Jaywalking: Kiss of death
A promise is a promise.
Former Turners Falls High School running back Ryan Wilder held a fundraiser back in the spring to raise money for a trip he was taking to Australia to play in the “Down Under Games.” That night, a number of prizes were raffled off, but the biggest prize of the night in the eyes of many of those on hand was the Turners Falls football helmet. A special drawing was held and people spent a good amount to buy tickets for the raffle. I threw in a few bucks and got a couple tickets, and as luck would have it, Greenfield native Jason Butynski won the raffle. I told the Turners Falls crowd I would keep the helmet on my work desk, and here it has sat. I also promised I would don the helmet for a future column. Today is that day. I even tried to put on my mean Powertown football face, for the likes of Turbo and Lew Collins.
Turners Falls High School will attempt to do something it has never done before on Thanksgiving morning: win its third consecutive game against Greenfield High School.
History has not been kind to the Indians in the annual Turkey Day game, which began back in 1927 and is celebrating its 87th edition Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. at the Bourdeau Fields Complex in Turners Falls. The Green Wave holds a 59-19-8 record in the rivalry, but the Indians have won each of the past two seasons, marking the fifth time in the history of the game that the Indians have won in back-to-back seasons. In each of the four prior instances, the Indians failed to make it three in a row, going 0-3-1 in games following a two-year winning streak.
I mentioned this to local football historian Mike Cadran, who is one half of the Dukes of Sports (which airs on local cable access channels) and has a two-volume set of documents that outline the entire history of the Greenfield-Turners Turkey Day game. The guy eats this stuff up for breakfast, and four-plus handwritten documents later, he helped to summarize each of the past four attempts that Turners Falls went for the third straight win.
Quick trivia question: While the Indians have never won more than two straight games in the Turkey Day rivalry, what is the longest winning streak by Greenfield? Bonus point if you can include the decade(s) it spanned over.
First attempt: Getting back to the business at hand. Greenfield won the first-ever Turkey Day game 13-7 in 1927 and went on to record a 4-0-1 record over the first five years of the rivalry. In 1932, the Indians finally broke through in the series with a 19-0 victory. They followed that up with a 12-0 win and went into the 1934 season on a two-year winning streak over the Greenies (the nickname used for Greenfield back then). The stars of those two wins were the Riel twins, Fran and Fred, who combined to score all five touchdowns for the Powertown over those two games. The Riels were gone for the 1934 game, and Greenfield appeared poised to win, with Jimmy Powers and Henry Wondoloski leading the Greenies in scoring. As fate would have it, the game, played in the rain and with a heavy fog over Beacon Field, was scoreless late in the fourth quarter when Greenfield marched to the Turners 7, but time ran out and the game ended in a scoreless tie. It was the first of three consecutive scoreless games played between the two teams.
Second attempt: The next time the Indians won two straight came after the three straight scoreless ties, beginning in 1937 when Turners edged Greenfield 13-12. The Powertown made it two in a row with a 12-0 win in 1938. The Indians (6-1-1) were favored over the Greenies (2-4-1) in the 1937 game, but Greenfield led 12-7 late in the fourth quarter, scoring both of its touchdowns after a pair of Indian fumbles. The Indians would prevail in the end, however, as Mike Kulis scored with under three minutes to play in the game for the 13-12 final. The difference in the game came off the foot of Turners kicker Francis Dolan, who booted the extra point following the Indians’ first touchdown of the game.
In 1938, Turners was unbeaten at 7-0-0 and was again heavily favored over Greenfield, which came into the game with a 5-2-1 mark. Earl Lorden was in his 15th year coaching at Turners Falls, during which the team broke all the western Mass. scoring records that season. Turners was led by Bill Prohovich, who led all scorers in western Mass. with 96 points. Greenfield, meanwhile, was led into the game by Ump Nichols, coaching in his 20th season. This game was played in two inches of snow in front of “8,000 shivering fans” at Beacon Field according to the article in the paper. Prohovich and Willie LaFrance each scored for the Indians in a 12-0 victory. Turners Falls finished second to Cathedral High School in the ratings that season, which would have given the team the Western Mass. title. According to Cadran, the Indians had a game against Adams High School canceled due to a hurricane that season. A win in that game would have likely given Turners Falls the WMass crown.
