THE GRIDIRON 12–2012
THANKSGIVING DAY MEMORIES
By Dick Engelhardt
The 2012 football season, the 70th since Fair Lawn High School opened September 13th, 1943, is the fourth in which our CUTTERS had no Thanksgiving Day football game. Coach Marty Fischbein found an opponent for his new CUTTERS that initial 1943 season in the TERRIERS of Holy Trinity High School of Westfield. Our CUTTERS started their Thanksgiving play with a 19-0 victory on what is now the Center Rec Field before the football field was built. The present SASSO FIELD, named after the venerable athletic director, teacher, coach and vice principal, Virgil G. Sasso, who served 1944-79, was laid out in 1956 as the gold colored “B Wing” high school addition was being built and took that space. The current home stands were constructed in 1959.
In 1944, Fischbein’s CUTTERS began a 40 year Turkey Day rivalry with the MAROONS of Ridgewood which ended in 1984 when Fair Lawn left the Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League (NNJIL) to return to the Northern Bergen Interscholastic League (NBIL), that Fair Lawn and Ridgewood had left in 1959. Ridgewood took the 1944-83 annual classic 26-11-3 (.703).
In 1984, back in the NBIL, our Cutters began a 10 year 1984-93 Turkey Day rivalry with the PATRIOTS of Wayne Hills that wound up 5-5 (.500). The teams continued to play during the season. Wayne Hills took the 1984-2009 overall rivalry 20-5 (.800).
In 1994 the Thunderbirds of Mahwah joined the NBIL, which they had left in the 1960s for the new Bergen-Passaic Scholastic League (B-PSL). They wanted to play their old Turkey Day foe, Ramsey. The reshuffling of the Turkey Day NBIL rivalries enabled Fair Lawn to pick up the BEARS of Bergenfield. Fair Lawn took the 1994-2008 Turkey Day rivalry 11-4 (.733) and the 1945-48 and 1962-2008 overall rivalry, the longest in either school’s history, 35-16 (.686).
Fair Lawn’s 66 season Thanksgiving Day record during 1943-2008 is 28-35-3 (.444). It ended with Fair Lawn’s 42-0 victory over Bergenfield. There were some great memories along the way. In 1947, our Cutters shared the then Bergen-Passaic Interscholastic League (B-PIL) championship with the Golden Bears of Lyndhurst. Coach Frank “Mac” Bennett was the New York Daily News North Jersey “Coach of The Year.” The Cutters beat the Maroons 7-6 for the first Fair Lawn victory. Ridgewood led the series 3-1 (.750). In 1953 Bennett’s B-PIL champion Cutters shared the North Jersey, Section 1, Group III title with the Comets of Hackensack. They beat Ridgewood 26-6. Star running back Dave Sime would become “The World’s Fastest Human!” Ridgewood led the series 6-4 (.600). Bennett’s ’55 B-PIL champion CUTTERS beat Ridgewood 19-7. My twin brother, Bill, and I were “Water Boys” on that team! The MAROONS led the series 7-5 (.583).
Bennett’s ‘59 CUTTERS almost took the title in their maiden NNJIL season. Ridgewood’s 13-7 upset victory in which the Maroons injured Fair Lawn’s star running back, Bob Wright, who went on to play for Army, gave Hackensack the title by half a game even though our CUTTERS had beaten the COMETS 27-6. Ridgewood led the series 10-5-1 (.667).
Ed Sheehy’s ‘64 CUTTERS tied Ridgewood 6-6. Sheehy died after the season and Frank Devens’ NNJIL champion Cutters went 8-0-1 (1.000) in ’65 and beat Ridgewood 13-6 on Turkey Day. They remain the only FLHS team in history to go undefeated! Ridgewood led the series 12-8-2 (.600). Devens’ 1966 NNJIL champion CUTTERS brought a 24 game non-losing streak into the game. Sensational running back, Bruce Jankowski would go on to star at Ohio State and play for the Kansas City CHIEFS in the National Football League (NFL) and the Shreveport STEAMER in the World Football League (WFL). He and ’59 star, Bob Wright, along with coaches Bennett and Devens and the late AD, Virge Sasso, were in the initial group inducted into the Fair Lawn High School Athletic Hall Of Fame in 2006. Coach Fischbein and the original “cutters” were inducted in ‘09 along with this writer. Before a crowd of 13,000 on Thanksgiving Day in ‘66, Ridgewood upset Fair Lawn in a 40-34 barn burner. The MAROONS led the series 13-8-2 (.619).
What wonderful memories there are of FLHS in action on Thanksgiving Day! Next week we’ll look at Fair Lawn’s Consolation game against Montville and playoff action of interest to Fair Lawn fans. Until then, GO CUTTERS GO!!!