An undefeated season is one of the greatest achievements in all of sports.
Springfield College football has seen a few teams go undefeated since their inaugural season in 1890. First, there was the 2-0 team in 1893, and they were followed by a 2-0-2 in 1894. Fast forward to 1900 and there was the 5-0-2 team.
The team in 1927 posted a record of 7-0-2. Then in 1956 the team went 8-0-1. That’s five teams in school history that never lost a game during their season.
However, all of these teams had ties in their season, or saw their season cut short. Only one team in school history has ever gone an entire season without any losses and any ties. That would be the team of 1965.
Now, fast forward to 2017 and the only team in school history to go undefeated and untied is being threatened by the current team. The 2017 Springfield College football team currently stands at 9-0, tied with that legendary team from 52 years ago, the one that is known as “Team 65.”.
A Saturday matchup with MIT will determine whether the 2017 players can thrust themselves into the record books with a new greatest all time undefeated and untied record of 10-0. While they are chasing history it is important to remember the past.
The 1965 team was a dynamic, personable, odds defying team. They were lead by legendary Head Coach Ted Dunn. However, their success would not have been possible without key contributions from some other coaches and players.
Two members of that team were connected in a lot of ways: roommates, members of the offensive line, and above all else, friends. There names are Dick Whiting and Douglas Coupe. Coupe was the left tackle for the team while Whiting was the right tackle.
On paper, Team 65 was impressive. They scored an average of 28 points per game on the season, while allowing only 9.6. They had a game against Amherst that was televised, the first ever in the region of Western Massachusetts. They defeated Northeastern, a rival, in front of 12,000 fans.
Still, statistics and accolades only tell so much of a story. Whiting and Coupe were able to shed some light on the bond that this team shared and what exactly was so improbable about their season.
The season opener is not played until September, but the training is year round, and Team 65 set a tone early.
Coupe was a senior and one of the leaders of the team and he still remembers the letter he got in August: “The captains sent out a letter in summertime to all of us, and the third sentence of the opening paragraph jumps off the page. ‘There is no team on our schedule that we can’t beat.’”
Looking at the past three years that was a ridiculous claim to make. In the previous three seasons the Maroons had gone 3-6, 5-4, and 1-7. The captains who sent out that letter were Scott Taylor and Gary Wilcox. They had a vision for their season.
Taylor recalled the idea, “That came from Gary [Wilcox], he was the idea guy. We both caught on to it, but he was the lead. We felt invincible from the standpoint that we knew we could win and the other classmen bought into it. If we took it a game at a time, we were going to surprise everybody.”
While anyone on the outside may have thought that was ridiculous, the team had bought in. Whiting still recalls receiving his letter.
“I was working out down the Cape and my boss was there and I told him we were going undefeated. He said ‘what are you talking about’ and I told him we were committed to going undefeated.”
The players were locked in, but an undefeated season takes a great coach. Springfield had just that in Ted Dunn.
Coupe said of his former coach, “If there was ever a person who could be described as a saint it was Coach Dunn. He used to say to us, ‘I want you to be ferocious gentlemen.’ You’re playing football, trying to knock the other guy, and he wants us to be gentlemen.”
That idea of gentlemen and sportsmanship was rooted in Dunn’s past. He graduated from Colgate University under coach Andy Kerr. He preached a unique philosophy that Dunn followed.
Kerr had said that winning is a byproduct of learning to play together as a team and respecting one another and the opposition. When Dunn was hired at Springfield in ’57 the same philosophy was instilled.
How much of a gentlemen was Coach Dunn? Coupe laughed when he answered that question, “He never, ever swore once. We in our own way would beg him to swear. During practice we would try to get him ticked off in hopes that he would swear and he never ever did.”
In addition to that politeness, Dunn–who passed away just last year at the age of 96–was unique. He inspired in a calm, mild way, not the typical grizzled football speech. Whiting cited one particular pregame where a reporter from Sports Illustrated was in the locker room, and Dunn still did not change his style.
“Pre-game speech versus Rhode Island he says, ‘Did you know Finland was never invaded by the Russians?’ This is a pre-game speech where we’re going in undefeated. He says, ‘Do you realize that they were never invaded?’” recalled Whiting. He says, ‘The reason they were never invaded by the Russians was because they were mentally tough, and the team that’s mentally tough today is going to win this game.’”
