On Their Sleeves: Part Two
I was just 10 years old when some of the women in the neighborhood complained to my mother that I was rough housing a bit too much and hurting their children. On direct orders from our family doctor Vincent P. Ryan, I was ordered to sign up to play football, an outlet for my aggressive behavior. On the day of sign-ups, I arrived at the Ames Street Playground wearing white clam-diggers with two black stripes down the side (because they looked like football pants to me at the time), and a white, loose-fitting, short-sleeved cotton football shirt with black numbers front and back.
After watching the action from the sidelines at the first practice I immediately knew I wanted to be part of this football team. I had just turned eleven, but my father encouraged me to lie about my age and play with the older kids who were twelve and thirteen. My size easily allowed me entry into the older group. I was given a game jersey with the number sixty-six, becoming a second-string lineman on the A team. Playing against older boys taught me how to take big hits and eventually how to return them. Mr. C loved big hits and always became animated when someone laid one on.
Mr. C’s hard exterior enabled him to take control of any group of boys, and that was immediately evident on the practice field. His softer interior was kept under cover at all times, but eventually we all discovered it. It’s what made us play above ourselves and continue to love and respect the man throughout our entire lives.
In 1967 the team featured an interesting cast of characters, many of whom were playing organized football for the first time. Teddy Marvelli (#63) was the middle linebacker and captain of the defense. He was small for his position, but played with the passion, toughness, and emotion that Mr. C expected from all of us. He gave everything he had on the field and his intensity influenced the way I would later play the position myself. At the end of practice when Teddy would unfasten his chinstrap and remove his helmet, a boy with smooth dark skin, curly brown hair, and a slight overbite would reveal himself. At thirteen he already displayed the confident demeanor of a leader.
Then there was lineman Larry Russell (#60), by far the toughest kid on the team, a big kid and a big hitter. His “whiffle” haircut, chipped front tooth, and dangerous eyes were right at home inside a football helmet. Mr.C loved how Larry’s violent nature translated on the football field. I was always matched up against him during practice and I took some vicious hits as a result. We all learned quickly to stay out of Larry’s way, on and off the field…
Our halfback was small but lightning fast and incredibly strong. I immediately recognized Johnny Rockett (#9) from the Sacred Heart docks at nearby Lake Massapoag where only the tough guys hung out. Because I had an older sister, I knew about the docks and made every effort to sneak away from my mother and the safety of the public beach to watch the daily rumbles. The lone, floating wooden dock was owned by the nearby Sacred Heart School and became a place where anybody bold enough challenged the toughest for standing room out in deeper waters where the whistles of lotion rubbed lifeguards with their cream-covered noses had no jurisdiction. The action at this anything goes free-for-all was always rough and loud enough to draw the attention of passersby. Amid a chorus of laughter and screams, young healthy bodies one after another, got tossed from the dock, landing violently, turning the calm water surrounding the dock into a furious section of turbulent white water. The rumble ended only after fatigue sent most of the cut-off clad combatants swimming for the safety of the jagged, grassy shoreline less than fifty yards from the soft sand of the public beach. When the action finally stopped and the water was still, only Johnny and a few others had earned the right to stay and enjoy a brief, but peaceful post battle reprieve aboard the quieted dock. With jet-black wavy hair, ripped abdominals, and dark boyish eyes that effectively hid the devil in him, Johnny definitely possessed all the star qualities worthy of his name. He smoked cigarettes, and that just added to his tough guy rebel persona.
Dougie Ferguson (#48) was one of our tight ends. By thirteen he had already established himself as a hockey star and pre-adolescent lady-killer. His medium length, straight, light-brown hair covered most of his forehead and along with a lightly freckled face, big white rough-cut front teeth, and contagious smile, he was a great addition to this team’s chemistry. His kid sister Lauren was one of the original cheerleaders and her good looks got a fair amount of attention too…
Kevin Delaney (#46) moved to Sharon in ’67 from New York, bringing with him his accent and football experience. He was as fast as Johnny and became our split end and deep threat. He had great hands and rarely dropped a pass. He was more than capable of outrunning any defensive coverage.
Earl Pitt Jr. was our fullback. He was blonde-haired, tanned, well-spoken, and had a reassuring smile. His father was one of the presidents of the Foxboro Company. The Pitt's lived in an older neighborhood located near the center of town in a large three-story home that was made of stone, had an elevator and tall, decorative wrought iron fencing protecting its perimeter. Earl wasn’t the fastest or the strongest on the team, but he worked hard and dug his cleats in and played with focused intensity and became a team leader. His kid sister Sue, although pretty young at the time, was an original cheerleader and as she got older she would turn some helmets…
Wayne Delaney (#56) was the first one out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage. Nicknamed “Dink”, Wayne was our center and team prankster. He was the tallest on our team and was always getting in trouble with Mr. C, nothing a couple of extra laps around the beat-up cinder track at the Ames Street Playground couldn’t fix. His spirited personality was a welcomed distraction to what was otherwise, a well-disciplined offensive line.
Chris Canton (#55) was rock-solid both on offense and defense. He worked as hard as anyone and at times even harder, and he was a great role model to the younger players.
Charlie Banks was a flanker, defensive back, and a character. He was thin, lanky and very quick; he appeared to be gliding when he ran. He didn’t get many carries and was prone to east-west running when he did, but played solid on defense. He displayed a great deal of off-field confidence, especially in front of younger players. He once sat at a picnic table at the Ames Street Playground and challenged all takers to an arm-wrestling contest. I was shocked when no one could beat him. As I watched I noticed “Chuckie”, wrestling with his right arm, was pressing his left palm up against the bottom of the table for counter leverage. I stepped in and to his surprise, exposed his carefully contrived strategy. He smiled, laughed a bit and immediately got up from the table, acknowledging his fun had ended.
Mr. C’s oldest of five, Jackie (#7), was our quarterback. He was tall like his mother, resembling her in looks and facial expressions. He was a friendly kid with a fiercely competitive nature. Being successful and eventually winning was the driving force behind all his actions. He was a born leader and had no problem taking control of a huddle full of rowdy boys who for the most part, were a year older than him. Starting at quarterback was no act of nepotism; Jackie was a definite big-time player and would go on to prove it throughout his illustrious football career…
1967 Sharon Red Devils
Charlie Banks, Stu Bayuk, Bobby Brownell, Chris Canton, J.D. Condon, Jackie Cosgrove, Kevin Delaney, Wayne Delaney, Dougie Ferguson, Alan Fine, Steve Graham, Roy Horan, Peter Jacobs, Art Levine, Teddy Marvelli, Earl Pitt, Johnny Rockett, Larry Russell, Eddie Schnurr, Chris Uggerholtz, Steve Waldstein,