That glorious 1963 season was already fresh on his mind, a perfect 8-0 run for the Chelmsford High football program capped by a 30-0 blanking of rival Billerica on Thanksgiving morning.
So as Roland Picard drove through his hometown in late August, on his way to Bedford, N.H., where he lives now, he felt compelled to stop at the old high school football field, which brought back fond memories from his childhood.
But the field, on the grounds of what is now the McCarthy Middle School, was being torn up, making way for a new turf field and Pop Warner play.
“It was upsetting to me because the place meant something to me, that’s why I pulled in,” said the 57-year-old Picard, who was at his old stomping grounds for the first time in three decades.
“I was upset, like ‘What are they doing?’ ”
Picard had just come from the high school, where he had been researching the ’63 squad for a 50-year anniversary ceremony.
He was not a member of the team — his older brother, Wayne, was a senior reserve — but 7-year-old Roland was the Lions’ biggest fan, attending every practice and every game in the team’s drive to greatness: the first undefeated, untied entry in school history.
“Here I have this little brother who’s 10 years younger than me who just thought there was God, Jesus Christ, and Wayne,” recalled the elder Picard.
“He was always at the games, and I was a role model for him.”
So as Roland Picard looked around the field that had become a construction site that afternoon, he saw a mangled crossbar on the ground.
“As soon as I saw it, I said, ‘You know what, I can do something with that, I can make something with that,’ ” said Picard, an assistant vice president at Ecolab in Norwood.
“It was just a significant piece to me, because 50 years ago these guys played under that goal post and went undefeated.”
Picard was driving a pickup he had borrowed from a friend because his own car was in for service. So he muscled a 20-foot section of the crossbar onto the roof, and drove the 20 miles home through pouring rain. The galvanized steel crossbar was cut into 35 sections and each piece was sanded, repainted, and engraved with the inscription:
The Goal Post Crossbar, 1963-1964, Chelmsford High School-North Road . . . This Goal Post Witnessed the First Undefeated and Un-tied Football Team in CHS History . . . 8 Wins and 0 Losses.
The hardware will be presented to members of the ’63 squad before Friday’s matchup against visiting Lowell. Richard Molloy, senior class president in 1963-64 and PA voice for the Lions during their perfect season, will introduce his former classmates.
It was an undefeated season at Masco, too
Chelmsford is not the lone program saluting history.
Last Friday night in Topsfield, Masconomet Regional held a ceremony at halftime of its matchup against Pentucket to honor its 1963 squad that finished 9-0, the only undefeated squad in program history.
Nineteen former Chieftains, the majority dressed in game shirts, gathered at the center of the field, to reminisce, share a few laughs, and soak in the moment. Their perfect run culminated with a 22-0 win over fellow unbeaten Pentucket.
The highly anticipated showdown was scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963. But the nation was in mourning.
“I remember clearly, I was sitting in a classroom in the early afternoon and the public address system came on with no introduction from anybody,” recalled Dave Doughty, a cocaptain on the squad who went on to play at Bowdoin College.
“It was a radio station, it was broadcasting and it said that John F. Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas. They didn’t say he was dead yet, but it was just shocking.”
The game was postponed for one week.
Masco was the underdog against a highly touted Sachem defense that reportedly had not yielded a rush of more than 10 yards the entire season.
But star junior back Steve Chew opened the game with a 20-yard run and never looked back, scoring twice in the romp, capturing his first of two state scoring crowns in the process.
“We had a great backfield, but we had a great, great line that was second to none,” recalled Chew, who still lives in Boxford. “They could do everything, I mean some of the holes we would run through you wouldn’t believe.”
Fellow captain Dick Ray, a left end on that line, received the game ball from Hall of Fame coach Walt Roberts (the football field at the high school bears his name).
He held onto the pigskin until last Friday night.
“I still had the game ball up in my attic,” said Ray, a resident of North Hampton, N.H. “So I thought this was the perfect opportunity . . . it really belongs in the trophy case at school, and this was the perfect opportunity to present the game ball from the only undefeated season Masconomet’s ever had.”
He presented the ball to coach Jim Pugh, who is in his 25th season, who has since put it in its rightful place in the trophy case.
“It’s good for the kids to see there was pride in Masco football since the school opened [in 1959] and it’s important for our players to see that other players led the way,” said Pugh, who took the ’63 team on a tour of the high school on Saturday.
“It felt good to touch their success and have them share some of their success with the current team and current coach.”
And it was a special moment for Ray, as well, who has pancreatic cancer. “Facing what I have to face with the cancer is not a pleasant thought and this was just such an emotional boost to my spirits, it’s something that was just magical for me.”
A chance for old mates to reconnect, reminisce
And now surely, a few magical moments await the members of the ’63 Chelmsford team on Friday night.
“I’m sure they’re not going to recognize me, and I’m not going to recognize them, said Wayne Picard, who now lives in Bristol, R.I., and admits that he hasn’t seen most of his former teammates since he graduated almost 50 years ago.
“What a joy, what a privilege, that I’ll be able to experience this with these men. I don’t think I’ll be at a loss for words because I’m going to have a billion questions and I’m sure we’ll be exchanging a lot of pictures of grandchildren.”
George Dixon, a starting running back on the ’63 Lions’ team, is chairman of the recreational fields committee in town that made the move to replace the old fields.
“We may not talk for 15, 20 years, but we’ll pick it up like we were together the night before,” said Dixon. “That’s the kind of relationships that we had, and I think that’s why it was so special back then.”
The Chelmsford defense was certainly special: allowing just 30 total points all season.
Brian Popolizio, an all-state running back who was the team MVP in ’63, gave much of the credit to head coach Tom Eck and his staff.
“Eck was just an outstanding coach, he prepared us for everything and anything and the discipline that we played with because of all our coaches prepared us tremendously well for each game,” said Popolizio, who lives in Ayer.
“We had a lot of kids who were just smart athletes, smart kids who just had a nose for the ball and we just executed everything perfectly.”
Jimmy Robinson, who played at 125 pounds, and Picard were second stringers. They took their lumps in practice, but the entire experience is one they will never forget.
“There was a lot of camaraderie and just to be a part of that was an honor,” said Robinson, who has lived his entire life in North Chelmsford.
“And now I’ve made lifelong friendships with a lot of the guys on the team.”
And they will reunite once again, all thanks to a man who wasn’t even on the team.
“My brother set an example of never giving up and overcoming the odds,” said Roland Picard, who called Wayne a fatherly figure. Wayne was the first in the family to go to college, attending Bridgewater before graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Roland Picard graduated from the University of Lowell, now called University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“We grew up in a very difficult situation and he turned that difficult situation into a very positive example that I carried through my entire life.”
Added Wayne Picard, “He loves me, he knows I love football, and he got this whole thing started. It’s his fulfillment of his dream.”