Time is the ultimate benchmark, our eternal reference. For some, time moves quickly, for others, time slowly trudges along, but for all, it is our perpetual measure. As records come and go, time proves to be the only sedentary point, and records and marks that stand through the test of time truly are timeless.
It was 50 years ago, a blink of an eye for some, a feature length film for others, that Springfield College’s own test of time began. The fall of 1965, the first for President Wilbert Locklin, saw the first and only undefeated football team to ever grace the grounds.
An unblemished 9-0 mark, punctuated with a 43-13 blowout win over the University of New Hampshire (UNH), a 16-14 victory over Northeastern, and a 7-6 win against Rhode Island, has stood the test of time. A group of football players, all united in one common pursuit, determined, and truly believing they were invincible, has bucked time and remain standing as Team ’65.
“We really did feel that when we put 11 people on the field, they could put 11 on, but bring them on,” defensive end and co-captain Scott Taylor says. “Bring on your best players. You can’t put more on. Our best 11 is as good as your best 11.
“Maybe we were naïve, too small, too unsophisticated. But no one ever told us the difference. We were at that age where you felt pretty invincible.”
Throughout the offseason, Taylor and offensive co-captain Gary Wilcox sent letters to all the players, motivating them and constantly making them aware of the potential the team possessed.
“We had a wonderful pair of captains in Scott Taylor and Gary Wilcox,” head coach Ted Dunn, now 95, says from his home at Reeds Landing, just two miles from Springfield College, “and those two fellas had letters all through the summer, once a week, talking about each game and how they needed to prepare and so forth. We had great leadership in those two.”
Led by Taylor and Wilcox, the undefeated season began with a 30-14 victory over Coast Guard, followed by a 13-0 shutout of Amherst.
“Amherst was very challenging because they have a great program,” says Dunn. “We always said that with Amherst, every single player was their hometown captain.”
The winning streak hit three with a 28-8 win over Williams, following by a 42-13 beating of Colby, the third consecutive current New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) school Springfield faced.
Up next was Northeastern, the first true challenge to Springfield’s undefeated season.
“I think we got to the point when we played at Northeastern and Rhode Island, they were tough kids. They played hard. They were bigger,” Taylor says, his voice slowly rising in intensity. “They certainly weren’t afraid of us, but we certainly weren’t afraid of them. Those were two good football teams in those situations that battled it out, and we managed to come out on top.”
Springfield followed the Northeastern win with a rout of inter-city rival American International College (AIC), rolling to a 43-6 victory. Then, a test with Rhode Island.
“We had a very small back, not more than 140 pounds, that we would spot in certain situations,” says Taylor, who went on to work for the college as Alumni Director, Student Activities Director, and Major Gifts Director. “He broke the Northeastern and Rhode Island games open. When he was spotted he really made things happen. In Rhode Island he had a long run, and he was well out of bounds, and he got hit. It was flagged, but it broke his arm.
It was a dog fight; it took determination.”
Even with the loss of Jim Pollard, Springfield’s shifty running back, the Pride escaped with a 7-6 victory, before routing UNH 43-13, setting up a pivotal game on the road in Staten Island, NY, with Wagner.
“They wanted to spoil the season something awful,” Taylor says. “Wagner’s captain was a big kid, Richard Kotite (the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1991-94). He was a big, talented college football player. But he had an old returning student, Jack Lamabe who enjoyed scouting the other team.
He came back (from scouting Wagner) and told the defensive line, ‘Wagner has a big tight end, and two or three times a game they go end around to him. If you guys read this properly, you will catch him in the backfield.’ They ran that play three times, and we stopped it for a loss twice. It was the little things that fed in to our success.”
Springfield rolled, capping the 9-0 season with a 30-13 win, still the only unblemished record in Springfield football history, igniting excitement on campus, even earning a letter from Charles Ryan, the Springfield mayor at the time.
“It’s not really something I thought would happen (going undefeated),” Taylor says. “Every kid dreams of running the table. We had a core group of guys, we felt we had some ability. We grew in to feeling that we were as tough as any of these guys. With the right number of underclassman, sprinkle in real good players, and all of a sudden you have a package.”
Springfield outscored opponents 252-87, the fourth fewest points that any Springfield team has given up in a season with at least nine games.
Since 1965, Springfield has flirted with an undefeated just once, in 2003, when head coach Mike DeLong led the Pride to an undefeated regular season before falling to RPI 40-34 in the first round of the NCAA tournament, finishing with a 10-1 record.
“I think a real big piece was Gary and I, we had maybe eight seniors, (and) we felt we had a blank check with these guys,” says Taylor. “What Gary and I wanted to do, they were going with us all the way. This wasn’t a captain or two just leading, this was two captains that had the total backing of the seniors, and that drew out the total support of the underclassman. It’s contagious. We felt, hey, if we stick together, we can beat anybody.”
The lone disappointment for the team was getting snubbed on a bid to the Tangerine Bowl, now known as the Citrus Bowl, as the committee selected the University of Maine with an 8-1 record. Maine went on to lose to East Carolina 31-0.
But despite missing out on a bowl bid, the magic and emotion of an undefeated season still rings true.
“The approach was that we were trying to convince everyone that it could be done if we pulled together,” Taylor says. “An old adage of Coach Dunn, we would laugh at it then, but as we got older, he was spot on. He said, if you take 11 sticks and you pick them up individually and try to break them, they’ll snap. But if you put them in a bundle they’re not going to break. They may bend a little but they’re not going to break.
“After a while we started to buy in. It really is true. If you have 11 on offense and 11 on defense and it’s just right in their physical and mental makeup, it’s a tough thing to overcome. That played into it. It was a wonderful thing.”