Few, if any, coaches would give a speech in that manner to their team before a big game. It was that calmness that made Dunn unique. He was a good coach, but a much better person.
“He was just a wonderful, wonderful human being. Full of compassion” said Coupe. “He was literally a father to us all and an outstanding person.”
Behind Dunn were two other coaches: Defensive Coordinator David Auxter and offensive guru Jack Neumann. The fact that the Springfield defense held opponents under 10 points per game is incredibly impressive.
It’s even more impressive when considering the average weight of their defense was only 177 pounds and there were only two senior members of the defense.
Whiting recalled, “We had a perfect season with a defense that had an average weight of 177 pounds. Our middle linebacker was maybe 150 pounds, but everything we did was predicated on speed.”
Auxter was the mastermind behind that scheme. Across the line was Neumann heading the offense. Both Coupe and Whiting credited Coach Neumann’s experience coaching at Arizona and his experience with a pro style offense.
The modern team is run heavy, racking up 459.2 rush yards per game. Team 65 differs thanks to the contributions of Neumann. He instilled a pass first approach and the team benefited tremendously from their new style.
Taylor knows that without those two coaches Springfield would not have put together the season they did, “They were gentlemen. It was very hard not to give them your full and complete effort.”
The dynamic combination that the staff and players produced was how the Pride were able to attain the undefeated, untied season. Of course, now with the 2017 team threatening to surpass what they achieved, is there bitterness?
The short answer: not at all. Whiting is behind Team 17 all the way and has let them know it, “I called Mike Cerasuolo the other day and left a message to let him know we’re behind him all the way. We definitely support these guys and want them to have that accomplishment.”
Whiting, who recently retired after a long career as head of the SC counseling center, added, “It’s a team sport, a team effort, and it’s quite an accomplishment. I’m sure everyone from our team would want the same thing, wish them luck, have the undefeated season, and have that memory.”
Coupe, who remains connected to Springfield College as a member of the Board of Trustees, agreed, “I really wish them well. I honestly believe that records are made to be broken. Their situation is a little bit different because they’ve got a chance of being a perfect 10-0.”
He does not like to hear comparison between the two teams either, “What I would say if one were comparing our team to theirs is they deserve every accolade they get, they’ve worked hard, Coach Cerasuolo and his staff have done an excellent job, and I couldn’t be happier for them,” said Coupe.
The time is now for Team 17 to cement themselves next to Team 65 in the record books. The accolades are nice, the wins are nice, and the fandom is nice, but it’s the lessons that last forever.
Both Coupe and Whiting were humbled and touched at how much being a part of the team did for them. Whiting said, “To me it was just the whole connectedness, the team effort, and being part of something that at the time was pretty amazing. It’s been a long time now and many football games have been played. No one’s been able to go undefeated.”
He added with a smile, “Hard work and commitment and you can accomplish anything. You saw the record earlier.”
Taylor knows that the accomplish he was apart of is rare. “How many men my age, 74 years of age, across this country have this wonderful memory. Such a positive memory is a unique thing, and there’s not many people who have those special memories.”
Coupe went even deeper. “One of the takeaways that resonates for me was I really take what I learned that season as I walk through life,” he said. “Sacrificing, going the extra mile, working that much harder than somebody else, a lot of those values that I took away from that season allowed me to be very successful in life. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Only the future can tell if the members of Team 17 will feel the same way those from Team 65 did. The final piece of the puzzle falls into place Saturday with the MIT game.
Doug Coupe read thousands of scouting reports in his life, but he always remembers the playbook before the final game of his career against Wagner.
“Every week we would get the scouting report. Each week there was a theme. Before the final game the scouting report cover had three words: good or great.”
Good or great.
For this year’s team 9-1 is good, but 10-0 is great.
History tends to repeat itself. Dick Whiting spoke for all of Team 1965 when he told Team 2017, “We had a chance to be remembered as a good football team or a great football team. That’s what I think of with these guys they got a chance to be a good team or a great team.”
A whole season can come down to 60 minutes, one team, one play to determine it all. Football is football, whether it’s 1965 or 2017. The same holds true and the same question always remains.
Good or great? What’s it going to be for Team 17?