By Mike Grenier
Swampscott High football coaching legend Stan Bondelevitch had a flair for the dramatic.
Virtually anyone who wore a Big Blue uniform on Bondelevitch's watch from 1953-76 and again from 1983-86 can recount his fiery and emotional locker room speeches. They've become part of the Big Blue lore.
"He made the best pregame speeches of any coach I've ever had for any sport that I ever played — at any level," said Billy Adams, who played for Bondelevitch from 1965-67 before moving on to college ball at Holy Cross and then the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
But to this day, there seems to be some dispute about what happened in the late stages of one of the most dramatic wins in Swampscott history, when Mike Lynch kicked a field goal in 1969 to beat arch-rival Marblehead, 15-14, capping the Big Blue's third straight 9-0 season.
Peter Beatrice, who was the quarterback for the Big Blue that day, recalled that Marblehead didn't mount any kind of threat after it fell behind by a point, and thus Swampscott had a chance to put it away with another touchdown. But Bondelevitch wouldn't hear of it, according to Beatrice.
"It was only a one-point game," said Beatrice. "We were in the heat of the moment and I thought we could score again and put it out of reach. But Bondy said, 'You don't want to do that.' We looked at him like he was out of his mind."
Dick Lynch of Swampscott, who was a loyal assistant to Bondelevitch from 1954-73, remembers the ending differently.
"There wasn't enough time for us to score and we didn't even try," said Lynch. "From what I can remember, we were just content to run out the clock."
No matter which version of the game-ending sequence is more accurate, Bondelevitch — intentionally or unintentionally — made a point by keeping the game close. As the years passed, everyone who participated in or who watched the 1969 Swampscott-Marblehead game in person would think a 15-14 game was more exciting than a 22-14 contest.
It was almost as if Bondelevitch, who passed away in 2002, was already thinking about a dual legacy — his own, as well as that of the Swampscott High football program. And 41 years later, the 15-14 game remains an all-time North Shore classic.
"We cried all the way home," said Beatrice. "Even if we'd scored again, we still would have cried all the way home because it meant so much to us."
The Incomparable Stretch
For sure, Beatrice and his 1969 teammates weren't the only Swampscott kids who cried tears of joy during their careers. For generations of kids growing up in Swampscott, wearing the Big Blue uniform and playing for Coach Bondelevitch was a huge deal in their lives.
Athletes love to be affiliated with a winner, and Bondelevitch and his staff put their players in a position to win the vast majority of the time. Bondy's first Swampscott team in 1953 posted a modest 5-3 record, but people in town must have thought it was the greatest achievement in the world — considering the Big Blue went a combined 1-18 the previous two years.
Overall, Bondelevitch's Swampscott teams put together a record of 187-63-5, which translated to a winning percentage of .743. The Big Blue captured 10 Northeastern Conference titles and had eight unbeaten teams under Bondelevitch, and when Massachusetts ushered in the Super Bowl era in 1972, the Big Blue won the Division 2 championship that year by taking care of Catholic Memorial, 28-21.
"Bondy," as he was affectionately known, also coached at Maynard (one season), Hudson (three seasons) and, in the latter part of his career, Bishop Fenwick in Peabody (1977-82). When all was said and done, he had a stunning career record of 251-125-11 (.663) and tied Dracut's Ed Murphy for the state record by coaching for 41 seasons. For his length of service and impact at Swampscott, which was a small school, Bondelevitch was the clear choice as the Salem News' No. 1 coach in North Shore history.
In what might be described as The Incomparable Stretch, Swampscott went 54-1 from 1967-72, winning three state Class B titles along with the inaugural Super Bowl. That was a time when Swampscott produced three future NFL players in Dick Jauron (Lions and Bengals), Tom Toner (Packers) and Adams. Jauron went on to become an NFL head coach with both the Bears and the Bills, and is now an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles. There aren't many small school teams that could ever make that kind of claim.
But you certainly didn't have to play during The Incomparable Stretch to enjoy the fruits of playing for Bondelevitch.
