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.