Town Crier

This column originally appeared in the December 4th, 2013 edition of the Town Crier.

The photographs are etched in the memory banks of every player to this day. Eighteen photographs and a game story, the entire Town Crier sports section of December 11, 1985 devoted to the Tewksbury High School Division II football champions. The winter sports previews would be delayed for a week. The headline read — ‘Tewksbury completes dream season.’ Coach Bob Aylward’s Redmen pounded Bridgewater-Raynham, 24-13 on that cold, sunny day at what then was known as Sullivan Stadium. Tewksbury finished that season undefeated at 11-0, until this year and at the moment the only other undefeated team in TMHS’ football history.

Two of Aylward’s sons, linebacker/fullback Brian and quarterback Rob, helped to lead that team to a title. Both boys are men now, with Brian the head coach and Rob an assistant with another undefeated team playing for a different title this Saturday at a different stadium named Gillette. Sullivan Stadium is long gone, but the memories of that 1985 team remain.

Bob Aylward’s grandson Johnny is the Tewksbury quarterback these days, and like that 1985 team, this third generation Aylward has plenty of support.

The 2013 Redmen have won more games that any football team in the school’s history — and it’s no big secret that any great team eventually forms the bond of a family that lasts long after the championship run is completed.

The family that was the 1985 Tewksbury Redmen will go down in school history as one of the best. Saturday, the Sons (and grandsons) of the 1985 Redmen will get their well-deserved shot at some TMHS’ reunion bragging rights

With a victory Saturday night, the players on this year’s team can always legitimately tell the 1985 Redmen that “we were the best”. And if I know anything about Tewksbury guys, the 1985 team will come right back at the youngsters with “you know son, we were pretty good ourselves back on that day in 1985 when we pounded Bridgewater-Raynham to finish 11-0.”

Bridgewater-Raynham was 9-0 coming into that final game, and Tewksbury clung to an 18-13 lead with 1:37 left to play despite outplaying Bridgewater-Raynham for most of the contest. The TMHS’ defense had surrendered just 61 points that season, and on that day, the Redmen managed to stop the vaunted Bridgewater-Raynham wishbone attack.

Rob Aylward completed two touchdown passes to his favorite receiver Shawn Blades, a three-year starter at tight-end. Rob Aylward, who scored a TD on a quarterback-keeper, began the game with five straight incomplete passes, and finished the first half completing just 3-of-9 passes for 32 yards.

But like any great team, these Redmen made the halftime adjustments and survived a gut-check and eventually wore Bridgewater-Raynham down with an inside running attack that featured Brian Aylward and a little scat-back by the name of Kenn Coviello.

The offensive line made up of tackles Mike Fitzpatrick and Scott Fay; guards Dave French and Mike Healey along with center Jay Kelley, kept the Redmen in control until their senior quarterback could take command.

A fake punt pass completion of 49 yards from Rob Aylward to Joe Vecchi was a second-half game breaker for Tewksbury, and the call was fairly typical for the TMHS coaching staff that season. One of the photos that appeared in the newspaper that week was of assistant coaches Gary Ballou, Connie Barry and Joe Delgrosso conferring with head man Bob Aylward. The ability of that staff to make adjustments on the fly was on display that day, and the men collectively knew they had the players that would have no problem adjusting to any situation in a big game.

The defense that season always managed to make the big play when it counted most, and in this particular game, that defense came up with enough turnovers to discourage any thoughts of a Bridgewater-Raynham comeback. Vecchi and senior linebacker Bud MacAlister had fumble recoveries; senior Tim Boudreau and Vecchi came up with interceptions; senior tackle Bill Brothers buried a Bridgewater-Raynham two-point conversion attempt and senior defensive end Chris McHardy had a big quarterback sack. Mike Healey recovered an onside kick and it was over. The 1985 Redmen were champions.

One of the photos has Blades standing somewhere around midfield being interviewed by Channel 5’s Jack Edwards, who spends these days as the Boston Bruins’ broadcaster. If Edwards had found Joe Vecchi that day, Joe would probably still be talking, and he would have every right, for he would have the early bragging rights of a champion.

That team featured fierce defenders in linebacker Bob Dunlay, who in later years returned to support his former team in more-than-subtle ways. Tackles Al Piccolo and Brian Donahue were often more than immoveable objects for this team that could arguably be called the point-men for the often recited Redmen football mantra of “spill your guts.” There is nothing trite about that phrase it’s very real and comes into play every time you see a TMHS football player limp to the sideline and return to action on the next series of downs.

In 1985, I was only 12 football seasons removed from being a player myself on a Tewksbury High School football team. The team I played on was not very good. In fact, we were lousy, even if we all to this day can justify defeat with the fact that there were several heartbreaking losses along the way. I’ve always claimed that we all learned a lot about life through all of those losses that season, but it would have been a hell of a lot nicer to have some victories to boast about.

Having begun covering TMHS football so soon after my high school days ended, sometimes it was tough to remain detached and not to become a ‘fan’ of the program.

On that day in 1985, it was even tougher not to take some pride in having once played football for Tewksbury High School. In fact, there was a part of me that chucked some journalistic integrity aside for a moment. I began silently rooting for these 1985 Redmen to complete their dream season. I did everything but play that day, covering the story and taking those many photographs. I admired what this team and that coaching staff had achieved. I had long since decided that these Redmen were very special people who deserved their day in the championship sun.

Some of the players on the 1985 team are my Facebook friends, and I might even run into some of them around Thanksgiving, when many return to exchange hugs and high-fives. I might even run into a former player who will thank me for making that day in 1985 even more memorable with a story or a photograph that he has tucked away in a shoebox or a scrapbook somewhere.

In that story that ran on page 9 of the Town Crier on December 11, 1985, I declared that these Redmen were “the best team in Tewksbury High School football history.” I didn’t have to think twice before sitting down and writing that one sentence. The story concluded with a statement of fact that even after graduating several seniors that were so vital to that team’s success, that “Tewksbury could just start dreaming again come September.”

That dream has come full circle many years later. Start dreaming guys. You are almost there. Your dream is just about complete.

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