When Hank Gola was growing up in Garfield, there was no greater legend than Benny Babula.
Babula owned a meat-distribution business in the Bergen County city. “We kids would go over to the place and marvel at how he would throw a big side of beef over his shoulders,” says Gola, a former sportswriter for the New York Post and New York Daily News.
But Babula’s legend was based on more than beef. In his high school days, Babula was the best football player in Garfield history. On one incredible Christmas day in 1939, he led Garfield High School to a 16-13 victory over Miami High at the Orange Bowl, in what was acknowledged as a national-championship game. Babula, at tailback, ran 25 times for 103 yards and a touchdown, completed 6 of 10 passes, and kicked the winning field goal.
What started as a feature for the Daily News became Gola’s passion, and ultimately a book, City of Champions (Tatra Press, 2018), which exhaustively details Babula’s heroics and Garfield’s memorable season.
“It was a tale sent down from father to son,” says Gola, who lives in Parsippany/Troy Hills.
Gola’s book captures the struggles of Depression-era Garfield, a blue-collar hive of Italian and Polish immigrants and their families, and tracks the wartime and postwar lives of their 1939 football heroes.
“I just wanted to leave a gift to my town,” says the author.