Westfield and Cathedral Play Their Last Thanksgiving Game
This game meant so much for so many over the years. Tomorrow morning will be the last Westfield vs. Cathedral Thanksgiving Day game. A recent article on this story in the local media focused on Cathedral. Understandably so, as this will not only be Cathedral’s last Thanksgiving game, but the last game for their program. However, Westfield has some lasting memories of this game as well and I wanted to share some of them with you.
When I became the head coach of the Westfield Bombers in 2002, our number one goal was to beat Cathedral. The series, dating back to 1943 stood at 30 Westfield wins and 28 Cathedral wins. Cathedral had won 6 of the last 7 games.
Beat your rival. Win the last one as it will gnaw on you for an entire year if you lose. If you are a senior and you lose you will remember it every Thanksgiving. You are only as good as your last game, so play your best game. These were lessons I had learned through the years. Our players heard them often.
Cathedral used to play on Saturdays back then, while Westfield games were mostly on Friday nights. We had a Westfield coach in the Cathedral stands every other Saturday starting in September. Our coaches and players removed anything purple from their wardrobe. We spent the entire year trying to get better just so we could get that Thanksgiving win.
I heard stories about the game over the years from many former coaches and players
The 1975 mud bowl that trashed Plumb Field so badly that the City of Springfield wouldn’t allow Cathedral to play there the next year.
The 1976 AA Conference Championship with 7,000 in the stands, on the sidelines, and even standing on the player benches. Darren Bein intercepting a Cathedral pass and returning it 80 yards for a touchdown. Another huge game in 1977.
Our custodian, former Bomber tackle Jim Garlo, would put a copy of the article from his senior year on my desk every year. “4,500 Watch Storied Rivalry” read the headline.
Long bitter voices told me of the year Cathedral ran up the score suddenly turned triumphant as they relayed how Westfield ran it up the following season as revenge. I always wondered if it might just be the other way around.
Spurring the memories
After reading that recent article I asked the players I coached, and the coaches I shared the sidelines with, for their favorite memories of this game. Last night I heard back from more than a few. A lot of conversations were about football memories in general or Thanksgiving Day memories that are special, but generic to all those lucky enough to play on Turkey Day. I will leave those be as they have previously been best summed up by Gerry Callahan in his classic Thanksgiving Day column.
What I want to share here are collective memories unique to our experience with this particular game
The special aspect of our game started the day before Thanksgiving. We had our final practice and burned the shoe. The shoe is special. The team gathers at the 50 yard line of our practice field and circles around a burning shoe. The seniors share their memories of playing football on the eve of what is in most seasons their last game. It’s a powerful emotional moment. Football is an emotional game.
Later that night we would gather for a team meal at The Sons of Erin. The parents were awesome and put out quite the spread. Each player would get a copy of The Westfield News with the pictures of all of the seniors on the front page. The seniors and coaches would all receive gifts from The Bomber Football Booster Club. It was always well run and a special night.
“The few practices before thanksgiving were always the best too because you were the only team out there on the practice fields, former players would come back and watch and encourage you, the younger freshman would get a chance to show themselves to the older guys on varsity, it wasn’t about conditioning anymore or learning new plays, it felt more about fine tuning and increasing the trust we had in each other in order to go out and show our town what we had been working at for the whole season.” –Matt LeClair
2002 was my first Thanksgiving as a Bomber. We all had to shovel the stands prior to the game. The staff dug out the 1970’s wool coats and wore them on the sideline. I remember Tommy Horgan dropping a key 4th down pass and then on the very next play forcing a fumble. His perseverance set an example that would later be passed down through the years. The next play Mike “Skip” Hansen (they skipped him when they were handing out height) caught a backside wheel route for a TD. Brian Plante, who had worked very hard to become an option QB faked a pitch, a defender bought what he was selling and Brian went in for the score. Those seniors had gone winless the year before. They worked very hard for those moments.
2003 was a nail biter. In the second half Matt Gaylord went off running traps behind guard Rocco Fernandez. Still the game came down to one big play late in the game. We called a corner route on 4th down in what was likely to be our last possession of the game. In the huddle halfbacks Graham Raymond and Mark Gambe discussed who should run the route and who should block on the play. Graham decided he would block and have Gambe run the route. A young Justin Bard threw a ball that seemed to be in the air forever. Gambe made a stunning sideline catch in the back corner of the end zone for the go ahead score. At least that’s what I was told. There were so many fans on the sidelines I never did see the play.