That led to the 1939 contest, in which the Indians gunned for their third straight win over the Greenies. Turners Falls came into the game with a 6-3-1 record, while Greenfield was 7-1-2. The captain of the Indian team was a man by the name of Edward Bourdeau, for whom the field at Turners Falls where Thursday morning’s game will take place was named. Unfortunately for Bourdeau and the rest of the Powertown faithful, Ronald “Bottle” Brissette scored a pair of touchdowns and Greenfield won 12-6, ending the two-year losing streak and marking the first time Greenfield won since 1931.
Third attempt: Beginning with the loss to Greenfield in 1939, Turners Falls would only win twice over the next 26 years, including a 15-game losing streak that got the towns talking about putting an end to the series. Greenfield was looking for its 16th consecutive victory heading into the 1965 game, and despite their 3-5-0 record, the Greenies were a two-to-three touchdown favorite over the Indians, who were 3-4-1. The game was played at Sheff Field in Turners Falls, for which the school that is located at the top of the hill is also named after.
Quick side bar: For those that don’t know, Sheff Field was named after Joseph Sheff, an athlete for Turners Falls in the 1930s. Sheff would go on to Mass Aggie, where he was also an athlete, before coming back to Turners Falls where he was a teacher at the high school as well as an assistant football coach. During the middle of World War II, Sheff’s draft deferment (teachers did not have to go into the draft) was not reinstated. He was unmarried and about 33 or 34 years old and wound up getting drafted. He went over to Italy and was killed in action. Lou Bush, another star athlete from Turners Falls who was an officer in the army, escorted Sheff’s casket back to Turners Falls and a short time after World War II, Sheff Field was named in his honor.
Back to that game in 1965, I will defer to Recorder writer Neil Perry, who wrote the story that day. “Fantastic! Tremendous! Fabulous! No known adjective can describe the Cinderella story that unfolded before 5,000 screaming, leaping, laughing and crying fans in Turners Falls Thanksgiving morning. Most of the players who pulled the upset of the year — perhaps of the decade — weren’t even born the last time Turners Falls beat Greenfield in football.” Perry goes on to mention that seven of the 11 Indian starters on Turkey Day were bench-warmers at the start of that season, but nonetheless helped Turners Falls win for the first time since 1949 with a 28-14 victory. Bobby Campbell (uncle of radio jock Bobby C) scored on a 60-yard run for the Indians, while backup quarterback Barry Kostanski (a senior that had never played football prior to this season and was starting his first game) was referred to by Perry as the “prince with the golden slipper.” Rich Rudinski added three rushing touchdowns in the win.
That next season proved to be more of the same for Turners, which came into the game at 4-3-1 overall and was a big underdog against a Greenfield team that had a 6-2-0 record. The teams were knotted up at 12-12 with under a minute to play and it looked for all intents and purposes that the game was going to end in a draw. But quarterback Ken Brown hit fullback Campbell with a 10-yard touchdown pass with five seconds to play as Turners once again stunned the Greenies, 18-12. The Indians’ defense was the difference, holding Greenfield rushers to just 11 net yards on the day, and Greenfield’s longest play of the day from scrimmage was eight yards.
Greenfield ended the winning ways of the Indians in 1967 with a 14-0 victory on a rainy day at Sheff Field. In fact, one story claimed that “scuba divers would have been more at home at Sheff Field in the ankle-deep puddles than any football player.” Indian coach Jack Bassett attributed the win to the play of the Greenfield line, which, according to an article, outweighed the Indians’ linemen by 29 pounds per man. Greenfield coach Bill Rineer got contributions from running backs Lenny Bruno and Dave Elmer on the day.
