I was just 10 years old when some of the women in the neighborhood complained to my mother that I was roughhousing a bit too much and hurting their children, and I was. On direct orders from our family doctor, I was told to sign up to play Pop Warner Football. Dr. Ryan said football would be a good outlet for my aggressive behavior.
On the day of sign-ups, I arrived at the Ames Street Playground field ready to go...
After watching the action from the sidelines, I immediately knew I wanted to be part of this football team. I'd just turned eleven, but my father encouraged me to lie about my age and play with the older kids who were twelve and thirteen. Because of my size, I easily got away with it. I made the team and was given a game jersey with the number sixty-six, becoming a second-string lineman on the A-team. I took some big hits playing with older kids, but eventually, I learned how to give 'em back. Mr. Cosgrove loved big hits and always became animated when someone laid one on.
Mr. C’s hard exterior allowed him to take control of the team, and you could see that on the practice field. His softer interior was kept undercover, but eventually, we all discovered it. It’s what made us play above ourselves and continue to love and respect him well after our playing days.
1967 Team Photo signed by Billy "Butch" Songin (On September 9, 1960, Songin played in the first-ever AFL game, Broncos - Patriots at Boston University Field on a Friday night. The Broncos beat Songin and the Patriots 13-10)
In '67 the team featured an interesting mix of players. Teddy (#63) was the middle linebacker and captain of the defense. He was small compared to some of the other kids but played with the passion, toughness, and emotion that Mr. C expected from all of us. He gave everything he had on the field and his intensity influenced the way I played. At the end of practice when Teddy unfastened his chinstrap and removed his helmet, a boy with smooth dark skin, curly brown hair, and a slight overbite revealed himself. At thirteen he already displayed the confidence of a team leader.
Then there was Larry (#60), by far the toughest kid on the team. A big kid and a big hitter. His crew-cut (whiffle), chipped front tooth, and dangerous eyes were right at home inside a football helmet. Mr. C loved how Larry’s violent nature translated on the football field. I was always matched up against him during practice and I took some vicious hits. I was careful around him, on and off the field…
Our halfback was small but lightning-fast and incredibly strong. I immediately recognized Johnny Rockett (#9) from the Sacred Heart docks at nearby Lake Massapoag, where the tough guys hung out. Because I had an older sister, I knew about the docks and made every effort to sneak away from my mother and the safety of the public beach to watch the daily rumbles. The floating wooden dock was owned by the Sacred Heart School and became a place where anybody bold enough, challenged the toughest for standing room out in deep waters where the whistles of lotion-rubbed lifeguards with cream-covered noses had no jurisdiction. The action at these anything goes free-for-alls were always rough and loud enough to draw the attention of passersby's. Amid a chorus of laughter and screams, young healthy bodies, one after another, got tossed from the dock, where they landed violently and turned the calm water surrounding the dock into a turbulent section of whitewater. The rumble ended only after fatigue sent most of the cut-off clad combatants swimming for the safety of the jagged, grassy shoreline that was about forty yards from the soft sand of the public beach. When the action finally stopped and the water was still, only Johnny and a few others had earned the right to stay and enjoy a brief, but peaceful post-battle reprieve aboard the quieted dock. With jet-black wavy hair, ripped abdominals, and dark eyes that effectively hid the devil in him, Johnny definitely possessed all the star qualities worthy of his name.
Dougie (#48) was one of our tight ends. By thirteen he was already a hockey star and popular with the ladies. His medium length, straight, light-brown hair covered most of his forehead and along with a lightly freckled face, big white rough-cut front teeth, and contagious smile, he was a great addition to this team’s chemistry. His kid sister Lauren was one of the original cheerleaders and her good looks got a fair amount of attention too…
Kevin (#46) had recently moved to Massachusetts from New York, bringing with him his accent and his football experience. He was as fast as Johnny and became our split end and deep threat. He had great hands and rarely dropped a pass. He was more than capable of outrunning any defense.
Wayne (#56) was the first one out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage. Nicknamed “Dink”, Wayne was our center, team prankster, and was always getting in trouble with Mr. C, nothing a couple of extra laps around the beat-up cinder track couldn’t fix. His spirited personality was a welcome distraction to what was otherwise, a well-disciplined offensive line.
Charlie was a flanker, defensive back, and a character. He was thin and very quick; he appeared to be gliding when he ran. He didn’t get many carries and was prone to east-west running when he did, but played solid on defense. He had an abundance of confidence, some might say he was cocky, especially in front of younger players. He once sat at a picnic table at the playground and challenged all takers to an arm-wrestling contest. I was shocked when no one could beat him. As I watched I noticed “Chuckie”, wrestling with his right arm, was pressing his left palm up against the bottom of the table for counter leverage. When I stepped in and exposed him he laughed, immediately stood up, and left the playground in a hurry.
Mr. C’s oldest son, Jackie (#7), was our quarterback. He was a friendly kid, but fiercely competitive. Being successful and eventually winning was the driving force behind everything he did. He was a born leader and had no problem taking control of a huddle full of rowdy boys who for the most part, were a year older than him. Starting at quarterback was no act of nepotism; Jackie was a big-time player.
The expectations were high that year and Mr. C’s commitment to the program was relentless. First with the installation of new goalposts, followed by new uniforms and the name “Red Devils”.
According to Mr. C, there were those who didn’t like the name initially and actually warned of the logo's satanic implications. Its origin was actually innocent enough. While watching a practice one of the fathers made a comment about the kids being “little devils”, a reference to them being “mischievous”. Mr. C liked it and since he already owned red jerseys, he called us the Red Devils.
In the ’67 opener at Dedham, the Sharon Red Devils had a 12-7 lead late in the game. Jackie recalls “We opened in '67 against the Dedham Dynamos, a powerhouse program, and lost late in the game 14-12 because some knucklehead safety bit up on a halfback pass and got scorched. That knucklehead was me! I remember Johnny Rockett going for a very long touchdown run in that game. We led late in the game and then the Head Coach's son let the team down. I was crushed!”
The team was disappointed, but not "crushed". No one held Jackie responsible for the loss. The loss was good for the team; it made us all realize that we were up against some pretty good competition and that we had to be on our game for four quarters to win. After the game we “huddled up” and listened while Mr. C pointed out all the positive things we'd done in that loss and then without pause, he began discussing the next game and the preparation needed to win it.
In the end, 1967 was a very good year for the Red Devils who finished 7-3 in the South Shore League and 9-3 overall. That season Johnny Rockett proved difficult to tackle and was a threat to score anytime he carried the ball. Teddy established himself as a great middle linebacker and a team leader who didn’t mind going helmet-to-helmet with anybody who wasn’t doing their job. Larry sent members of opposing teams hobbling to the sidelines. Dougie caught a bunch of Jackie’s passes for first downs and Kevin ran past the coverage and caught the bombs. But most of all, Jackie showed the kind of poise usually found in much older quarterbacks.
The ’67 Red Devils needed a little more experience to beat top-tier teams like Dedham and Wellesley and challenge for the South Shore Championship. Because it was the only football game in town (there was no high school football in Sharon back then) and blue laws in effect at the time prevented stores from opening on Sundays, an unusual amount of people came out to watch us play Pop Warner football. We played to large crowds.
Because of Jack Cosgrove's dedication to the program, more kids showed up at the field the following year to play Pop Warner football, and the high school added football to its fall sports. The Red Devils went on to win consecutive South Shore Pop Warner Championships in 1968 and 1969.
1969: The Sharon Red Devils defeated the Walpole Golden Knights 32-12 for the South Shore Pop Warner Championship