• Nick Abramo

In 1973, Hudson Catholic Kicked Off The Immediate Area's Super Bowl Era

When I started as a sports reporter for the Marlboro Enterprise/Hudson Sun in 1981, little did I know that for five straight years, one of the four high school football teams in our coverage area would go to a Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Super Bowl.

And in the two years prior to that, the area also had a representative in the Super Bowl.

In order, those Super Bowl teams were Huck Hannigan's Marlboro Panthers in 1979 and 1980, Vic Rimkus' Hudson Hawks in 1981 and 1982, and Jerry Pastner's Assabet Valley Aztecs in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

But those were not the first coverage area teams to get to the big game. Hudson Catholic, which closed its doors, sadly, in 2009, was the first to qualify for the big game. The Green Wave, coached by Ray Sherman, lost to Hanover 39-6 in the Eastern Massachusetts Division IV Super Bowl in 1973 at Boston College's Alumni Stadium. That was one year after the MIAA invented the new statewide late-fall attraction, with a purloined name from the NFL's championship game.

Mike Grasso sent these three clippings from the 1973 season to Bedrock Sports Hawaii.

The only other Super Bowl appearance by Marlboro, Hudson, Hudson Catholic or Assabet in the early years of the Super Bowl (pre-1990) was Hudson in 1974, and that's when the Hawks lost to Taconic 19-12 in the Central/Western Massachusetts Division I game. Here is the full list of pre-1990 Super Bowls for those four schools: >> 1973 Eastern Massachusetts Division IV Super Bowl: Hanover 39, Hudson Catholic 6 >> 1974 Central/Western Massachusetts Division 2 Super Bowl: Taconic 19, Hudson 12 >> 1979 Central Massachusetts Division I Super Bowl: Marlboro 30, Doherty 13 >> 1980 Central Massachusetts Division I Super Bowl: Doherty 14, Marlboro 12 >> 1981 Central Massachusetts Division I Super Bowl: Leominster 34, Hudson 13 >> 1982 Central Massachusetts Division I Super Bowl: Leominster 40. Hudson 21 >> 1983 Central Massachusetts Division 3 Super Bowl: Assabet 21, Northbridge 20 >> 1984 Central Massachusetts Division 3 Super Bowl: Grafton 22, Assabet 0 >> 1985 Central Massachusetts Division 3 Super Bowl: Grafton 14, Assabet 8, OT A really proud history of excellence for the area. Of those games, I attended five of them, including four as a reporter. When the Green Wave went to their only Super Bowl appearance, I remember reading about it in the pages of the Enterprise-Sun. Thanks to phone interviews with two Mikes who were members of that HCHS Hteam, I brought back some of those Green Wave memories with a recent article in the Community Advocate: 1973 Hudson Catholic Team Opened New Chapter In Local Football History. Mike Grasso, who I eventually got to know in the early 1980s, was the quarterback of that team, having been thrust into the position because of an injury to Ray Lambert. During our conversation, he rattled off some names of players I remember hearing about back then, guys like Jeff Wolcott, Bruce Harris and Marty Ghiloni. Mike Vigeant was a defensive back and running back for that Green Wave team, and I also got to know him in later years while playing some playground football. He remembers Sherman's vigorous drills geared toward getting the team in tip-top shape.

Grasso said the team's line was pretty big for the time, averaging around 215 pounds, but their highly successful running game throughout the season fizzled against a bigger and deeper Hanover squad. In 1974, other than seeing Rimkus' Hawks play Marlboro on Thanksgiving Day, I did not know much about Hudson's first Super Bowl squad.

But I was there for the 1979 Hannigan-led Panthers in their first Super Bowl appearance, and vividly recall running back Paul Sharon taking handoffs from quarterback Scott Corner and grinding out some huge gains and scoring touchdowns in the game against Doherty, which just so happened to be at Marlboro's Kelleher Field. Dana Lepore and Billy Grasso were among the many Panthers' defensive stalwarts then. The next year, I did not attend the Panthers' return trip to the Super Bowl and for some reason, I can't recall where it was held. And I also remember feeling disappointed when I found out that Marlboro came so close and didn't win. For those of you who want more history about those years, author Mike Richard has a book out called "Super Saturdays: The Complete History Of The Massachusetts Super Bowl, 1972-2002." I just heard about it for the first time today and I would like to read it. I covered both of Hudson's Super Bowl appearances in 1981 and 1982, and both of the Hawks' losses to Leominster were at Holy Cross' Fitton Field. Had it not been for Leominster's Scott Chester and his nine touchdowns in those two games, perhaps Hudson would have had a better chance. The Hawks were loaded on offense, with a Wing-T backfield of fullback Dave Hunter, tailback Rob McMahan and slotback John Guarino. Also, hard-hitting linebacker Dana Sousa would come in to play fullback at times. Declan Lugin was a kicker and a receiver. At quarterback was Peter Percuoco, and I recall in those days when he made news by drop-kicking some extra points — something Natick's Doug Flutie would do for the New England Patriots in 2017, the first time it happened in the NFL since 1941. Those strong mid-1980s Assabet teams had standout performers like defensive end Brian Gould, linebacker/running backs Pat Donahue and Gary Donahue, running back David Cullinane, receiver Mark Cullinane and linebacker Mike Ladrie. I covered the Aztecs in the 1983 Super Bowl, and if memory serves me correctly, Mark Cullinane caught the winning two-point conversion pass against Northbridge in the game that was played in Grafton. I also covered Assabet's 1984 Super Bowl appearance on a frigid and windy day at at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Field.

For the Aztecs' 1985 Super Bowl, my guess is that we sent another reporter because, for some reason, I don't remember it at all.

One Assabet player (a handful of years before the Aztecs got to the Super Bowl) is still playing football. Kicker Pat Caruso, who was also a quarterback in high school before graduating in 1980, won the 2021 East Coast Football League championship on Oct. 16 with the Marlboro Shamrocks in a 35-21 victory over the Southern New England Admirals at Gill Stadium in Manchester, N.H. It was the Shamrocks' 21st league title since 1968, according to the Community Advocate.

Caruso, who kicked five extra points in that game, and the Shamrocks are gearing up for a shot at a national title in January in Orlando against an opponent to be determined. Caruso may or may not play next year, but if he does, it likely won't be for the Shamrocks. "I was thinking (age) 60 is a nice round number to retire, so I might hook up with another team maybe in a lower division," he messaged Bedrock Sports Marlboro about a week before the championship game. "It would be hard going to another team. so I'm not sure, though I'm kicking better than I did two years ago. So this is it as far as Shamrocks. Hoping to go out with more rings!"

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