On Their Sleeves: Part Five
1967 was the first year the Sharon Red Devils played football at the Ames Street Playground and were part of the South Shore Pop Warner League. The two years prior (’65&’66) were a bit make-shift, and the then neighborhood team played at Little’s Field- “Where it all began”.
Little’s Field was on North Main Street less than a mile before Cobb’s Corner and abutted the backyard of Mr. C’s single story ranch home on Winslow Road. The field was actually a cow pasture owned by Little’s Farm and with Mrs. Little’s permission it became a football field, cow dung and all. The ground was baron in spots, rocky, and not nearly flat; there were mounds everywhere. During the football season the cows were led off the playing field for practices and games and kept behind wire fencing at the far end zone where their snorts and moo sounds could still be heard.
Mr. C built a single wooden goalpost in his backyard from some scrap lumber and carried it over and installed it in the end zone nearest the street, facing away from the ever curious cows, which according to Mr. C, would have been a big distraction to the young kickers.
One of the original players, middle linebacker Bobby Marvelli (Teddy’s older brother) remembers “We didn’t have uniforms that first year. We wore our own helmets, shoulder pads, and dungaree pants. Most of us played in sneakers and some even wore loafers. When Jack got us matching football jerseys we were ecstatic, but when visiting teams stepped out of their buses and saw the conditions they made fun of us and our field. That first year most of the scrimmages ended with us getting beaten badly.”
The ’65-‘66 teams had some tremendous athletes on their rosters. In addition to Bobby and Teddy Marvelli there was Kevin MacKinnon, Ronny White, Eddie D’Angelo, Joey Powers, Eddie and Johnny Rockett, Carl McDougall, Larry Russell, Rich Weinberg, Earl Pitt, Dougie Ferguson, Chris Canton, Bobby Brownell, Jackie and Michael Cosgrove, Wayne Delaney, Joey and Tommy Kourafas, Joe McMahon, Joey Cochrane, Steve Cullen, Wally Gorman, Kip Adams, Terry Cronin, and Mick Thibideau. Most of the players lived in close proximity to Little’s Field and weekday afternoons you could see small groups of players, helmets and shoulder pads on, wearing grass-stained dungarees, peddling their 20-inch single speed banana-bikes to practice. Once there they would slide themselves back on their banana seats and pull hard on their ape hanger style handlebars, riding wheelies around the field until practice began. It was all “Norman Rockwell” kind of stuff and these kids were living it--
Mr. C made frequent stops at Little’s Field in the 18 wheeler he drove for the Whiting Milk Company. According to Jackie “Usually the old man was stopping by to drop off the "damaged" cartons, one's that he couldn't stock in stores but we kids could drink. I think he deliberately damaged the chocolate…” But one day in particular the milkman delivered for the kids big-time. Jackie remembers “The day I'll never forget...The Whiting's Milk Co. Truck, an 18 wheeler coming down the dirt road, kicking up dust as we watched and waited. He opens up the truck and it’s full of football equipment from Hyde Park Sporting Goods.” Inside there were helmets, pants, and other assorted gear necessary to field a legitimate football team.
In 1966 they opened the season away, in full uniform against Belmont, an established program with 10 years of Pop Warner experience. In a shocker, Sharon won 30-6 surprising the Belmont team and their fans. They won four games that year, but hung in there with quite a few teams, proving they deserved to be considered for a spot in the South Shore League.
In ’67 they got that chance. The expectations were high that year and Mr. C’s commitment to the program was obvious. First the move to Ames Street, then the installation of steel goal posts, followed by new uniforms and the name “Red Devils”.
According to Mr. C there were those who didn’t like the name initially and actually warned of the logos satanic implications. Its origin was actually innocent enough. While watching a practice Earl Pitt Sr. made a comment about the kids being “little devils”, a reference to them being “mischievous”. Mr. C liked it and since he already owned red jerseys, the team would be called the Red Devils.
In the ’67 opener at Dedham, the Red Devils had a 12-7 lead late in the game. Jackie Cosgrove recalls “We opened in '67 against the Dedham Dynamos, a powerhouse program, and lost late in the game 14-12 because some knucklehead safety bit up on a halfback pass and got scorched. That knucklehead was me! I remember Johnny Rockett going for a very long touchdown run in that game. We led late in the game and then the Head Coach's son let the team down. I was crushed!”
The team was disappointed, but not crushed. No one held Jackie responsible for the loss. The loss was good for the team; it brought us closer and made us all realize that we were up against some pretty good competition and that we had to be on our game for four quarters to win. After the game we all “huddled up” and listened while Mr. C pointed out all the positive things we had done in that loss and then without pause, he began discussing the next game and the preparation needed to win it.
In the end, 1967 was a very good year for the Sharon Red Devils who finished 7-3 in the South Shore League and 9-3 overall. That season Johnny Rockett proved difficult to tackle and was a threat to score anytime he carried the ball. Teddy Marvelli established himself as a great middle linebacker and a team leader who didn’t mind going helmet-to-helmet with anybody who wasn’t doing their job. As expected, Larry Russell sent members of the opposing teams hobbling to the sidelines. Dougie Ferguson caught a bunch of Jackie’s passes for first downs, Kevin Delaney ran past the coverage and caught the bombs, and Earl Pitt Jr. played a solid fullback. But most of all, Jackie Cosgrove showed the kind of poise usually found in much older quarterbacks. We all knew then that he was a very special talent…
The ’67 Red Devils needed a little more experience to beat top-tier teams like Dedham and Wellesley and challenge for the South Shore championship. Because it was the only football game in town (there was no high school football in Sharon back then) and blue laws in effect at the time prevented stores from opening on Sundays, an unusual amount of people came out to watch us play Pop Warner football at the Ames Street Playground.
As more people heard about what Mr. C was doing, more and more kids wanted to play football in the town of Sharon, Massachusetts.