The rest of the years kind of blend together, I don’t remember what happened in a particular year but some people and their moments stand out.
It was always so rewarding to see seniors who didn’t play much finally get their shot on Thanksgiving
- Paul Thibeault who walked laps around school every day for a year in order to lose weight and play running back. He finally got the ball in the game his senior year and had some stellar runs.
- Corey Bellamy who was a great athlete and scout team player for us shredded the Panther defense as we rested a banged up Tim Gaylord in a Super Bowl year where we had to play 3 games in 10 days.
- Tommy Cusack screaming as he desperately chased after an elusive Cathedral quarterback for a sack.
4, Justin Kelsey missing most of his senior year with a broken arm but getting a big interception in his final game.
- Luis Rivera who practiced an entire year but was only academically eligible for that final game was a relentless blocker.
- Steve Reynolds missed most of his senior year due to a broken foot but got cleared to play in the game. Steve was called for consecutive unnecessary roughness penalties for pancaking Cathedral defenders. He blocked too hard I guess.
Not all of the memories were good
- Budness (said in Seinfeld “Hello Newman” voice). In 2006 I wasn’t smart enough to stop him and we lost. He was a freshman. He moved on to prep school a year or two after. The guys say we slowed him down the next year. Either way I don’t care to talk about it. It was our only loss in 12 years.
- Goose poop. The Cathedral field next to Island Pond was smothered in feces. It had to be a health hazard. It was borderline chemical warfare. Every few years we had a player who was way more concerned with goose poop than his assignments. It was gross.
- Pulling out our starters and then watching the other team throw deep patterns against our freshmen DBs. That’s a code violation. If you don’t know why, then you don’t know football.
- Watching a once proud football tradition melt away due to hubris. One after the other Coaches Shea, Viollette, Fenton, and Rollin were blamed for the mounting losses and seemingly chased away by parents with political pull. That’s a shame because they were good men. It wasn’t the coaching that did in the Cathedral football program. It wasn’t a population decrease either.
- Waiting forever for the ambulance when Jimmy Shea broke his leg. He was a trooper. It still upsets me that the kid had to lay there that long before help arrived.
- Our opponent refusing to clear the field of snow in order to slow us down.
Some other great memories
- Andy Vega and Justin Bard running the option to perfection despite the snow at Cathedral to get us our first winning season in over a decade. Other great QB-FB combos Midura and LaRose, Collins and Hoyt, Laraway and Veillette, Toomey and Geshwind were awesome after grinding out about a million practice reps running the triple option.
- Troll Backs Mike Angiotti and Jack Dunphy who were two tough linebackers who never got any glory but scored TD’s on Turkey Day. The same for Jack Templeton, Nate Collier, and Dylan Stevens.
- Watching Carl King, who had spent endless hours in Boston hospitals fighting a terrible liver disease yet still practiced and was a demon on scout defense, score a TD in the game will always be cherished by so many of us.
- Seeing freshmen players step up and start their first games on Thanksgiving; Mark Hardy and Ansel Garvey come to mind.
- Some great pass combinations like Collins to Frazier and Owen to Collier or Jeames.
- Our guys who worked so hard in the weight room during the winter, spring and summer opening up enormous holes for Bobby Reyome Garrett Baker and Conner Laraway. Hook, Boardman, Boudreau, Hadley, Swords, Cyr, Parrish, Shrewsbury, Corey Ward, Bucko, Mullins, Thompson, Hamel, Prouty, Curran, Barscz, Hall, Wiley, and so many others.
- Interceptions in the game by Billy Smith, Brandon Affeldt, and Corey Babinski.
- When somebody needed a lesson on toughening up how many times did I tell the story of Nick Galarneu getting two pics in the game while playing with a broken arm or Ryan Viellette running the ball up the middle time and again with two broken hands.
- Electric punt returns for touchdowns by Rashaun Rivers and Cody Neidig
- The awarding of offensive and defensive MVP’s for both teams after the game. It was a classy move by the Athletic Directors.
- Seeing how hard some of the Cathedral players competed in the last few years. These were kids who had obviously lifted weights and suffered through long seasons of being outmanned. Yet it was their final game too and they played their tails off.