Bruce Jordan played for the Class B state champs (8-0) in 1958 and was a co-captain in 1959, when Swampscott went 5-3-1 with a team that had just three returning players.
Jordan, who was a center and defensive tackle, had the time of his life. As a reward for going undefeated in 1957, Swampscott raised enough money to send the team to the Orange Bowl in Miami.
"I remember there was a hurricane down there and a lot of coconuts had fallen off the trees," said Jordan, 68, who eventually became a very good head coach himself at Marblehead High. "I went to the hotel roof and dropped a couple of those things.
"That whole time, it was great to be a Swampscott football player. We had a wonderful coaching staff with Stan and (line coach Dick) Stevenson and Dick Lynch. They were teachers, first and foremost. Stan had a sense of humor and if someone made a mistake, he'd turn it into a joke and then correct you. He had a lot of compassion for the kids and treated us very well."
Jordan said that Bondy had the "raw material" to work with, meaning the coach had quality athletes. Bondelevitch also knew how to delegate authority to his assistants and was able to think outside the box when the situation warranted it.
"Our 1958 team had Ed Loveday, who was a very solid quarterback," recalled Jordan. "In those days you didn't pass the ball like they do today. We were a really good running team, but when we played Malden Catholic they stopped the run, so we played a different kind of game and Loveday threw five touchdown passes."
A knack for winning big games
Swampscott had so many significant wins in the Bondelevitch Era that everyone seems to have his own favorite. But for sure, the 28-21 decision over Catholic Memorial in the 1972 Super Bowl has to rank high on a lot of people's lists.
The Super Bowl was a new concept that year and no one could say with any certainty that the games wouldn't be a mismatch. On paper, Catholic Memorial stood out as the favorite because the team had allowed just one rushing touchdown all season. However, the Big Blue attacked primarily with the running game and had major success.
"It was one of the greatest (Swampscott) wins, no doubt about it," insisted Frank DeFelice, who was a Bondelevitch assistant from 1966-71. "Catholic Memorial wasn't just a good team that year; it was a great team.
"What happened was that Stan found a weakness in the (Catholic Memorial) defense and exploited it. That (Swampscott) team had Mike Jauron, the youngest of the Jauron boys, but John Toner was the player of the game at tight end. Don Page ran for 207 yards behind Toner's blocking.
"Stan had a knack for winning those big games. His teams were always ready."
One of Bondelevitch's many assets, according to those who played for him or coached with him, was that he built up just about every kid on the roster. He made all the players feel they were contributing something vital to the program, whether they were starters or mostly watching from the sidelines.
"I had so much fun playing for him," said Adams, who eventually became the Lynnfield High coach and athletic director after his NFL career ended. "Stan made things interesting for the kids. Playing the game for Swampscott became extremely meaningful. He kind of made it like it was World War III and we were playing not just for our school, but for our country and the lives of our parents. He'd be counting on us to win the war and save our parents. It was tons of fun."
Longtime Channel 5 sportscaster Mike Lynch, who booted the famous field goal to beat Marblehead in 1969 and who quarterbacked Swampscott's 8-1 NEC championship team the following season, was the team's waterboy at five years old, so Bondelevitch was a larger than life figure to him. And that image didn't change much when Lynch was finally old enough to play for Swampscott.
"The town stood still every Saturday at 1:30 p.m.," said Lynch. "Stan would get everyone in town involved in our games in one way or another. We'd practice in game uniforms on Fridays and sometimes we'd have rallies. We'd wake up the next day and the cheerleaders had already decorated our lockers.
"We also traveled very well; I remember a Monday afternoon game in Danvers where we drew 15,000 fans. We were like Notre Dame in those days, the biggest game on everyone's schedule.
"Stan ran a remarkable program. He made every kid feel important," Mike Lynch continued. "He'd talk to some kid who was maybe 5-foot-8 and say to him, 'By the time you're done here, you'll be the greatest cornerback in the history of Swampscott.' His success wasn't just due to athletes like Dick Jauron, it was due to the average player who played far above his ability. He made everyone feel welcome. There was no hazing at Swampscott — that stuff turns my stomach. The seniors would embrace the younger players, give them rides home. It was something to be a part of all that."
