‘Iceman’ — It’s a nickname that described Teddy Staunton perfectly when he lined up under center for the Peabody High football team more than 25 years ago.
Ironically, though, one of the greatest quarterbacks in Peabody High history — and on the North Shore as a whole over the last 40 seasons — didn’t get that moniker because he was a classic drop-back passer with a golden arm.
Instead, assistant coach Terry Lee dubbed him ‘Iceman’ after Staunton kicked a 33-yard field goal with eight seconds left to beat Malden — the team that presented the biggest obstacle in Peabody’s quest for the Greater Boston League championship in 1986 — by a 31-28 score.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Staunton earned a reputation for never being rattled in pressure situations. The Tanners depended on their quarterback to come through in the clutch — and he almost always delivered.
“It’s funny because it started out as a chip shot, but a penalty on one of our guys for being offsides moved it back,” Staunton, who still lives in Peabody, said of his famous kick. “We were playing in Malden and I remember they called a couple of timeouts, so it turned into a long ordeal. It seemed to me to go on for about 15 minutes before I finally got to kick the ball. Every time I see Niz (head coach Ed Nizwantowski) to this day, he talks about it.”
Staunton’s kick went straight through the uprights and set a then-GBL record for longest kick in a league game.
After the contest, Nizwantowski told The Salem News, “That’s why we call him ice. He showed the kind of athlete he is by walking out there under all that pressure and getting the job done. It didn’t even bother him. It was just a great comeback. You tell me, where are you going to see entertainment like that for $3?”
Peabody went 10-0 in the fall of 1986 and reached the Division 1 state Super Bowl behind Staunton and tailback Pat Cullen, who rushed for 1,600 yards and 24 touchdowns. Cullen had four TDs in that classic win over Malden.
“I was standing next to Teddy and he told me to keep everybody away from him,” recalled Tanners co-captain Bobby Irzyk. “We went offside, which moved it back five yards, and then Malden tried to ice him, but he nailed it.
“Having the long ball and being accurate made him unique for a high school quarterback. He had a great arm and could thread the needle; he’d put it where his receiver would catch it — or nobody would. I think playing strong safety as a junior helped him a lot because he saw what mistakes other quarterbacks made. He was so emotional, so into it. We’d have a third-and-long situation, and he’d (still) move the chains.”
Big arm paid big dividends
In his two years as starting QB for the Tanners after taking over early in his junior year, the team went 14-3. Staunton completed 74 passes for 1,006 yards and 11 TDs his senior year despite playing only the first half in many games, when the Tanners shot out to a big lead early and substitutes were put in.
Peter Smyrnios threw for close to 1,000 yards in 1983, but Staunton is believed to be the first QB in Tanner history to go over that mark. Tom Pucillo (19 catches), Kevin McGovern (15), Cullen and Scott Hatfield (12 each) gave him a variety of weapons.
“The ball was always right where it should be,” said Cullen. “If I did a screen, the ball was never sailing over my head; it was right on the money. His control was amazing, and he took charge in the huddle.”
For a program not known for putting the ball in the air often, Staunton put up big numbers. Nizwantowski recognized his quarterback’s ability to throw the ball and modified his offense to bring out the best in the talent he had.
“I couldn’t get out of my own way (running the ball), but that’s what we had Pat for,” said Staunton, who also handled extra points, field goals and kickoff duties. “He would run over you, run through you, or do whatever it took to get big yards. He was phenomenal, especially when we were seniors.
“I give Niz a lot of credit because he adjusted to his personnel. Peabody was always a running team from way back in the ‘50s, but he knew what he had to do. I’m sure he said to himself ‘I can’t run with this kid, but he can throw the ball’”.
Lee pointed out Staunton’s intelligence helped him tremendously, and he had a typical Peabody High hard-nosed bunch of guys around him.
“Teddy was a money quarterback,” said Lee. “He was a tall, lanky kid who knew who his first, second and third receivers were. He could always find one of them, but he wasn’t afraid to throw the ball out of bounds when he needed to.
“That (’86) team was smart and tough. They loved to hit and they loved to win. That was one solid, tough team capable of beating anyone.”
While that winning field goal is one of the high points in Staunton’s illustrious career, the Tanners’ 20-13 loss to Winchester in the Super Bowl still stings.
“We definitely should have won that game, without a doubt,” said Staunton. “There were no playoffs at the time and only two teams in each division got to go to the big game. We had the ball the majority of the time and drove down the field to score in the first couple of minutes. Winchester scored on a kickoff return, a punt return and an 85-yard run. Those three big plays made the difference.