Of note: One interesting fact from the 1967 game came when Turners Falls coach Bassett went onto the field late in the game to protest a penalty. Bassett was thrown out of the game, prompting the Indians’ fans to begin pelting officials and Greenfield players with snowballs. According to one article, Ed Bourdeau and assistant coach Dick Farland went up into the stands to halt the snowballing. The article goes on to say, “Otherwise, everything was orderly.” Apparently, that was no big deal.
Fourth attempt: Before this recent two-game winning streak, the last time the Indians won two straight games over Greenfield was back in the 1975 and ’76 seasons. In 1975, Turners Falls was 8-1-0 and had only lost to Super Bowl-bound Amherst, while Greenfield was 2-6-0 and second-to-last in the AA Conference. The game marked the first-ever Turkey Day tilt at the new “Gill-Montague Athletic Complex,” and the Indians won 24-14, behind two touchdowns from Kevin May, one from Rick Kidder, and a 33-yard field goal from Dale Welcome.
The 1976 season again saw the Indians as heavy favorites, entering the game with a 8-0-0 record as Intercounty League champions. The Indians, however, declined an invitation to go to the WMass/CMass Super Bowl. Mahar Regional School, which had lost 17-0 to Turners Falls that season, took the Indians’ spot, and went on to beat Grafton High School 26-20 in the Super Bowl. Greenfield, on the other hand, was 0-8-1 that season and was in its final season of play in the AA Conference. Turners Falls earned its most lopsided win of the all-time series, 36-6, with Kevin May again leading the way, this time scoring four touchdowns. Welcome added a 30-yard field goal, and Ed Boguslawski rushed in one touchdown.
The 1977 game was a memorable one, as Greenfield won 21-19 to once again stop the Indians from winning three in a row. At one point, Turners Falls elected to go for two points rather than allow kicker Lew Collins, who an article referred to as “automatic,” to kick the extra point. The conversion was successful, but a penalty nullified the two-pointer and the ensuing play came up short. Turners would score a touchdown later in the game, but another penalty on a two-point conversion cost the team the chance for the tie. Bill Decker, the former Trinity baseball coach and current Harvard coach, quarterbacked Greenfield that season and scored on a 1-yard run. Rick Urkiel and Ed Scoble also scored touchdowns in the win, while Dave Choleva, Jon Coyne and Ed Marvel scored the touchdowns for Turners Falls.
Now: A T.J. Meyer extra point was the difference in 2011, when the Indians won 7-6 to snap a four-year winning streak by the Green Wave. Then, last year, two of the top teams in the IL met in a classic that saw the Indians come away with a 29-22 win. Could this be the year?
Trivia answer: Beginning with a 33-0 victory in 1950, Greenfield put together a 15-year winning streak that ended in 1965 with a 28-14 Turners Falls victory. That means there were kids that went their entire school careers — beginning in elementary school and carrying all the way through high school graduation — without seeing the Indians win a game in the rivalry.
Spoke to Mohawk athletic director Fred Redeker about the Turners Falls-Mohawk WMass Division VI championship game, and he informed me that the official paid attendance that night was 963 people. Throw in those of us that had passes to get into the game, and you were looking at 1,000 people on hand. Easily the best-attended game by any local teams this year prior to Turkey Day. Nice of the two districts to get out and support the local footballers, and even nicer of the Turners faithful for letting me have it after picking Mohawk in that game. It was all in good fun, and it’s what makes this job enjoyable. If you didn’t like my pick that night, you probably want to stay away from my Pigskin Picks on Turkey Day. Sorry, Turbo.
And I’ll do one better for Mike Markol, who chastised me for picking against his Indians that night. I told him Greenfield would get the win back for me on Turkey Day. I’ll even give you the score. Green Wave 26, Indians 20.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is email@example.com.