A coach with clout
Bondelevitch had a system in place that extended well beyond the boundaries of the football field. He was the de facto mayor/town manager and was able to get everyone in his corner. That's how he was able to accomplish so much for so long.
Dick Lynch met Bondelevitch in 1954 at Camp Columbus at St. John's Prep. Bondelevitch was in his second year at Swampscott and Lynch, a city kid, was looking to get back into the area after four years in Milford, N.H., where he was teaching and coaching. Bondelevitch said he needed a physical education teacher and coach to help him out and, following a five-minute interview conducted by Bondelevitch himself, Lynch was a PE teacher and assistant coach who would remain on Bondelevitch's staff for 19 years.
During those early days, the entire varsity coaching staff consisted of Bondelevitch, line coach Dick Stevenson and Lynch, who handled the offensive and defensive backfield. Somehow, they did it all and they got spectacular results.
"Stan wasn't the greatest X and O's guy," said Dick Lynch, who still lives in Swampscott. "He left a lot of that up to his assistants. But Stan psychologically prepared a team for a big game better than any coach, or as well as any coach, ever did. He would convince the players that we were better conditioned, better prepared and that we had better coaches. I'll tell you, we didn't lose many big games over the years. Stan was tough, but with a velvet glove.
"He was also a great PR man — he was fantastic at that. He knew all the Boston reporters and The Salem News reporters and all that, and that's how he built a big following for Swampscott. He always felt that kids loved to see their names in the paper — and he made sure it happened."
DeFelice said that Bondelevitch "owned the town," and it wasn't such a bad thing, because he did everything with the kids in mind.
"He knew all the prominent people in town and which buttons to push," said DeFelice, who went on to have great success as the Big Blue baseball coach. "One time I was talking to Tom Toner, who'd been all over the country, and he said there was no better program in the U.S. than what we had. He said there were some football programs that might have been as good, but there was none better than Swampscott."
Jordan pointed out that Bondy also looked out for his players in their post-Swampscott years. If you showed a little ability and were in good academic standing, Bondelevitch would do everything he could to get a kid into college.
"I remember when report cards came out, we used to have to go upstairs to the coaches office," said Jordan, who went to UMass-Amherst. "They would do a running commentary on how you were doing in school. They weren't just interested in us as football players. I think that, as people, we carried over what they wanted out of us."
DeFelice said that Bondelevitch was ahead of his time in many respects. In retrospect, many others felt that way about their former coach, a World War II veteran who went to Acton High and played at St. Anselm College and professionally for the Providence Steamrollers. When he passed away at age 83 in 2002 in Fremont, N.H., Bondy had been inducted into the State Coaches Hall of Fame, the St. Anselm Hall of Fame and, of course, the Swampscott Hall of Fame.
Yet all his personal achievements took a back seat to his team-first, kid-first philosophy.
"Stan never worried about shutouts or individual stats or anything like that," said DeFelice. "Kids would sacrifice their numbers because Stan would play the younger kids if the game was in hand. He had a lot of respect for the game of football and the kids who played it. And no one was ever bigger than the team."
Master of the undefeated teams
Stan Bondelevitch had enormous success as the Swampscott High football coach, posting a record of 187-63-5 from 1953-76 and 1983-86. His teams won 10 Northeastern Conference titles, went undefeated eight times and won the inaugural Division 2 state Super Bowl in 1972. A look at Bondelevitch's unbeaten teams and the titles they won:
1957 — 9-0 (NEC title, Class B state champs)
1958 — 8-0 (NEC title, Class B state champs)
1963 — 8-0 (NEC title, Class B state champs)
1967 — 9-0 (NEC title)
1968 — 9-0 (NEC title)
1969 — 9-0 (NEC title)
1971 — 9-0 (NEC title, Class B state champs)
1972 — 10-0 (NEC title, Div. 2 Super Bowl champs)
Note: The Big Blue went a combined 54-1 from 1967-72.