On the golden anniversary of high school Super Bowls in Massachusetts, its creators savor a dream come true
Bill Abramson and Marvin Pave, childhood friends at Milton High (class of 1961), beamed with pride as they settled into their seats in the press box. They couldn’t believe that their dream of having Massachusetts decide their state soccer champion in a playoff game would come true.
Previously, the champions had been determined by newspaper polls.
“It was all a bit surreal,” 78-year-old Pave recalled as he sat next to 79-year-old Abramson in the booth of a Milton restaurant for Sunday brunch, recalling the 50th anniversary and their collaboration feverishly, to make it a reality.
“I remember being a little nervous because it was the first game and I was hoping nothing would go wrong,” said Pave, covering CM’s game against Swampscott for the Globe. Abramson wrote a sidebar for the globe for the second game. “It turned out to be a sunny day. They had a pretty good audience and the other part of that was they were fantastic games so how could you not enjoy covering them?
This weekend, the MIAA will crown eight division champions with live stream TV games from Gillette Stadium.
It will be the culmination of a nationwide tournament introduced two years ago, along with a revised performance ranking to set the 16 team fields in each division.
And in its 50th year, Pave, a longtime resident of Newton, and Abramson, who lives in Middleborough, will see their alma mater Milton in their first bowl appearance when the top-ranked Wildcats (11-0) take on No. 6 Wakefield (12- 0) for the Division 3 title on Saturday (5:30 p.m.).
“It’s about time, don’t you think?” Abramson said with a chuckle. “That’s why the Super Bowls are so important — it means it for the players, the coaches, it means it for the communities. That’s what makes it so special.”
As a longtime writer at Herald Traveler and later sports editor at Brockton Enterprise, Abramson drew on his mathematical background. In the summer of 1971, he and Pave calculated the numbers from two decades of state high school football records, scores, and schedules.
Their rating system took into account an opponent’s strength or weakness, ranked teams in descending order by their win-loss percentage, and then assigned each team a score based on their placement. If there had been a Super Bowl in 1971, Walpole and Newton would have met in Division 1, Swampscott and Winchester in Division 2.
“The system we proposed worked because the best teams were selected,” Abramson said.
The two approached Brookline football coach Ed Schluntz, chairman of the state football coaches association, and Catholic Memorial coach Jim O’Connor with the idea. “We were all for it,” recalled Schluntz, now 96, who later served as Super Bowl committee chairman for ten years.
“It made a lot of sense to us.”
An evening later, sporting directors unanimously approved the proposal in Framingham. The campaign began to gain momentum, but without the promise of a venue with an artificial turf field, the Massachusetts Secondary School Principals Association (precursor to the MIAA) was unlikely to be swayed.
Meticulously prepared, Abramson and Pave were caught off guard when they were about to give a presentation to the principals. A trainer from Eastern Mass. pulled her aside and asked a question along with a warning. “What about the western fair?” asked the trainer. “You’re going to get a question about it, and if you don’t have an answer, you’re going to lose the vote, 3 to 2.”
Abramson wasted no time trying to find a solution. “I ran to a phone booth and called Dr. Edward Steitz, Springfield College’s athletic director,” he said. “They had just put artificial turf on their soccer field. I asked him if he would be interested in hosting two Super Bowl games involving teams from Central and Western Mass. line up, and he said, ‘Sure, no problem!’ ” Abramson said. “So I had my answer.”
On October 20, 1971, the MSSPA rescinded a postseason ban introduced in 1958—but it wasn’t put into effect until the following year after a college year. “It was pretty clear sailing,” Schluntz said. “No one spoke out against it.”
First-team selection proved more problematic when the new ratings led to a Division 1 regular-season rematch between Brockton and Newton. Brockton coach Armond Colombo initially thought Natick a worthy opponent, but eventually warmed to the idea of facing Newton in the first title game.
“We went through the season trusting the numbers, just like we did this year,” said recently retired Brockton coach Peter Colombo, who played quarterback and kicker for his father in the first Division 1 Super Bowl.
“That’s the controversy of numbers that comes from going through a math equation to solve who’s better than who, that’s not what football is about. Football is decided on the field.”
In the morning, Swampscott (10-0) defeated CM (9-1), 28-21, with Don Page scoring two 42-yard touchdowns in the first half.
In the afternoon, the Boxers (9-0) survived a game performance from Newton (7-2) and clinched a 16-14 win, largely on Peter Colombo’s 27-yard field goal that gave Brockton a 10-0 at halftime Guide. It was buffer enough for Brockton to withstand a fumble and two second-half touchdowns from Newton.
Afterward, Armond scolded Colombo, telling reporters, “You don’t deserve to be here! . . . If Newton had won it would have been an injustice.”
Newton coach Jim Ronayne said: “I don’t believe all the nagging and talk about how bad the rating system is. After all, [Colombo] only beat a third-place team, 16-14.
At Division 1 Central/Western Mass. Super Bowl, held at Springfield College’s Benedum Field, Mike LaSorsa scored 16 of Fitchburg’s points on two touchdown runs of 2 and 12 yards and two 2-point conversion runs in a 22-6 win over Greenfield. In Division 2, East Longmeadow earned a 10-7 win over Shrewsbury after Rand Willard, who had not attempted a field goal, hit a 30-yarder with eight seconds remaining.
“Not only did we have great weather and a good turnout,” Pave said, “we had some great games — some classic games.”
Half a century ago, could anyone have imagined that the Super Bowls would get better or bigger?
“Oh, no, but we always had the whole state in mind,” Schluntz said. “With the number of districts and [adding] a few rounds, so the winners would have to win more than a few games, at least two games. But we just kept working to make it better and better.”
Michael Vega can be reached at [email protected].