Remembering Joe Murray

In 1967, Stamford Catholic was the Connecticut high school football power.  Winner of more than 30 straight games, averaging over 30 points every Saturday, they were the prohibitive favorites in the FCIAC championship contest.

No one gave Staples a chance.

Head coach Paul Lane may not even have believed the Wreckers could win.  But he prepared the team well — tactically, physically and mentally — and they were ready.

Joe Murray played a key role too.  A captain, linebacker and offensive guard, his intense spirit, positive attitude and great sense of humor helped convince his teammates they could pull off an upset for the ages.

They did.  On that memorable November day at Stamford’s Boyle Stadium, Staples won 8-0.

“He didn’t have a lot of size,” Lane recalls.  He was about 5-7, 160 pounds — small even for that era.

“But he was a great tackler, a real student of the game,” Lane says.  “He was a real leader.”

“He led by example,” former teammate Tommy Nistico — now the owner of the Red Barn restaurant — adds.  “A wonderful guy.”

“Joe was one tough kid!” marvels another ex-teammate, Nick Albertson — a longtime teacher and coach at Deerfield Academy.

Joe didn’t get a lot of glory.  But without him — and teammates Nistico, Albertson, Bobby Lynam, Buddy Lynch and Brad Steen — there would have been few Steve Booth and Dave Lindsay heroics that year.  Especially that day.

After college Joe moved south.  He became a very successful businessman — he was CEO of several small companies — and a loving father.

He called his former teammates regularly, to check up and make sure his guys were okay.  It’s what a good captain does — long after he stops playing.

He never spoke about any of his own health issues, like diabetes.  He preferred talking about his wife Jean, their children, and hunting and fishing.

Joe Murray died a few days ago in Columbia, South Carolina, from complications during gall bladder surgery.  His ashes will be commingled with those of his beloved dog Blue, and spread across the Gulf of Mexico.

His teammates already miss him dearly.  “He was a special person,” said longtime friend and former Wrecker Bobby Lynam.

“I know his passing has left a hole in your heart as it has in mine.  But as long as we remember him he lives on.”

Don’t worry.  No one can forget that special 1967 championship team — or its heart and soul, Joe Murray.

18 responses to “Remembering Joe Murray

  1. I remember Joe as a small but very tough sophomore lineman during my senior season in 1965 and that he was one of only a few sophs admitted to CSC, the “football fraternity” of which I was president. I was living in TX two years later when I read in a Houston paper — yes, Houston — that Joe and his guys upset Catholic. I wasn’t surprised at all. A great group — Albertson, Nistico, QB Steve Booth, all-state end Dave Lindsay, Buddy Lynch, Brad Steen, Bobby Lynam, Gary Greenwood, Ric Rader, Mark Kashetta et al. RIP Joe.

    • Fred Cantor

      5’7″, 160–had to be a helluva player to have performed and excelled at that size.

  2. Peter Gambaccini

    I didn’t realize he was ill. This is terrible news. Joe was immensely popular back in the day but he was kind to everyone, and like others quoted here, I was impressed by how tough he was alongside more gargantuan foes.
    It might be hard to believe, but that win over Stamford Catholic had something pretty close to national implications. They were considered invincible. I still remember a huge photo in the NY Times (it would be worth tracking down) of a Stamford Catholic player weeping after their loss.
    Another member of that Staples team actually called me out of the blue about five years ago and wondered about the possibility of writing a book in connection with the 40th anniversary of that memorable Wrecker triumph. It didn’t happen (and the player who called me has also passed on) but I was happy to see photos of some very happy players at that 40th reunion.
    Just a couple of others things about that ’67 team. The Kashetta on it was Charlie, not Mark. And one player not mentioned thus far is John Katzenberger. If memory serves, he scored the only touchdown in the game. I might be wrong … but I don’t think so.

  3. Hi Pete,
    Joe’s smallish size made him what Paul Lane used to call a “watch charm guard.” He was probably the last in a long line of linemen his size who excelled at Staples. John Golden, the ’66 captain, was also a guard and even smaller than Joe, and Don Filson, our our ’65 captain, was nearly as small. Both Golden and Filson were also fine wrestlers. Filson was preceded by Bob Falkenhagen ’64, who also weighed around 160 and, believe it or not, earned a football scholarship to the University of New Mexico. Yes, the win did have national implications. Not only did I read about it in the Houston Post I also saw the photo you cited, in Newsweek, of Staples’ Bill Croarkin trying to shake the hand of a giant Stamford Catholic lineman who was crying his eyes out. John Katzenberger was a fine little running back and I remember him well. As a soph, Charlie Kashetta was called both Charlie and Mark. I never knew which one he preferred but apparently “Charlie” won out. The TD that day was scored on a long pass play from Booth, who went on the play at Colgate, to Dave Lindsay, who played college ball at Wake Forest, right?. The Catholic QB, who as a DB was beaten by Lindsay on that TD pass, was Bennett Salvatore who went on to a long career as an NBA referee. Pete, I remember that team so well because, as a senior who was often on Paul Lane’s sh-t list, I had to practice against them often and was very, very impressed with their talent and intensity. We all were.

  4. Peter:

    Here is a link to the NY Times article, with pictures.

    I remember watching the game with my father.

