The place for a high school football player to be in those days was “Teevens Spa,’’ the makeshift gym in a barn filled with a horse and goats, chickens and rabbits, barbells and a punching bag, all of it brimming over with boyhood dreams.
The six Teevens boys lived there, at the family home on School Street in Pembroke, and they were forever joined by one Murphy, the gangly kid from nearby Kingston who hitchhiked his way over after work every summer’s day to train amid the dust and debris.
“It was hot, stinky,’’ recalled Tim Murphy, the stringbean from one town over who grew up to be the winningest coach in Harvard football history. “Whatever the good music was in the ’70s, we blasted it the whole time we were in there.
“We didn’t have a gym. We couldn’t afford to go to a gym. It was very simplistic, but to us, it was home.’’
Friday night, under the lights at Harvard Stadium, Murphy and best pal Buddy Teevens, the Dartmouth coach, will stage a hometown spa reunion of sorts. Their two clubs, both 6-0 this season, will square off for the 119th time since 1882, with the winner grabbing the inside track on the Ivy League championship.
The two coaches, born eight days apart in October 1956, have been friends for nearly a half-century, going back even before their days of workouts in the spa. They both attended Silver Lake Regional High School (Class of ’74, when Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were’’ topped the charts), were teammates on the Laker football team under coach John Montosi, and both went on to decorated playing careers — Murphy at Springfield College, Teevens at Dartmouth — before embarking on their coaching careers in the fall of 1979. Teevens started as an assistant at DePauw, Murphy at Brown.
They’ve gone on to work on the same football staffs (Boston University, Maine), stood up at one another’s weddings, become godfathers to one another’s children, and forever remained in contact to share in all of life’s triumphs and losses. They stuck up for each other in fistfights as kids, jumped together off the Jones River Bridge as a teenager’s rite of passage, even acted as lab partners, teaming up to dissect a frog in 10th grade biology.
“One of us that day had this great idea,’’ recalled Teevens, “to stick a chewed-up jellybean inside the frog, then ask the teacher what it was . . . just because, you know, it might be comical.’’
“Uh, that would have been Buddy with the idea,’’ noted a more stoic Murphy, a stickler for such details.
There has always been what Teevens termed “a lightness’’ to their shared humor. The jellybean, orange in color, was inserted in the frog. The teacher was summoned. How interesting, said the teacher, who diagnosed the anatomical anomaly to be a cancerous growth.
“A sweet form of it, I guess,’’ offered Teevens.
“Obviously,’’ said Murphy, “this wasn’t pre-med.’’
Like a seventh son
Montosi, their high school coach, said Teevens and Murphy were fine players. Teevens, the more natural athlete, was the star quarterback, one of five boys in his family (out of six total) who would play that position for the Lakers. Murphy, less gifted but with an insatiable work ethic, played a variety of positions, including the left side of the offensive line. His No. 1 duty was to protect Teevens’s blind side on passing plays.
“Yeah, he didn’t do that real well,’’ recalled Teevens, who is in his second tour as the Big Green’s coach. “They called me ‘Backup Buddy’ back in the day. I lost a few yards. Murph picked me up a lot of the time — very thoughtful in that regard.’’
Teevens, according to Montosi, was the “Dennis the Menace’’ of the two boys.
“You know, looked like an angel but always doing something,’’ said Montosi. “Timmy had to work harder and was a little more serious than Buddy. But both of them loved to have fun.’’
So was it Teevens and his pal Murphy who scaled Kingston Town Hall one day and fashioned a Mickey Mouse clock on its facade?
“I don’t think anyone ever found out who they were,’’ said Murphy, ineptly tiptoeing the line of self-incrimination. “But I do know it was two guys from our high school who did it, and they were never apprehended.’’
Mary Teevens, whose six boys and three girls grew up on the near-eight-acre family spread across from the Silver Lake junior high school, oversaw a very active household. She already had a son named Timothy when Timmy Murphy came along, but in a home where the washer and dryer were always running, and meals forever being served, accommodating a seventh son was a simple task.
“He fit in with the crowd, you know, with the boys,’’ said Mary Teevens. “He was very easygoing and very competitive, as my kids were. And they just got along, never really argued.
