Entering the 1977 season, everyone figured that Watertown High’s football team would be pretty good. Under Coach John Barbati, the team had won the Middlesex League twice in four years, and had eight returning seniors, including tri-captains Steve “Sparky” Lyle, Bobby Kelland, and A1 Mandrafino, and star two-way back Tom Tracy. The Boston Globe preseason coaches poll ranked Watertown fourth in Division l.
Nonetheless, five All-Middlesex League players had graduated in 1977, including explosive back Fabiano Flori. Melrose, Winchester, Woburn, and Stoneham all had strong teams and high hopes. Melrose Coach Joe Hoague admitted, “Watertown is the team to beat in the league.” But he added a prediction: “I don’t think any team can go through the league undefeated.”
He was wrong. Watertown beat Melrose 9-6 on a last second field goal by Mark Papas; Stoneham 3-0 (on another Papas kick); Winchester 26-6, with Al DiPietrantonio scoring three touchdowns in place of the injured Lyle and Tracy gaining 140 yards; and Woburn 34-21. The Raiders beat surprising contender Wakefield with ease, 33-8, as Lyle returned to score twice; and only Belmont was in the way of a perfect season. The Marauders, 1-8 entering Thanksgiving Day, never had a chance. The Raiders cruised, 27-12. Final record: 10-0-0, the best ever in Watertown history.
The 1977 team had won the Middlesex League crown for the second straight year, but a quirk in the mathematical formula that determined Super Bowl invitations put the Raiders third – by 0.30 points – in Division I. Still, Barbati was named Coach of the Year by the Globe. Tom Tracy won first-team honors from both the Globe and the Herald. Al Mandrafino was a first team selection by the Globe. Mandrafino, Tracy, Lyle, and Kelland were all named to the All-Middlesex League team, as were Bill Rimsa, Chuck Shutt, John Strayhorn, and Rick Wade.
It had been a very, very good year. Tonight it is with more than a modicum of pride that we welcome these gridiron giants into the Hall of Fame.