniest, who began as a water boy at age 13. ``Another game against the University of Detroit, the weather was so bad the referees had to wipe off helmets to see which players belonged to which team.''

Members also said Saint Louis, and not Notre Dame, should get credit for throwing the first forward pass in 1906. The Billikens were undefeated that season.

``Notre Dame used it a year later, and it was much better documented,'' said William Cribben, a Dinosaur from the '40s. ``But we actually did it first.''

``It's true,'' Kniest said. ``Knute Rockne picked it up afterwards.''

Walsh said the historic occasion was a completion from Brad Robinson to Jim Schneider.

``It's the truth,'' he said. ``Notre Dame just has the best publicity house.''

Saint Louis bowed out as a football school with a whimper, a 35-0 loss to Houston on Thanksgiving Day, 1949. With time _ a lot of time _ the sting of that defeat has gone away.

``Every year we tell a lot of lies,'' Walsh said. ``Of course, we never lost a game.''

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