FOXBORO – Standing on a platform just to the left of the concourse to lead up to section 225 at Gillette Stadium, Bob Almeida and his captains were surrounded by the rest of the team, cheerleaders, supporters and screaming fans.
The fans were screaming because the words "The Division 6 Super Bowl of Stoneham" were uttered over the microphone by the MIAA Tournament Director, who then proceeded to hand the state championship trophy off to Stoneham High AD Dave Pignone. He held it for a few seconds in celebration and then handed it off to Almeida. He showed off the trophy to the large crowd and did so sporting that special gleam in his eyes, while trying not to get too emotional and overwhelmed by the moment. However, it was a moment that he has waited for all of his coaching life.
“It's a lifetime accomplishment and for these men, seeing what they have done for the town of Stoneham, our school and our community,” he said trying to hold back his emotions. “This is just beyond belief. I am so happy for every single one of these kids. They did it. I'm just so happy for all of the coaches and players. Just a heroic performance.”
Right after the team's captains took turns with the trophy and just before he answered that question, Almeida made sure that he kept up a tradition which started back when he was the head coach at Wilmington High School.
You know, the song.
“Hey, hey baby. I want to know if you'll be my girl. Hey, hey baby. I want to know if you'll be my girl.”
Almeida — who has belted out those lyrics over a hundred times during his 12-year tenure at WHS — led the entire frantic crowd to sing those words. The townspeople who weren't at the game certainly heard the song all the way back in Stoneham.
The song never gets old does it, coach?
“Nooooo, it doesn't, baby,” said Almeida with a raspy voice, and the biggest smile. “Thank (longtime WHS Band Director) Barbara Mette for that one.”
The 26-20 come from behind win over Old Rochester on Saturday afternoon was the first state championship title for Stoneham and the first for Almeida. The last three years, the Spartans had inched closer and closer, but fell in the Division 4 state semi-finals to Holliston in 2015, the Division 3A North Final to St. Mary's in 2016, and then in the state semi-final to Middleboro in last year's D6 state semi-final game.
“I think we hit the pinnacle,” he answered.
Certainly he and the Stoneham program has.
Almeida came to Stoneham in 2011 as an offensive co-ordinator under Pignone. The Spartans entered that season with 31 straight losses. Being a part of resurrecting programs was nothing new for Almeida.
At Wilmington, he took over a program that had gone 31-87-3 from 1984 to 1995, and from 1996 to 2007, he finished with a career record of 103-29-1. In his tenure the Wildcats won five league titles — one solo and four shared — enjoyed many magical seasons, in particular 1996 which finished 9-2 and 2004 when the team finished undefeated before losing in the playoffs, the program's first appearance at the time since 1976. He also is second all-time in wins, trailing the late Hall of Famer Fred Bellissimo.
After leaving Wilmington, he spent three years at Malden Catholic an he inherited a program that had five straight losing seasons and had one winning season from 1998 to 2007. Almeida guided the team to 6-5 records in both the 2008 and '10 seasons, finishing 16-17 overall before he headed to Stoneham.
Now in his 25th year as head coach and 34th year as a coach, Almeida has a career record of 176-99-1, with stops at Somerville, Wilmington, MC and Stoneham, as well as stints as an assistant coach at Brookline, Somerville, Beverly, Belmont and the one-year with Stoneham.
A year after being the OC at Stoneham, Almeida was named the head coach, and a year after that in 2013, he guided the team to the playoffs, losing in the first round to Lynnfield in the Division 4 North sectional tournament.
After missing out on post-season in 2014, the Spartans have then rolled to those three deep state tournament runs, before hitting the grand slam on the fourth year, Saturday's win, which easily could have been a loss.
Trailing 20-18 with less than five minutes to go, the Spartans were driving but had turned the ball over on a fumble, giving Old Rochester the chance to basically run out of the clock. Instead on the next play from scrimmage, Stoneham's Chris Belliveau forced a fumble, giving Stoneham the ball back and immediately RB Christos Argyropoulos (19 carries for 113 yards) took advantage rushing in a score from 42 yards out coming with 3:21 left. That ultimately gave Stoneham the title.
“There were so many highs and lows in that game, it was incredible,” said Almeida. “It was an incredible game, either team could’ve won. I’m absolutely elated. It’s just the greatest feeling in the world.”