I talked to my eldest son last night. Shane and Hunter spent their elementary school years on the sideline as ball boys. They had awesome role models in our players. I am thankful for that. Shane still likes to remind Hunter how he saved him from being steamrolled by a ball carrier who was getting knocked out of bounds on our sideline. My father was there as well. He was my wingman for Thanksgiving week.
The brothers who played: Bozaks, Gaylords, Girards, Laraways, Oullettes, Wards, Miduras, and Geshwinds.
The coaches: Raymond, Gordon, Geebs, Rhodes, Fenwick, Depoala, Cyr, Knowlton, St. Pierre, Proulx, Discenza, and the big man Bob Coe who was there for every game I coached.
Pat Kennedy and our band, all the teachers and principals and students saying good luck or nice game. Mr. Morell announcing the game from the press box. Champ driving us to games on the bus. Mrs. Toomey and our managers with the coffees.
Thank you to the guys who got back to me for this piece. I am sure I missed plenty of people and names. For most I have other special memories outside of this particular game. But I will remember their sacrifice, and humor, and smiles singing Yellow Bird and knowing the Turkey really does taste better after a win.
Wearing my Westfield Bombers football jacket to 7:30 AM mass at my neighborhood church, Holy Cross, also the home parish of Cathedral, all winter.
“The most consistent moments, on both sides of the rivalry, was the recognition by each side that something special would be ending that Thursday, and each Wednesday before the Game practice usually ended with some wet eyes and rich memories. I’ve always thought that this was what made prepping for this game special–the idea that it would be over soon and only the memories would survive. Perhaps that should be enough!” –Coach Richie Discenza who coached for both schools over the course of four decades.
Thank you all for the memories. Future generations are going to miss out on something truly special. Best of luck to all the players and coaches on both sides past and present and all of those who have had a hand in making this game a tradition for so many years.
Here are a few articles and video links I found for the game.
Cathedral v. Westfield
Westfield leads series 42-29
2014: Westfield 48-0
2013: Westfield 52-22
2012: Westfield 46-14
2011: Westfield 36-16
2010: Westfield 38-0
2009: Westfield 28-0
2008: Westfield 37-20
2007: Westfield 27-0
2006: Cathedral 26-6
2005: Westfield 47-20
2004: Westfield 29-0
2003: Westfield 20-17
2002: Westfield 37-6
2001: Cathedral 34-0
2000: Westfield 62-27
1999: Cathedral 41-7
1998: Cathedral 26-0
1997: Cathedral 7-6
1996: Cathedral 16-7
1995: Cathedral 38-0
1994: Westfield 28-18
1993: Cathedral 41-24
1992: Westfield 37-8
1991: Cathedral 14-10
1990: Westfield 21-19
1989: Cathedral 13-6
1988: Cathedral 14-7
1987: Westfield 19-0
1986: Cathedral 20-0
1985: Cathedral 20-7
1984: Cathedral 24-23
1983: Westfield 19-6
1982: Cathedral 13-7
1981: Westfield 20-0
1980: Westfield 28-6
1979: Westfield 34-7
1978: Westfield 33-0
1977: Westfield 28-7
1976: Westfield 33-26
1975: Westfield 22-18
1974: Cathedral 42-21
1973: Westfield 24-10
1972: Westfield 26-6
1971: Snowed out
1970: Cathedral 41-15
1969: Cathedral 12-7
1968: Westfield 22-12
1967: Cathedral 11-0
1966: Cathedral 22-0
1965: Westfield 18-13
1964: Westfield 14-6
1963: Westfield 14-12
1962: Westfield 28-22
1961: Westfield 20-18
1960: Cathedral 34-0
1959: Westfield 26-13
1958: Westfield 8-0
1957: Cathedral 27-2
1956: Cathedral 26-19
1955: Cathedral 22-0
1954: Westfield 6-0
1953: Westfield 21-0
1952: Westfield 19-14
1951: Cathedral 20-7
1950: Cathedral 25-12
1949: Westfield 13-6
1948: Westfield 30-0
1947: Westfield 32-6
1946: Cathedral 6-0
1945: Westfield 7-6
1944: Cathedral 13-7
1943: Cathedral 31-0