Every single member on the 1983 West Roxbury football team felt the same as they watched Nantucket arrive at the Division 5 Super Bowl on a private plane on the day before Thanksgiving.
While the initial reaction may have been surprised, intimidation was not in the question. They were motivated and confident, headlines predicting their loss like, “Street-smart West Roxbury Faces Suburban Powerhouse,” circulating through their heads.
It wasn’t “street-smarts,” that left each of the teams they had played up until that point with disappointment and despair. It was unity.
Nantucket would be no different than any of those previous 10 teams. West Roxbury shut them out, 12-0, becoming the first city team to ever win a Super Bowl.
Dec. 3 will mark the 30th anniversary of that monumental Super Bowl win for West Roxbury but the team will be honored before West Roxbury's game against Madison Park at 3:30 p.m. on Friday at West Roxbury. The team will also celebrate on Friday with a pregame tailgate.
While it’s been decades since that Super Bowl victory, for coach Leo Sybertz, it still feels like yesterday.
“It was a tremendous moment for me then and it’s even more important to me now,” Sybertz said. “A great thing to be able to think about, look back on.”
The sensation of all the different players on the Raiders’ roster experiencing those same emotions, the focus during practice, the excitement before a game and the short-term satisfaction after a win, represented far more than a game of football.
Boston had just gone through one of its most tumultuous eras in the history of the city with the desegregation of public schools. In an attempt at unity, parts of the city had shown hostility.
But a football team at West Roxbury high, freshly founded in 1976, proved to be an example of changing times.
“Kids are kids,” Sybertz said. “There’s never, ever a racial thing. You hear about racial things in the city but nothing was ever brought up like that.
"That was out of the question.”
The squad may have sported green and white but they represented colors from all around the city.
“When they say city team, you automatically think this was some sort of ethnic group,” said Jerome Edwards, a former member of the 1983 team. “This team was a mix of all types of nationalities that came together from all different areas in the city.”
Edwards described black, white, Greek, Italian, Irish-American and Lebanese all as nationalities represented by the ’83 team. Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, Roslindale and West Roxbury were all communities also represented on the team.
“We were truly brothers,” said Reginald Nichols, former defensive end of the 1983 team. “There was never any issues, whether it be inside or outside in the locker room. I think that’s a testament to the school, I think that’s a testament to coach Sybertz.”
For them, playing for Sybertz was a dream. He ended his career as one of the most successful coaches in BPS history. In 31 years as a head coach, Sybertz made 10 playoff appearances, won 13 league championships, five Super Bowls and recorded a City League record 202 wins.
“It was an honor to be able to play for him because he was such a great coach and it was an honor to be on the team,” Edwards said. “You wanted to make sure whatever you did on the outside didn’t jeopardize your opportunity to play each and every game.”
Each game marked a new step toward success for the Raiders. Sybertz had plenty of all-scholastic players on offense, including fullback Raymond Gee and tight end Darrow Patton who played for Northeastern University and Boston University, respectively, on full scholarships.
Marshall Drayton led the way at quarterback with Ron Patterson under center, both of whom served as captains. Leroy Gardener and Lloyd Smith made up the Raiders’ backfield. West Roxbury’s current basketball coach Marty Sommers played wide receiver.
However, the real strength of West Roxbury resided on the defensive side of the ball, where Patterson, Sommers and Patton also played with the third captain of the team, John Hall. The Raiders’ defense only allowed 32 points over 11 games.
“Our defense scored more points that year than all the 11 teams we played scored on us combined,” Edwards said.
That brick wall defense was the key for West Roxbury staying on the Boston Globe’s ‘undefeated bus’ throughout the season. (The Globe illustrates a bus with the names of all the undefeated football teams on board each Monday. If a team lost during the weekend, a dog was shown throwing the team off the bus.)
“The bus represented those teams who were undefeated,” said William Watkins, a former member of the 1983 team. “Every week we would look at that bus to make sure we were at the drivers seat.”
Nothing changed about Sybertz’ coaching methods as the undefeated season progressed. His players still came to their 3-hour practice every single day, and practiced just as hard, if not harder.
“When you’re working your butt off in practice, you can’t get too complacent,” Sybertz said. “You don’t have enough breath left to be complacent.
I gave pep talks during practice. I never had to do it during games because when it came to game day, they we’re already revved up. They were ready to go.”
The football team also got constant support from West Roxbury headmaster Don Peligrini, who made sure school spirit for the team was never an issue.
“We considered him to the best headmaster in America,” Sybertz said. “Couldn’t find anybody better. He backed us up 100 percent.”
He added his players made the season easier by just coming to practice every single day. It was those practices in which relationships were built that would last 30 years and carry the team to the historic Super Bowl win.
“Everybody respected each other,” Sybertz said. “There was a tremendous amount of love and respect among the players. If you walked into that room before practice you could smell it, the love and respect.
"It rose above everything else.”
As Sybertz reminisced, he remembered how Patton was interviewed by reporters after the Super Bowl win. Patton was asked what Nantucket’s biggest threat was, whether it be their running game, passing game or defense.
Patton answered, “We are.”
About Boston Public Schools Sports BlogMore »
- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.