Sunday, August 28, 2005

Red and Black alumni remember era of domination

by John O'Donnell, Times Sports Writer
First published: Sunday, August 28, 2005

A few of them still looked like they could take some snaps. Others, some with artificial hips and knees, walked gingerly around the Clayton Pavilion.

Last Sunday, those former players renewed old friendships during the Watertown Red and Black reunion for players from the 1954-1960 era, one of the most successful periods for the semipro football team.

Former players replayed games and stories and laughed at the capers of those long ago days as nearly 50 former players, their wives and guests attended.

Budgo Alteri, who recently had his second knee replacement, recalled the work involved when he and several other former high school players wanted to reorganize the semipro team after a two-year hiatus.

"Dickie Doe, Earl Cole and myself approached Johnnie Marra, who at the time owned Johnnie's Fruit Stand, to seek his sponsorship of the team," Alteri said. "There was a lot of hard work involved. We went around town to get merchants to donate for equipment. The word got out that we were reorganizing, and we had a pretty good response from guys that wanted to play."

Marra, who was well know in the area, sponsored several Kiwanis baseball teams for area youth. He was also commissioner of the Pop Warner League for over 25 years and served as the Red and Black's general manager for several years.

"Most of the players on the 1954 team were former Watertown High players and some from the old Immaculate Heart Academy (now Immaculate Heart Central)," Alteri said.

Clarence "Boots" Gaffney and Nelson Sholette were head coach and assistant, respectively, in 1954.

"We had a good team in 1954," Alteri said. "We went unbeaten. And in four seasons we lost only two games."

Alteri, who played end on both sides of the ball, would later help coach the Red and Black in the 1970s.

The 1954 team was 6-0 with wins over Syracuse, Rochester, Batavia and Utica teams. In 1955, the Red and Black went 7-0-1, with all seven games being played in Watertown. Irondequoit, Batavia, Niagara Falls, Rochester and Syracuse provided the opposition. After playing a scoreless tie with Rochester, the Red and Black played Syracuse on Nov. 13 and came away with a 6-0 win.

Cole played for seven straight seasons for the Red and Black. He was a linebacker on defense and fullback on offense.

Cole said that Marra had scheduled games against teams from Toledo, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Rochester, Batavia and many other places.

"We'd play against anyone that wanted to play us," Cole said. "We practiced two or three nights a week at Kostyk Field off Coffeen Street. We started playing games around Sept. 1 and usually finished up on Thanksgiving Day."

Wendy Tederson and John Ramus were the Red and Black starting offensive guards. Neither Tederson nor Ramus weighed over 160 pounds. They both played through the 1960 season.

"I had just gotten out of the Navy in 1954, but didn't join the team until 1955," Tederson said. "I knew most of the players from high school."

"I was coming out of the movies one night back in 1954 and Ritchie Doldo, who played for a number of years, told me to come out for practice," Ramus said.

Ramus noted that all the teams they played against had bigger players lining up against the two undersized players.

"I guess you could say our quickness was the only thing that saved us," Ramus said.

Archie Parish played in 1954, and after a year away from the team, played from 1956-60. Parish played just about every position. At 300 pounds, Parish was considered one of the top nose tackles at that level.

"I guess I was the biggest, although George Searles was right up there, too," Parish said. "I actually started practicing with the team back in the late 1940s as a young kid. Rocco Canale was the coach then. In the 1950s, we played a lot of teams such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, who were like a feeder system for the NFL teams in those cities. Some of the players were on their way down from the NFL and played with those semipro teams."

Many of the former players recalled how Dickie Doe blocked several punts every year thanks to the gaping holes opened by Parish.

"It seems like Dickie blocked nine out of every 10 kicks one season thanks to Parish knocking a few players to the ground and giving Dickie a clear shot at the punter," Alteri said.

Jack Williams was elated to see many of his former players. Williams served as an assistant coach for one season for the Red and Black. He coached track and baseball at Watertown High School for several years before having a successful high school coaching career in the Syracuse area.

"I only helped out coaching for one season," Williams said. "Many of the same guys playing for the Red and Black were forwer wrestlers and baseball players that I coached in high school. There were a few guys I didn't know, but not many."

Over the years, the Red and Black football tradition has included many second and third generation players. John Ramus's son, John, played for the Red and Black in the 1970s and 1980s.

"I didn't get a chance to see my father play," John's son said.

"But I got a chance to see my son play," the elder Ramus said.

John's son was born in 1953. The son's only recollection of seeing his father in a Red and Black uniform was one night after practice.

"I recall my dad standing near the back door of our home in his muddy uniform," John said. "We lived near what was then North Junior High School and the team sometimes practiced there."

From 1954 through the 1960 season, the Red and Black compiled a 38-7-4 record. In 1957, the Red and Black began a rivalry with the Massena Warriors. The Red and Black won both games in 1957, 13-0 and 7-0. In 1958, the Warriors prevailed 6-0. In 1959, the Red and Black swept the Warriors 9-6 and 14-7. But in 1960, Massena got revenge with a sweep of the two-game series 12-7 and 31-10.

At Sunday's reunion there was a moment of silence for several of the players from the 1954-60 era that have since died. Nearly all of the players who are still alive and living in the area attended Sunday's reunion. It was the first such reunion in several years.

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