Bellows Falls is first and foremost a football town. Always has been. Likely always will be, despite the fact many coaches, athletes, teams and even fans, have tried to move the meter. The 2017 Terrier football team was an exciting one and fun to watch.
Saturday they played in one of the coldest temperature games in school history. Chances are no one has kept records over the years on game time temperature for the sport, but Saturday’s game at Rutland has to have been one of the coldest on record.
While working on a football column, I spoke with Bob Lockerby Thursday evening; we focused a little on Saturday’s anticipated weather. We used a four-letter word. Cold!
Bellows Falls’ most celebrated football championship came in 1971, when Jerry Curcuru’s Purple edition narrowly defeated Montpelier in Middlebury 14-13. I am convinced that was the coldest day I ever attended an outdoor sporting event.
While discussing that game, Lockerby acknowledged that he was there too. He was an eighth grader in Grafton and he was in attendance with many of his Grafton classmates, who would eventually become a part of the Terrier football program.
Lockerby is now part of a long time purple-colored coaching legacy. The baton was passed from Curcuru to Bisbee to Lockerby. Those names have prowled the sideline since 1967. Three coaches in 51 years. Since Curcuru was only at the helm for six seasons, Bisbee and Lockerby have been in charge for the past 45 years.
While on the subject of BF football coaches, it should be easy for this football community to fill in the blanks of some dates I am not positively sure of. First, I know Tom Lovett, the uncle of current Bellows Falls Union High School Principal, Chris Hodsden, was the coach prior to Curcuru (I believe for five seasons) and Brian Flynn served before Lovett – was that for one or two seasons?
Prior to Flynn, Larry Hadley served as the Terrier football coach for eons. Our other trivia request is: how long was “eons”?
I don’t have the definitive answer on either one of those questions so if you know either or both for sure, pass the info along to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will disperse it.
When I spoke to Lockerby again on Monday night, I forgot to inquire about how cold it was in Rutland. One source I went onto when I couldn’t reach Lockerby was Coach Bisbee and the order of degree of difficulty was clear in his mind.
First, Bisbee remembers three frozen title dates and his responsibility was different on each of the three occasions. He was an assistant coach in 1971, when the Big Freeze happened in Middlebury. He adds a game to the list and that was in 1980, when he was the head coach and the game was at Buck Hard Field In Burlington and the Terriers were contesting the Division II title against Middlebury on what he remembers, as an equally cold day. This was during a period when Middlebury had outgrown Division II, were in six straight title games, and the victory that day over BF was by the count of 41-8 and was the Tigers third title triumph in succession. No wonder, Bisbee felt as cold as 1971 that day.
I was at both games and suffered more in ’71 despite the triumph. Bisbee sat in the bleachers with the sun on him Saturday and didn’t feel anywhere near as cold but adds, “It became a lot colder when the sun went down.”
Bisbee did bring up a bit of information that also helped separate the three dates. “This year, there wasn’t as much of a wind. Back in ’71 and ‘80, the wind made a big difference,” he reflected.
By the way, Bisbee would capture his first title in 1981, using the ’80 title game experience to the fullest in a win over North Country by an almost identical score as the year before 42-6.
Moving on to a number of tidbits related to this year’s title game. Prior to the season, Lockerby knew he had a number of holes to fill from last year’s team. When I asked him in August who was the team to beat this time around, he didn’t hesitate at all and said, “Fair Haven.” When I reminded him of his words on Monday, he said again without hesitation, “I was unfortunately right.”
The coach reminded me of times gone by when he said, “I thought we would be competitive. I really thought we were ready. Did you ever have a time when you were coaching that you thought the team was ready and it didn’t turn out that way?”
My answer came without hesitation too. In 1991, the Terrier basketball team I coached had a great practice on a Sunday night, and I didn’t think we could be better prepared headed to a first round play-off game Monday at Union 32. We played horribly the next night and never competed. Just by happenstance, Bob had a cousin on that team. What is that saying about degrees of separation?
In the BF football game story, there is a reference to the Terriers playing the game without center Gunnar Sawyer, who was injured. Lockerby is sure glad Sawyer returns next year, for he is a strong offensive lineman. I don’t know Sawyer, but he must be a good one to have around. When I asked how much he was missed and if his absence could explain why the offense may have been stymied early on, Lockerby answered, “We missed him a lot. An incredible lot. He’s not just a good athlete, he is a very intelligent player who just keeps getting better.”
Due to Sawyer’s absence and more injury losses as time went on, several Terriers had to play new positions along the offensive front.
Lockerby admitted, “Size was a problem for us. We were nowhere near as big as they were and the Fair Haven line was really in sync. We came out with good fight in the second half, but it was too late.”
I asked Coach why they were able to move the ball more effectively after intermission, and he said, “We simplified things to make it easier for the line to adjust. This limited the options of what we could do, but it did make things simpler.”
Speaking of cold, those in attendance tell me, the temperatures dropped and the wind picked up some in the 5 p.m. Division I title game. Surprisingly, there were 65 points scored in that game. Offenses usually lose potency under such conditions.