  5. While I was always a big football fan of Joe’s, I first met him at the Westport Tackle Shop when he was maybe 13 or 14 years old. Joe was an excellent trout fisherman and in fact at the age of 15 or 16, authored a SAUGATUCK RIVER FISHING GUIDE booklet which he sold locally to purchase fishing equipment. All the older guys who hung out at the shop liked Joe and he continued communicating with many of us throughout his lifetime. I last spoke with him about a month ago and our conversations were always about old fishing friends and adventures we shared on the waters around Westport. Joe was not one to complain about anything, so I wasn’t aware of his health problems. I will miss his calls and treasure the memories of long ago. – Dick Alley

  6. Thanks, Bruce. The photo at the bottom appeared in Newsweek and in the Houston Post. In the top photo I can pick out Tommy Nistco, Paul Lane (lower left), Joe Murray, Jeff Hooper and Buddy Lynch. In ’07 either the Stamford Advocate or Norwalk Hour reprised the game, supplying details I never knew. Despite all the big Staples football victories before and since, especially under the current coaching regime, the ’67 FCIAC title game remains the most momentous. I wish I could have seen it but instead had to make do with that brief wire sevice story in the Houston Post.

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  9. Connie Murray Anders

    I remember coming back from college to see my brother play in the Stamford Catholic game. When I watched the defensive goal-line stand that he and his team-mates made, I nearly burst with pride. Now years later, I am brought back to that moment of pride and happiness by your recollection of better times. The kind words you have all written about Joe have been a source of comfort for me and my sisters. Thank you. Connie Murray Anders, Kathleen Murray Lynam, and Patricia Murray Smith

  10. David Anastasia

    Joe was a great friend of mine through Jr. High, and Staples. We also attended religious Sunday School together. Joe didn’t live too far from my house and we use to get together a lot. If ever someone could make you laugh it was Joe. He was very humorous, and that’s putting it mildly. We played PAL football together, along with a lot of the players that were on the 67 team. Gary Greenwood, John Katzenburger, Bob Lynam, and Tommy Nistico. I work here in Westport, and almost every day I go up Riverside Ave. past Joe’s old house, and through the years always thought of him when I would look at the white house just before Raymond Place. Joe was a real good egg, my heart goes out to his family.

  11. David M. Lindsay

    Joe was not only a great football player, but a great teammate,a loyal and loving freind. This friendship endured 40 years. His passing has left a void in my life. I feel I’m a better person for knowing Joe. Joey I will miss you. RIP
    David M. Lindsay

  12. nickie bonagura

    safe to say that joey was personal hero to many, of which i am one. talk about a self made man with a heart of gold.
    love to all the Murrays, nickie

  13. I loved my brother. I still can’t believe he is gone. Beyond the football, he was a man with compassion, humor, and charm.
    We come from a large family (6 children) but Joe was the star. The years growing up in Westport were so happy and golden. He had many friends, was handsome, popular, confident, and athletic.
    He finally settled in Florida, but during a visit back to Connecticut in 1974 he introduced me to my husband-to-be at the Player’s Tavern (Bob Lynam). We were married that year and Bob and Joe have remained friends since high school.
    The recent football reunion seemed to have rekindled my brother’s spirit and friendships. Bob and Joe went fishing several times together–once with Rick Rader. They had such a glorious time reminiscing.
    For the past several years, my brother and I would meet up every summer in North Carolina. I so looked forward to seeing him and we’d spend the day together talking and laughing.
    My brother was the apple of my mother’s eye and in return a caring and thoughtful son. I hope he will be remembered for all the times he helped us up, put his arms around us, and made us smile.

  14. I came across this blog by accident and read all the wonderful memories of Joe Murray. Although our lives after Staples went in different directions, every so often we would talk to each other and it was always great to catch up. It would be impossible to describe the inspiration Joe gave to others on the football field. Suffice it to say that he was special. I would venture to say that to a man, every player on our senior team where he was co captain would agree. He was simply one of those larger than life people, and everyone who knew him was better for it.

  15. Robert Lynam

    When we lost Joe back on 2/22/11, it sent a tsunami shock wave through the family and all the friends who loved him dearly. In the last few months of his life, he suffered with dignity and a toughness that defined his life. Joe didn’t complain, he just held it in and gave it his all. Everyone who knew Joe as a football player knew of his “toughness.” The team responded to his from-the-front leadership style and we were all better players for it.

    But he was so much more than just a football player and his life after that memorable victory against Stamford Catholic took him on many paths; touching countless people and experiencing wonderful adventures. He was a big brother to sisters, Patricia, Connie, and my wife, Kathleen, as well as to brothers, Michael and Brian. He was the big brother that everyone wants to have and he was a hero to all. One of Kathleen’s most cherished memories was Joe jerking up a bully that was bothering her at school. The bully was never a problem after that because Joe took care of it with his “magic touch.”

    After the football reunion, we went on several fishing trips together. His knowledge and love for the outdoors was second to none. He told me numerous stories of his fishing and hunting trips from Alaska to Africa. Each tale came alive as he painted a picture with his words, and there I was transported along with him as he climbed the mountain hunting bighorn sheep or waiting in the hide for a black leopard.Joe could tell a story in a way to make you understand the smallest detail, but with a sense of humor that put a big smile on your face.

    Many times he was the target of his own jokes, like the time he shot at an elk eight times (missed seven) before putting him down. The guide looked at him and praised him for making such a great shot. Joking aside, Joe was a great marksman and had a love for adventure and travel. He was also a great fisherman and he loved telling stories about fishing with Tommy Nistico, Ric Rader, and Dave Lindsay. For all the fishing he did, he didn’t like to eat fish unless it was trout he personally caught.

    Joe was the kind of man everyone wants to be, or at least be friends with, and I was extremely lucky to count him as my “best friend.” Several weeks ago, I went to Westport, and together with two other friends, Tommy Nistico and Dave Lindsay, we shared favorite memories of Joe. This memorial to our friend, a year after his death, was our tribute to a man who was loved by many. We went down to Compo and Old Mill beaches to say a few personal prayers, threw in some flowers and skipped shells across the water.

    The day seemed to share our sorrow, the weather was cold and rainy, the wind howled, and the waves pounded the shore. The great outdoors had lost a friend as well.

    He will be dearly missed but never forgotten.