By Mike Grenier
Billy Hamor took over the Beverly High football team at a critical time in the program's history.
That may sound like a grand statement, but it's true.
It was 1978 and Beverly Panthers football was in a drought. A former Beverly High player himself, Hamor was hungry to succeed the great Roy Norden in 1975. But school officials were infatuated with Nate Cunningham, who had been a graduate assistant at the University of Indiana.
"I applied for the job," recalled Hamor. "We had a good group of kids and I would've liked to step in after Roy (Norden) left. To me it was a matter of continuity."
The Cunningham hire was a disaster. From 1975-77, when Cunningham was the head coach, Beverly went 7-22-1. Solid assistant coaches, who had been assigned odd tasks during the season, left Cunningham's program and looked elsewhere for jobs.
The Beverly program, so proud and consistent decade after decade under Charlie Walsh (109-38-9 from 1944-58) and Norden (87-54-4 from 1959-74), needed a serious makeover by the time Hamor finally received his chance amidst the post-Cunningham debris.
Hamor gave himself a timetable and then attacked it.
"You aren't worth your weight as a coach if you don't think you can turn a program around in three years," said Hamor, 70, who still lives just a stone's throw away from Hurd Stadium in Beverly. "We had these great kids and they just needed a chance to become competitive. I thought we could do it quicker than we did, but it took exactly three years."
Hamor's first two seasons, 1978 and 1979, weren't exactly a roaring success, with the Panthers compiling records of 3-7 and 4-6, respectively. But Beverly did beat arch rival Salem (13-9) in his first year and would've had a .500 record in his second season were it not for a late Jim LeBlanc touchdown that gave Salem a 21-20 victory over the Panthers.
Those two hotly-contested Thanksgiving Day battles against Salem gave Hamor considerable credibility with Beverly fans. More importantly, Hamor firmly believed in what he was doing — and that belief trickled down to his staff and players.
The turnaround begins
The payoff for Beverly High would come throughout the 1980s — and it was a big one. Reflecting Hamor's hard-nosed, no nonsense approach, Beverly ran off a 76-23-2 record for the decade, which translates to a .762 winning percentage.
The Panthers' best years during that span were 1984 (9-1), 1985 (9-1) and 1988 (10-0). They won back-to-back Northeastern Conference titles in 1984-85 but, in those days, league champions didn't automatically advance to the state Super Bowl.
However, Beverly did get to play in the Division 2 Super Bowl in 1988, losing to Dracut, 23-6, on the artificial turf in Foxboro. To this day, it remains Beverly's lone Super Bowl appearance.
"They were good. They were always good when we played them," Ken Perrone, who coached Salem from 1973-94, said of Hamor's teams. "Billy didn't do anything fancy, but his teams did everything well.
"Beverly ran the ball a lot and you could know all of Beverly's plays going into a game, but the question was, could you stop them? Beverly always had great running backs, including at least one horse every season, and they executed extremely well. Those Thanksgiving Day games brought out the best in both teams."
Interestingly enough, Hamor felt that Beverly's turnaround began in a 9-7 loss to Lynn Classical in 1980. The previous year, the Classical Rams had crushed the Panthers, 40-14, but Beverly had a completely different mindset the following year. And the player who symbolized that mind set was Paul Boretti.
"That was an outstanding Lynn Classical team," Hamor said of the 1980 Rams, who would go to the Super Bowl with a 9-0 record. "Anyway, in our game against them, Boretti came up from his (defensive back) spot on one play and really stuck it to Stu Primus. Boretti was small, about 5-foot-6, while Primus was this big Division 1 college prospect (who went on to play basketball at Boston College and was drafted by the Indiana Pacers). Primus stayed down for quite a while.
"Give (Primus) credit because he eventually beat us with a field goal late in the game, but I think that's the day we realized that nobody was going to push us around. We had made great improvement."
The 1980 team, led by Peter Dooling at running back, had a modest 6-4 record, but it signaled the beginning of a glorious decade for Beverly football. The Panthers averaged seven wins over the next three years and really became a feared team in 1984-85, when they went 18-2 and featured players such as Mike Bates, Tim Flaherty, Dave Mandragouras and Pat Barror, among others.
Hamor's trademarks were a time consuming, grind-it-out running game and a punishing defense, and the program was all about stability. Beverly's sub-varsity programs knew exactly what Hamor was running and by the time the players moved up to the varsity, they knew what to expect.
Like any outstanding coach, Hamor surrounded himself with excellent assistant coaches and let them develop their specialties. Guys like Roger Rosinski, John Allen, Al DiPaolo, Peter Harrington, Bruce Nardella, Steve Richardson and Harry Connaughton were loyal to Hamor and Beverly football in general. It was another area of stability for Hamor and a big factor in the team's success.
"I think the No. 1 thing Billy did was that he brought people on board that had the same philosophy towards coaching," said Rosinski, who became Hamor's successor in 1990. "His coaches thought along the same lines. His kids were always going to be in good condition and, in practice, he prepared them for game situations.
