Championship-winning football team reunites at Algonquin after 50 years

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Championship-winning football team reunites at Algonquin after 50 years
The championship-winning 1973 football team gathered on Dec. 1, 50 years after defeating East Longmeadow to win the Super Bowl and finish undefeated. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

NORTHBOROUGH – They’re known as the Algonquin Titans, but Richard “Dick” Walsh is perhaps the titan of Algonquin.

The 92-year-old Northborough man has dedicated his life to the high school. Walsh has spent the last 66 years at Algonquin Regional High School, becoming the school’s first athletic director, teaching thousands of students, working in the cafeteria and leading the then-Tomahawks to the school’s first — and only — Super Bowl and undefeated football season in 1973.

“He’s never not been here,” said Principal Sean Bevan. “He’s an institution.”

Walsh never asks for the limelight and is content with meeting students from his post in the school’s cafeteria. Yet, he received the celebrity treatment nonetheless one Friday afternoon.

On Dec. 1, 1973, Walsh guided his football team to the Super Bowl, and on Dec. 1, 2023 — exactly 50 years later — the team reunited at Algonquin to celebrate its history-making championship win.

Proudly wearing his maroon-and-gold, typeface ‘A’ hat, worn from years of activity around Northborough, Walsh was escorted onto the field. As he saw his former athletes — now in their late 60s — Walsh couldn’t help but smile.

“Some of you guys look older than me,” Walsh said.

‘Still Undefeated’

As Walsh was greeted by players, Lee Heffernan — the team’s star halfback and coordinator of the reunion — distributed commemorative hats. The maroon hats, which matched the high-school letterman jackets many players brought for the occasion, had an unmistakable message embroidered on the back: “10-0. Still Undefeated.”

While local newspapers at the time were optimistic about Algonquin’s chances, Walsh initially wasn’t happy with the team — and he let the press know.

“This is the most disappointing team I ever had,” Walsh told the Enterprise-Sun before the 1973 season opened. “I think the problem with the team is their attitude… We have talent on this team, but their play has been very disappointing to me… There’s going to be some changes made.”

Yet the coach’s less-than-complimentary words only motivated the team. Algonquin breezed past Wachusett 39-0 to open the year. Heffernan, the halfback, scored three touchdowns and the Tomahawks accumulated 236 rushing yards in the season’s first action.

Championship-winning football team reunites at Algonquin after 50 years
Former teammates reunite at the event. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

“I remember at the beginning of the year, Coach [Walsh] kicked us in the butt. He told us we weren’t playing to our level. That really got us going,” Heffernan said.

Algonquin kept rolling; Wayland, Shrewsbury, Milford, Marlborough, Hudson, Athol and Clinton were the next stops on the team’s road to the Super Bowl. Over the course of the season, Algonquin beat opponents by the combined score of 222-30.

Walsh’s run-heavy wishbone offense accumulated points, and Defensive Coordinator Jack Wallace ensured nobody could catch up with them.

“These kids were good… We had a two-platoon team. We had an offensive team and defensive team… Our toughest game a lot of that year was our offense against our defense at practice,” Walsh said.

Algonquin, 9-0, had earned the opportunity to face East Longmeadow – which hadn’t lost in three years – in the Super Bowl. The high-stakes game was an extremely low-scoring slugfest.

As the team gathered at Algonquin 50 years later, the team’s monumental 6-2 win against East Longmeadow was reflected on the scoreboard. As the team stood on the field, reliving their past success, Athletic Director Mike Mocerino presented the team’s 1973 championship trophy. Long after their football careers had ended, the team was able to raise the trophy once more.

‘We’ve stayed together’

With many members of the team in town, Heffernan coordinated activities for the whole day. Prior to walking onto Dick Walsh Field, Mocerino showed the team around Algonquin.
“The school was different,” said Heffernan. “A lot of new additions. Bigger. Cleaner. Brighter.”

While time often draws people apart, the group has remained remarkably close over the last five decades. Some of the members of the group have an annual golfing expedition. When the team was inducted into the Algonquin Hall of Fame in 2015, team members created an intricate scrapbook that catalogs newspaper clippings and photos from each of their 10 wins.

“When Southborough and Northborough came together, we came together as one football team. I mean, look at us. We’ve stayed together. We love each other. We played multiple sports with each other. We went from age 14 to 18, formative years, and did a lot of stuff. We have great families, great teachers, and great coaches that have helped us. Look at everybody smiling. Good people,” Heffernan said.

Championship-winning football team reunites at Algonquin after 50 years
The championship-winning 1973 football team members remove their caps to remember and honor teammates and coaches who have since died. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Unfortunately, not everyone could join the fun. The team, including Walsh, huddled at midfield to honor several now-deceased teammates, including Bill Santella, Heffernan’s co-captain, and Gerry Milano, who scored the only touchdown in the Super Bowl.

“We’re all part of the team,” said Heffernan, holding his Algonquin undefeated hat against his heart. “Some of us are not physically here today because they’re off to the football field in heaven, but they’re as much a part of the team today as they were then. They’re our brothers.”

‘He’s a very special man’

Walsh sat on the field, proudly watching the crowd of men he had coached 50 years ago. As he shook hands with the team, one player looked at the rest of the team: “This man is my role model,” he said as he walked away. “I became a teacher, coach – all because of him.”

The title-winning squad gathered around Walsh as Mocerino presented him with an Algonquin game ball.

“[Walsh] has not only had an impact on the 1973 football team that won the Super Bowl, but many teams thereafter. He still has an impact on the lives of many of us – coaches, athletes, students inside the building. Many in both communities are still impacted by his involvement within the school community. We can’t thank him enough for everything he has done,” Mocerino said.

Mocerino also presented two citations to Walsh as the team watched. Both towns – Northborough and Southborough – made certificates to honor Walsh’s impact on the Algonquin community; Nov. 17 will hereafter be referred to as “Richard Walsh Day.”

“It means a great deal,” said Walsh. “Having the superintendent and principal here – it’s great.”

Walsh remains an ardent supporter of Algonquin football, egging on the team whenever he is able.

“Coach Walsh has been a tremendous supporter for me in the time I’ve been here,” said Head Coach Mark Allen. “He’s a very special man. He’s impacted a lot of people, and the kids here love him… For the kids to play hard for him, it’s a special opportunity.”

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