“It wasn’t a problem, because we had so much room. They’d come in the house once in a while, but 90 percent of the time they were out in the barn, lifting. They played together, they both thought the same way, and they’ve always had deep respect for one another.’’
Murphy, said Mary Teevens, sends her a Christmas present every year, calls her for Mother’s Day, for Christmas, and for Easter. Like all her sons, he was also an altar boy, her boys at St. Thecla’s in Pembroke and Murphy at St. Joseph’s in Kingston.
“He’s like a son, another member of the family,’’ she said. “We just include him in everything. In August, we had a family gathering and of course Tim was there and he ended up in the family photo. That’s how it was, and that’s how it still is.’’
The two boys first met, according to Teevens, on a baseball field, in a Pembroke-vs.-Kingston Babe Ruth all-star game, before they became classmates in junior high. There was a close play at the plate, with Teevens the catcher and the hard-charging Murphy barreling down the line.
“He ran into me,’’ said Teevens. “And I’m like, ‘Who’s this guy Murphy?’ He comes sliding in, just a tough guy, then I go down and then he goes down — and he was out!’’
“Really, I was out?’’ said Murphy, asked about his friend’s recollection. “That’s his version.’’
All the Teevens boys played hockey. Buddy, in fact, known best at Dartmouth for his quarterbacking, also played varsity hockey, something unheard of in today’s college sports. The taller Murphy (6 feet 3 inches today to Teevens’s 5-10), opted for basketball as his winter sport.
“Here’s a great story,’’ said Teevens, thinking back to his attempt to make the junior high basketball team. “I was cut after two weeks. And the reason the coach gave me? They needed room on the bus for the cheerleaders to go to the away games.’’
It was a childhood, both agreed, filled with competition, training, and good fun. They followed their daily workouts at the spa (they still quibble over who could lift more weight) with a mile race to the high school grounds. Following a workout there, including laps around the track, they would race the mile back to the Teevens home.
After the workouts, said Murphy, he usually hitchhiked back to Kingston.
“I remember it very vividly,’’ he said. “I would hitchhike to my construction job in the morning. I would hitchhike to Buddy’s house after work. Then I would hitchhike to my house and fall asleep in my dinner at the table about 9:30 at night. Then wake up and do it again the next day.
“We couldn’t wait for preseason football to start, because summers were so hard. It was like Groundhog Day.’’
No football talk
Headed into Friday night’s game, Murphy’s Crimson will be riding a 20-game win streak. His club is 10 for 10 in recent home games and 14 for 14 in recent Ivy matchups. Harvard also has won 11 straight over Dartmouth, 10 of those with his pal Teevens as coach of the Big Green.
Teevens, who coached Dartmouth for five seasons from 1987-91 and then returned for a second run in 2005, has revived a program that went through a frustrating 9-41 stretch his first five years back in Hanover, N.H. The Big Green are 14-2 over the last two years.
“You know his guys are going to be well-coached,’’ said Teevens. “You know they are going to be physical. I know who Murph is. They’ll be tough, physical, and aggressive.’’
“A Buddy Teevens team,’’ said Murphy, “is always tough, hard-nosed, fundamentally sound, and won’t beat itself by making mistakes.’’
When they meet up again after the season, there will be no talk of Friday night’s outcome. Approaching a half-century of friendship, they’ve learned to focus their conversations on everything but football. They are older now, with shared treasures of family and friends to talk about. The only bragging rights center on their annual golf game, an outing they make sure includes Montosi, their former coach.
With their 60th birthdays approaching next year (Teevens on Oct. 1, Murphy on Oct. 9), they’re thinking about celebrating the milestone in a familiar spot on the South Shore late in the summer.
“Back to Jones River Bridge,’’ said Murphy. “It was a rite of passage in my neighborhood, when you got to be 12, to jump off the bridge and into the river about 50 feet below.
“Buddy and I have been talking. For our 60th, we think we’re going to do it again.’’
All of which was news to Mary Teevens.
“Oh, really?’’ she said, accustomed to the hijinks of her oldest and her adopted son. “OK, well, they did that every once in a while in high school, and then I’d hear about it later on, you know, down the road.’’
They are two friends, many miles down the road from the Teevens Spa, back together under Friday night lights.