Rocky Nelson, a legend on the sidelines of the Woburn High football team for more than three decades, died Sunday morning after a short battle with lung cancer, Woburn athletic director Jim Duran said. Nelson was 74.
Nelson was the head coach at Woburn from 1986 to 2016, and that was after serving as the defensive coordinator and an assistant for 16 years prior to taking over that role.
He had a career record of 208-116-7 and won three Super Bowls — two as a defensive coordinator in 1975 and 1979, and one as head coach in 2005. Woburn reached four Super Bowls during his tenure as head coach (1987, 1991, 1993, and 2005).
Nelson was a lifelong Woburn resident and a physical education teacher at the high school for 37 years.
“He was so passionate about the sports teams at the school. He was so passionate about Woburn, about the community,” said Duran, who played for Nelson from 1986-87. “He always got the best out of you.”
Duran recalled a recent visit he had with Nelson once Duran learned the news of the cancer. Nelson was fighting, but he was still his sharp, jovial self.
“He could tell you a play that happened back in ’87,” Duran said. “He’d say, ‘Do you remember that play?’ and I said, ‘How do you remember that? I don’t even know what I did yesterday.’ ”
His coaching career ended on a high note when Woburn defeated longtime rival Winchester, 22-21, on Thanksgiving in 2016 in the rivalry’s 112th meeting.
“After the clock hit zero,” the Globe reported from that game, “the Tanners celebrated and lifted up their coach to ‘Rocky, Rocky,’ chants in the end zone.”
“He was one of those coaches you didn’t want to let down,” Duran said.Brandon Chase can be reached at email@example.com.