"Billy picked the best offense for the kids he had and he stuck with it through all the those years. Same thing with the defense. We established the '5-2' defense in 1978 and we were still playing it during the 2000 season. Billy borrowed a little of what Roy (Norden) and Charlie (Walsh) did and put his own (signature) on it.
"And one of his best attributes was his sincerity with the kids. He didn't promise them pie in the sky; he told them what they had to do to play football for Beverly High. Everything in the program became so consistent that you could almost predict how successful we were going to be the following year."
Harrington jumped aboard in 1985 and was Hamor's trusted line coach through the 1989 season. He quickly discovered that Hamor wasn't just a capable coach but a person of high character. He loved being around Hamor because of what the head coach instilled in his players.
"Billy was a presence," said Harrington. "When he walked into a crowded room, you wanted to go up and talk to him. He always made you feel good about yourself and was very positive with the kids. Billy has great family values, so the players and coaches were always exposed to that stuff and it was a really good influence.
"As a coach, Billy's toughness stood out. He was an imposing kind of guy and you believed in him. His offense wasn't complicated, but it was difficult to stop because of the way we executed. We had a strong running game and, as a line coach, I really loved that. When Billy called for a pass, we'd raise our eyebrows and make jokes."
The Super Bowl season
Hamor is not the type to play favorites with his teams. But record-wise, everything came together in a perfect way in 1988, when the Panthers went 10-0 in the regular season.
In a season filled with memorable games that year, Hamor vividly recalls two in particular.
There was tremendous hype for the Swampscott game on Nov. 12 because it was a meeting of 8-0 teams and Beverly ended up clobbering the Big Blue, 34-14. However, that game was preceded by an unexpected classic as the Panthers barely got past an underrated Marblehead team, 8-7 (the Magicians went 7-3 that year). Running back Dana Peters capped a long drive with a touchdown late in the game, cutting Marblehead's lead to 7-6. Fellow back Winston Trefry punched in the two-point conversion as the Panthers survived a major threat to their unbeaten record.
"Nobody expected that kind of (blowout) against Swampscott — but nobody expected that kind of game against Marblehead, either," said Hamor. "The thing I remember about the (Marblehead) game is that, for some reason, we were trying to throw the ball and it wasn't working. So we get to the second half and we're still trailing, 7-0, and I'm going, 'What am I doing with this passing game?' We had gotten away from our bread-and-butter running attack.
"Time was becoming a factor against us. We finally put together a good drive and Peters scored the touchdown. We still needed two points for the win and I wanted Trefry to get the ball. Winston was a heck of a player, all heart, and I felt he'd get it into the end zone no matter what. He took a step to the outside and made it to the corner (for the two-point conversion). But that was a close call. It would've been a shame if we'd lost that game because everyone was already looking ahead to the Swampscott game the following week."
Beverly was riding high heading into the 1988 Super Bowl, coming off a tough 14-6 win over Salem on Thanksgiving, but the Panthers met their match in Dracut. The Panthers were thrilled to be playing on the same turf as the New England Patriots and got off to a promising start when Jason Shairs intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown, but Dracut pretty much controlled it the rest of the way and walked off with a 23-6 win.
"I wanted it so badly for the kids because it was a wonderful group to coach," Hamor said of the Super Bowl squad. "Dracut wasn't just a good team, it was a great team. They were bigger and stronger and I think they would've beaten anyone in the state that day, no matter what division.
"But it was still a great experience for our kids that whole week, practicing in Foxboro and staying overnight in a hotel, which we'd never done before. I wish we had a better outcome, but it was quite an accomplishment to get there."
Respect from his players
Almost 22 years later, it doesn't bother Trefry that Beverly lost a Super Bowl game to Dracut. He said the Swampscott game a few weeks earlier "had more hype than the Super Bowl," and he has great memories from that entire period.
Long after he's forgotten the scores and game situations, he's going to remember what it was like to play for Billy Hamor. For Trefry, it was a life-changing experience.
"I was in fourth or fifth grade and just starting to get into football when Coach Hamor became the Beverly coach," said Trefry, now 40 years old. "My Dad would take me to games or practices and I would watch him, and he was like a God to me. I think if he'd said a word to me, I would've melted.
"A few years later, it was totally engrossing to play for him. He was so perfect for a teenager growing up in Beverly. He had great integrity; never demeaned anyone. He built you up and made you feel you could accomplish things. He never faked anything to anybody.
"His players were treated with complete respect," added Trefry. "To this day, I draw on things I learned from Coach Hamor."
BILL HAMOR — BY THE NUMBERS
1 — Only coach to lead Beverly to a Super Bowl berth (1988)
3 — Northeastern Conference champions (1984, '85, '88)
76 — Wins during the 1980s, the most by any North Shore football coach
hamor hammers away
After Beverly High's football team suffered five straight losing seasons from 1975-79, Billy Hamor turned the program around in a significant way with 10 straight winning years, including a Super Bowl appearance in 1988. Here's the lowdown
1984: 9-1 (NEC champion)
1985: 9-1 (NEC champion)
1988: 10-1 (NEC champion, Super Bowl qualifier)
DECADE TOTALS: 76-23-2