- Stephen Freker, Medford Daily Mercury/Malden Evening News
Of all the holidays out there, and all the trappings of tradition that accompany them, Thanksgiving and tradition are the one and the same, especially if you are involved in sports and particularly if football is one of those sports.
Thanksgiving IS tradition if you live in Massachusetts and you follow high school football. There is nothing else that dominates the conversation, that triggers the anticipation and builds up to such a crescendo of emotion, mixed with anxiety, elation and sometimes, ending in sadness. It’s tough to say, but even if the team you back on Thanksgiving morning (or in some cases Thanksgiving Eve) comes out on the wrong end of the score, you still got something to talk about and something to look forward to for next year.
I can proudly say that my Thanksgiving high school football “pedigree” is now over the 40-year mark this Thanksgiving morning, when Medford High travels to Macdonald Stadium to play Malden in Game #125 of the ancient series, a historical number, the Sesquicentennial game, and much work has gone on from both sides of the Fellsway to make it special. I was there for Game #84 at Hormel when my older brother, Jack, was a sophomore at Malden High playing under the legendary Bill Tighe, a historic year, since this was the final season Tighe would coach at Malden before heading off to Lexington, where he coached 39 seasons before retiring after Thanksgiving 2010, as the oldest active high school coach in America.
It’s amazing how things come around again. Just last week, I was at the Malden High Golden Tornado Hall of Fame dinner Saturday night and Coach Tighe, who is well north of his 80th birthday, was introducing one of the inductees, his former player, Joe DeVincentis, calling “Joe D” a huge honor, “the best center I ever coached.” Coach Tighe, himself a Hall of Famer in Malden, was sharp as ever and drew loads of applause, as he well should.
I’m lucky that I’ve been to nearly every game since 1972 as either a fan, a player or a coach, and now, a fan again. I was privileged to wear the Blue and Gold for Game #86, #87 and #88 (I actually played one play in 1974, the highlight of my life to that point; saw a lot of action in 1975; and played most of the game in 1976). Over 35 years later, I can still remember most of the plays, if not all of them. It’s not often that a week goes by where I do not bump into someone who played for either Malden and Medford on Thanksgiving. Through all my years of coaching and writing about teams and players around here, I think I have just as many friends in Medford as I do in Malden, something that would have made me shudder when I was in high school!
I remember well the Medford players of years and eras gone by. The toughest of them all was none other than Harry Marchetti. He’s the former Medford High and Somerville High football coach and the hardest-hitting and most relentless defensive player wearing that Mustang uniform I can remember to this day. What an animal he was out there. I was actually shocked the other day when I was compiling the complete Mustang Hall of Fame list. Harry is in there as a softball coach (he was great at that too) but not as a player. Wow. The legendary Armand Caraviello was the coach and guys like Richie Tenaglia and John DiMare were some standouts that I recall when I played. Franz Eberth and Dickie Adie were some other former Mustangs I recall from those days.
We lost my senior year, 12-6. Medford came in winless at 0-9 but they didn’t leave that way. Not a tasty Turkey Day dinner that day, folks.
I was fortunate to be able to spend the better part of the next two-and-a-half decades as a Malden High coach, from the early 1980s to 1998 and those were great years, being able to coach alongside of my own high school head coach Paul Finn for 17 seasons, what a great experience. We always capped the year with the Thanksgiving Game and while we didn’t win them all, it was a memorable time of the year. Coaching in the 100th game in 1988 was a highlight I will never forget, nationally-televised with Bob Costas in studio interviewing former Malden great Carmine Cappuccio on national TV. You never forget that stuff. The next year my youngest brother Michael captained Malden to another Thanksgiving win, this one a cliffhanger, in 1988. I’m sure tomorrow¹s 125th Game will be another memorable event. They are dedicating the fieldhouse at Macdonald Stadium in Dom Fermano’s name, that in itself a memory. I’ll be taking in the game in the pressbox with two of my other friends Jim Valente on the PA and Gipper Nally on the scoreboard. I’ll get to see another old friend, of just about 40 years now, Peter Carroll, who will be videotaping the game (hatless, of course) on top of the pressbox.
I made some great friends with lots of folks from Medford through the years and my association with the game, Bud Kelley, Mark Smith, Bill Buldini, all great guys. I even remember when another good friend, present head baseball coach Mike Nestor, scored a TD against us when I coached in Malden in 1994. He was a baseball player, but he still threw on the Blue and White during football season.
I started coaching football at Malden Catholic for the 1999 season and went right through to the 2007 season, but still made it to the Malden-Medford game most years. Even to this day, I keep ties with “The Game” as a very good friends Bob Maloney is the Medford High athletic director and Bud Kelley’s back around, working “security” for Bob at Mustang events.
Oh, almost forgot. Since 1984 I’ve written a story or two about “The Game” working for the Medford Daily Mercury and Malden Evening News.
It’s true what they say, too. Malden’s a favorite and Medford’s looking for the upset, but you really can say “throw out the record,” as it’s a true, new season in itself on Thanksgiving morning. I hope all the kids who play, the coaches who guide them and everyone associated with the game, parents, school administrators and fans, have as good and as memorable an experience as I’ve had these many decades. Happy Thanksgiving!
Steve Freker is a former player and longtime assistant coach for Malden High football. He is also the editor of the Medford Daily Mercury and Malden Evening News