“When I run into Danny Collins or Mark Bettencourt,” — who won the 1990 Super Bowl with Peabody High, “they love to remind me that we fell short in our big game while they didn’t. It hurts to this day, but they’re right. That never should have happened because we had the best talent.”
Staunton settled into the quarterback role from the time he started playing youth football in the old Peabody Ward system for the powerhouse Ward Six Giants. In almost every game, coach Peter Argeros (now an assistant coach at St. John’s Prep) took his starters out shortly after halftime because they were dominating their opponents.
The bulk of that youth team went on to play at Peabody High for Nizwantowski. On the ‘86 team the two captains (Irzyk and Gary Bua), Cullen, Staunton and junior fullback Lee Miller were all former Giants. Irzyk and Bua were two of the best linebackers in the state who went on to have great careers at Maine and the University of New Hampshire, respectively.
“We all grew up together and had been playing for so long (that) we jelled,” said Cullen. “We should have rolled over Winchester, but we made a couple of mistakes that came back to hurt us. They never should have even scored, but when you make mistakes those things happen.”
“I think playing together and winning together for so long gave us a lot of confidence in each other,” added Irzyk. “Teddy had that great arm, and Pat was a super runner. Staunton nailed the 45 bootleg pass, and Pucillo was his go-to-guy whether it was third-and-long or third-and-short. He also was great on the FD (fake draw)-flanker fly. Cullen or Miller would take off, then turn around and flip the ball to Staunton, who’d let it go. He must have been 8-for-10 on that play our senior year.”
It was a well-rounded, talented team on both sides of the ball, and Staunton was the perfect field general to lead them to victory.
“We had some great teams from the time I began playing,” said Staunton. “Those guys were all keys to our success in high school. I had lots of good weapons to throw the ball to, and I’d have to say Hatfield was my favorite receiver. He caught a lot of passes. He was our flanker, Cullen at tailback and Miller at fullback.
“Cullen ran for a ton of yards, which made it so much easier for me. Miller wanted the ball more, but he had to wait for his senior year. My junior year Joe Bettencourt was the key guy to throw to because he had great hands. McGovern and Pucillo also caught a lot of passes.”
Having a ball
In Staunton’s junior year, Bettencourt broke a Peabody record by catching 36 passes (the old mark was held by former Tanner lacrosse coach Bob Danish).
Peabody took full advantage of its quarterback’s arm and often came out throwing to start the game. The strategy worked well as the QB stunned everybody by throwing long.
“We won two or three games that way,” said Staunton, who works for Budweiser. “Our first play would be to go for the bomb, a 50 or 60-yard pass play, and before the other team knew what happened we were up, 7-0.
“Having a guy like Cullen who could run and me as a passing threat caught people off guard. It took the pressure off me having such a great running game. Cullen was a key cog, and Miller was a big rugged dude, a horse. They took care of the yards on the ground, so teams weren’t always expecting me to throw.”
After the Super Bowl, Staunton moved on to captain the Peabody High hockey team. He still plays in a Sunday morning league with fellow captain Dana Lynn, former hockey coach Ken Gill, and current Tanner head hockey coach Mark Leonard.
“A bunch of us are still doing it every week and having a ball,” said Staunton, who was a three-year varsity hockey player. “My senior year we had a good (hockey) team, but a horrible record.”
Nizwantowski coached in the Harry Agganis All-Star Game in 1987 and named Staunton as his starting QB for the East team. He wound up playing a big role by throwing the touchdown pass that resulted in a come-from-behind 15-15 tie.
Staunton had an illustrious career at Cushing Academy at QB and on the hockey team before going to Boston University. He and his wife Jaclyn have two girls, Molly (12) and Elise (9). He enjoys lending a hand to help coach his daughters’ softball teams.
TED STAUNTON, Peabody Years: 1985-86 Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 185 lbs. Record as QB: 14-3 Key stats: Averaged 14.3 yards per completion as a senior, when he threw for 1,006 yards and 11 TDs Titles won: Greater Boston League crown in 1986 (10-0) Biggest accomplishment: Beating Malden High with 33-yard field goal with eight seconds left senior year, in which he ultimately led Tanners to the Division 1 Super Bowl. THE LIST SO FAR 8. Ted Staunton, Peabody 9. Billy Pinto, Salem 10. Brett Belleville, Bishop Fenwick 11. Pat Barror, Beverly 12. Brendan Oliver, Pingree