Greenfield’s Henry Josephson was in Amherst recently. “I drove by McGuirk and there was sagebrush blowing out,” he joked. What a shame, considering the money used by John McCutcheon’s UMass athletic department to lure fans to Gillette Stadium could have been better spent upgrading the school’s existing 17,000-seat stadium.
It’s irrelevant that UMass football suffered its worst season since Harold “Kid” Gore’s starting eleven went 0-7-1 in 1927. The taxpayers’ cash that paid for billboards, TV ads and radio spots was wasted, attested by the pathetic turnout on Nov. 23 when 6,385 Black Friday shoppers got lost and wound up watching the season finale against Central Michigan.
It wasn’t the team so much as McCutcheon’s misguided belief that he could abandon his base and Massachusetts sports fans would actually go out of their way to watch UMass football in Foxborough.
The Minutemen averaged 9,550 fans for their four conference “home” games at Gillette, nearly 4,000 under the Mid-American Conference average. Their closest rival is the University of Buffalo, for which they drew 12,649 on Band Day, though most of the seats were filled with high school students holding tubas and sousaphones.
In their previous three seasons at McGuirk, the Minutemen averaged 11,357 fans, including three games with crowds of over 16,000. There was pride in a program that won the Division I-AA title in 1998 and lost in 2006.
Now the Minutemen are the joke of football, ranked last among Division I (FBS) teams by USA Today and mocked by ESPN, playing in a stadium with nine empty seats for every fan. All this would be somewhat palatable if the Minutemen played their MAC schedule in Amherst. It’s practical. The crowds could fit inside the stadium. Better yet, the Minutemen would regain an edge that was lacking this season. It’s called the home-field advantage.
NESN’s promo for an upcoming episode of “Schooled” between Williams and Harvard referred to the former as the Lord Jeffs, a significant faux pas considering Amherst College is Williams’ long-standing rival.
Just ask Amherst alum Steve Kramer, who wrote of late Houston Astros scout Stan Benjamin: “When I coached Legion for two years, Stan took me to Pawtucket to scout a couple of kids and talk baseball. I kept the window open to get away from the cigar smoke. He was the best. He could spot talent, and he was a good football coach with Smitty (Jim Smith) at Deerfield. I went to his funeral and the Astros GM, Tal Smith, gave a eulogy, that’s how much they thought of him.”
Notre Dame’s ascension to No. 1 reminded Greenfield’s Don Maloney of the road trip he and his four boys — Dan, Tom, Pat and Mike — took to South Bend to watch Boston College upset the Irish, 14-7, in 2002.
“We left Halloween and drove all night, got scalper seats and sat at midfield. Next morning we left for Buffalo. Steve Prunier was doing about 100 and we got there in time to watch Brady wallop the Bills.”
Friends feted Mike and Karen Duclos during a surprise 25th anniversary party at the Greenfield Elks Lodge last Saturday night. Duclos and his son Mikey were scheduled to ref a youth hockey playoff game that night in Springfield, a conflict that forced daughter Lindsey to tip off her father about the big event.
“Karen was completely surprised,” said Mike’s father Ron. “Mike told her he needed to swing by the Elks and inside were 140 people with Bobby C playing the music like he’d done at their wedding.”
Greenfield’s Fran Lemay and Tom Fleming will be bussing from Lake Worth to Miami Gardens tomorrow for the Pats-Dolphins game. “It was $95 for the ride, tickets, sandwiches and beer,” said Lemay. “It will save the hassle of driving and parking.”
A major leaguer gets busted for using PEDs and he’s a scoundrel, but the Pats’ Jermaine Cunningham gets caught and it’s no big deal. What’s the difference? As the late comedian George Carlin explained, “Baseball has the sacrifice. Football has hitting, clipping, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.”
In other words, all’s fair in love, war and football. Just don’t get caught or the refs throw the flag.
Reader Mike Ludden forwarded an article from the Orlando Sentinel which reported that the number of Florida Gator fans wanting to have their ashes spread on the team’s football field include big-time money booster Stumpy Harris. “I might give up a few ounces,” said Harris, who keeps a stuffed six-foot alligator in his stadium skybox. “Think of it as a final donation.”
Former UMass quarterback Dave Palazzi is coaching at Leominster High School. “I can’t tell you what he has brought back to this city,” writes Leominster native Frank Iacobini. “He does more than coach them on the field, he has the kids showing up at community events and doing well in the classroom. A lot of people think he’ll wind up coaching in college.”
The Duke of Sports, Mike Cadran, reports that Greenfield High School’s 62-0 loss to Mt. Greylock on Tuesday wasn’t the worst blemish in Green Wave history. “In 1993 Chicopee scored 65 against Greenfield, and in 1919 Brattleboro beat them, 76-0.”
Squibbers: As badly as UMass drew in Foxborough, Eastern Michigan was worse, averaging only 3,500 fans for MAC games in 30,000-seat Rynearson Stadium. ... Not a single MAC conference game drew 30,000 fans. Toledo came closest with 28,115 against Bowling Green. ... Yankees’ attendance was down 111,274 from last year, the Mets were minus 109,793 and the Red Sox were off 10,998. ... R.I.P. Marvin Miller, undefeated and untied in the realm of baseball labor negotiations. ... So much for Evan Longoria ever wearing a Red Sox uniform. He was the Rays’ first pick and third overall in the 2006 amateur draft. The top two picks were both pitchers. Luke Hochevar is 38-59 in six seasons with the Royals and Greg Reynolds is 5-8 in two seasons with the Rockies. He was recently traded to Texas for a minor leaguer.
Toronto beat Calgary, 35-22, on Sunday to win the 100th Grey Cup in front of 53,000 fans at the Rogers Centre. The Argonauts’ roster is composed mostly of American-born players, but as Don Cherry once said of the CFL: “The best thing about this game (compared to hockey), there’s no Russians or Swedes playing.”
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.