On Their Sleeves: Part Three
The Ames Street Playground football field where the Sharon Red Devils practiced and played their home games beginning in 1967, was heavily worn; parts of it were used primarily as outfields for the four little league baseball fields whose diamonds were at each corner. Large portions of two infields were blended into the gridiron, but we didn’t care about the field conditions; when it rained we happily played in the mud. We played football for Jack Cosgrove and we were proud to say we did. The field conditions didn’t matter.
Before the regular season got underway, Mr. C and several volunteers, including George Russell, Cliff Adams, Earl Pitt Sr., Erwin Levine, line coach Tim Rogers, special assistant Johnny Googin, and Lou Kafka cemented in white goalposts made from threaded galvanized pipe, a requirement for participation in the South Shore Pop Warner League. Googin and Rogers did not have sons or relatives on the team. They volunteered to coach because they loved the game and wanted to teach it to young players. Their commitment to our team was obvious and they both became important members of Mr. C’s coaching staff.
I looked forward to each and every practice, hustling and making big hits, trying to get Mr. C to notice me. Everyone was vying for Mr. C’s attention; it made us a better football team. When Mr. C took you aside to talk one-on-one, you would return to your position energized and believing in yourself more than you had before. He had a way of lifting any limitations and emotional barriers you placed on yourself, and inspiring you to play with the confidence to achieve more than you ever thought possible. No one benefited more from this than me…
Wearing a waist length, blue and white herring bone, zipper front work jacket common to drivers in the milk industry back then, black Knapp work shoes, and with a freshly lit cigarette tucked comfortably between his lips, Mr. C could consistently punt fifty yard spirals. He kicked field goals off a tee or drop kick style, either way, sometimes twenty in a row from forty yards out. It was always quite an exhibition.
With Mr. C’s help, lineman/linebacker Alan Fine (#54) became our placekicker and he was able to consistently kick extra points. Alan had jet-black hair, thick eyebrows above narrow eyes, he was quiet, ruggedly built, and very coachable. Playing football for Mr. C was definitely something he enjoyed; he went full-tilt all the time.
Our backup tight end/defensive end, Bobby Brownell, handled the punting. Bobby was tall with blonde hair, always smiling, and very likable. Friendly looks aside, Bobby knew his way around the Sacred Heart Docks and used that experience to bolster his game. Like Larry Russell and Chris Canton, Bobby wore black high-tops, and that just made him look even taller.
J.D. Condon shared time with Charlie Banks at flanker and defensive back. “Jimmy” had severe asthma and always had a breathing apparatus on hand. It was not just an inhaler either. It was a compressor that required electricity to work and his parents always scrambled at away-games to find a power source. Jimmy used it regularly during practices and games, and we all respected him for “hanging tough” and for his willingness to play and be an important member of this team. As tough as some of the kids were, Jimmy did more to set the “toughness bar” than anyone else. He was fast, a good football player, and an athlete; the asthma didn’t get in the way of that.
I’m sure Mr. C had his favorites, but you would never know it watching him coach. Each player was special to him and if you came to practice and gave your all, you played in the game. There were no “mandatory rules of play” back then that forced coaches to use their entire roster, but Mr. C wanted everyone in uniform to be a part of the team, and so all the second-stringers got in. And when we did, we all played with great intensity; we did not want to let Mr. C down.