By Nick Abramo, Sports Columnist
WESTBOROUGH – Fate rained on the Power boys of Westborough High in 1981. But out of that mini-maelstrom was born a heartwarming tale of brotherly love, lessons learned and quarterback success.
Tom Power was a third-year senior starter that season, ready to guide the Rangers football team for coach Jan Gebo, who was foreseeing big things in the passing game.
Back then, passing offenses were nothing like they are today. But Gebo was one of the few coaches in the rugged Midland League who thought Westborough could succeed through the air.
“We had a great combination with Tom and Dave Morel, who had the best hands I’d ever seen,” Gebo recently recalled. “Tom would think of audibles in his head and could be very innovative. His play-action pass was really wonderful.”
But during a defensive practice drill while playing safety, Tom broke his shoulder and was lost for the season.
His replacement? Gangly freshman brother Mike Power, who Gebo estimates was 5 feet 11 inches tall and 127 pounds.
“I could throw, but I was as skinny as a rail, and my brother was my idol,” said Mike.
“It was during hell week and I think he jinxed himself when he whispered to me, ‘You’re going to be my backup,’” Mike continued. “My God, I couldn’t believe it. I was going to be playing with my brother’s friends, the guys who were giving me wedgies. Then, he’s got the worst shoulder injury you can have. Jan Gebo tells me, ‘You’re the guy.’ So there I am in the huddle with this senior-laden team, all big bears and I don’t think I’d hit puberty yet and only know about six plays of the offense.”
Yet, in that year, Mike threw for more than 1,000 yards, 10 TDs, and only four interceptions. Westborough went 6-4 in ’81.
“It was very, very bittersweet,” Mike said. “It was Tommy’s turn. His getting a scholarship and going the I-AA college route went out the window.”
Power brothers dominate Westborough sports
From ’79 to ’84, there was always a Power starring for the Rangers in football, basketball and baseball. Tom was part of Westborough’s incredible run to the Division II baseball state championship as a sophomore in the spring of ’81. Mike, meanwhile, went over the 1,000-point mark in his basketball career.
Of course, skinny Mike began to get a bit heftier and developed a rare creative ability to make things happen in his progression as the Rangers’ starting quarterback. He eventually closed out his senior year by spearheading a huge 30-19 Thanksgiving Day victory over Algonquin, and then following that with a dominant 25-7 win over Fitchburg in the Central Mass. Division I Super Bowl.
At that time, the talk around metropolitan Beantown was that Mike was the heir apparent to Doug Flutie at Boston College, having already accepted a scholarship offer from Eagles coach Jack Bicknell.
Tom took a more unconventional path. He journeyed to play at Bridgeton Academy in Maine, and then at American International College in Springfield before transferring to UMass Amherst.
After leaving the college football scene, Tom connected with the Marlboro Shamrocks semi-pro team and became their starting quarterback for three seasons in the mid-’80s.
One time, famous Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough picked up Tom when he was hitchhiking from UMass to get to a game in Marlboro. McDonough, according to a newspaper clipping, had a big laugh with Tom, saying he heard the Shamrocks were part of an overweight, out-of-shape beer league.
Regardless, Tom found the real love of his life while playing in a Shamrocks game.
“We’re in the huddle and the players are looking at a blonde photographer on the sidelines,” Tom said. “I told them to knock it off. Fourth quarter, big lead, I’m on the sideline talking with her. I invite her back to the Prospector East Saloon and ask her on a date. I married Shannon McHugh, and we have two kids. We’re still married and she’s my best friend. That’s my highlight.”
In ’86, Tom and the rest of the Shamrocks made a trip to Ireland to play an All-Star team.
“We stayed up all night before game day,” he said. “It turned out they weren’t that good, but they were glad to be out there. When I got sacked, it was the highlight of the game for them. Four deep on the sideline, the fans all just started screaming that they got the American, and they probably didn’t know what it meant. We all gave away our pads and mouthpieces to the kids. It was hilarious. We were like the Beatles over there. A great moment.”
Quarterback battle at BC
For Mike, the pull of the Eagles was strong, partly because an uncle was an assistant basketball coach on the Chestnut Hill campus for 30 years.
“After my sophomore year when we went 2-8, I was undecided about playing football and thinking of concentrating on basketball,” he said. “I was getting beaten up out there.”
“At a BC camp, Jack Bicknell pulls me aside and says, ‘I wouldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t think you could be playing on this field,’” Mike continued. “‘You can be here.’”
But then things got a little crazy, with Flutie leading the Eagles to mega success and winning a Heisman Trophy.
“My dad was smart,” Mike said. “In November of 1984, BC had just lost to Penn State, and they were something like 6-2. He says, ‘They believe in you.’ We went in and accepted to go to Boston College. Didn’t take any visits anywhere else. Holy Cross was coming at me hard, and Syracuse was calling. I didn’t want to tease anybody. I committed early. They were happy, saying, ‘He’s our guy.’”
Two weeks later, Flutie threw what turned out to be the incredibly famous Hail Mary to beat Miami.
“Now, in a one-month span, BC was not being confused with BU anymore and was all of a sudden on the map,” Mike said. “And back then, really, only BC, Miami and BYU were throwing the ball. Then, in early January, BC wins the Cotton Bowl, and you see there’s a list of 20 names of quarterbacks who want to play there. The pressure was there for me to de-commit.”
But he didn’t do that, even though the Eagles signed blue-chip recruit Mark Kamphaus of powerful Moeller High in Cincinnati, among others. That move completely clouded the school’s future QB situation in such a manner that the sun never really returned.
‘It was a tough career’
As freshmen, both Kamphaus and Power redshirted with Shawn Halloran taking the QB reins. The next year, in ’86, Halloran won the job. But, when he was briefly injured, it was Power who got a chance to start instead of Kamphaus.
All the way through their last season in ’89, Mike continued to fight hard against Kamphaus for that starting spot with mixed results.
“It was a tough career for the two of us,” Mike said. “In ’87, I beat him out and started to play well, but I was always looking over my shoulder. He would get his time, and I was always wondering if I was going to get pulled. In ’88, I won the job and didn’t do well and he went in. It was a lesson to learn. It’s hard to platoon quarterbacks.”
“Still, I have some great memories, including a really good game against Pitt, but my greatest memory was having this whole Boston clan — the Power family is huge — coming to every game,” Mike continued. “There were tailgate parties, win or lose, with 100-plus there and a lot of others from Westborough, too.”
Mike Power earns Super Bowl glory for Westborough
That ’84 season when Westborough produced its only Super Bowl victory to this day holds a huge place in Mike’s heart. Those Rangers, who finished 10-1, made it into the big game despite an early season loss to Milford.
“We just had a blast,” Mike said. “We thought we might go 8-2 or 9-1, but we didn’t expect to win it all. All of a sudden, we gained momentum after that loss. Sure enough, Milford tied somebody, and then Algonquin upset them. We knew we could get in if we won our last two. We smoked a Worcester Voke team before the Thanksgiving win clinched it. No one understood how to defend our passing game.”
Added Gebo, “In that Algonquin game, Mike was unbelievable. He was like 10 of 14 for 240 yards and two TDs. I’m sure kids who played against him thought he was a cocky bastard, but sometimes you have to have a little of that. He was a leader. He proved he could go to BC, and I’m still convinced he would have rewritten the record books if he went to Holy Cross.”