More than a half century of Thanksgiving football in Meriden

More than a half century of Thanksgiving football in Meriden

Record-Journal


MERIDEN — A strong rivalry still exists between Platt and Maloney high schools more than 50 years after their inaugural football game.

The Maloney-Platt Stoddard Bowl is a game with friendly beginnings that started after Meriden High School was split into two schools. The first game pitted former teammates against one another, but has since grown into a classic east-west rivalry game.

“The rivalry will always be there because you have the east side versus the west side,” said Patsy Papandrea, a well-known sports enthusiast in the city and a member of the original 1958 Maloney Spartans squad, in 2014. “The rivalry will continue, as long as it remains friendly. There’s no question.”

The Panthers took the inaugural Thanksgiving Day game 20-14 before 3,971 fans at Ceppa Field. Ed McGee coached the Spartans, while Paul Crone led Platt.

Papandrea, a junior at the time, was sidelined during the game due to injury.

“We all got banged up pretty good that year,” he said. “Both teams weren’t that strong because of the split.”

It was difficult to play against Platt because a year earlier “we all played together,” Papandrea said. “Now we’re playing against each other. That was part of the difficulty of it. But both teams had respect for each other. Both had their stars and new players.”

The split provided opportunities for young players to get on the field, when under normal circumstances at Meriden High School they wouldn’t have, Papandrea said. This is true for all sports, he added.

“It was a new beginning for some, and it turned into what became a friendly rivalry,” he said.

The game is named in memory of Dr. John E. Stoddard, a longtime physician and the city’s health director who devoted endless hours to the children at Meriden High School before World War II. He delivered 3,645 of the city’s babies, according to a November 1997 Record-Journal article.

Crone, who coached the Panthers from their inaugural season through 1966, told the Record-Journal in 1997 that Stoddard “did everything for the kids, totally for free.”

“He went to all the games and took care of all the kids,” Crone said.

During the second Stoddard Bowl in 1959, the Spartans beat Platt 29-0 to go undefeated for the first time in the city’s history. The game took place before 7,300 people at Ceppa Field. At the time, it was considered the second greatest sports event in the city’s history. Topping it was the 10,000 fans that turned out at Insilco Field in 1947 when the Philadelphia Athletics played an exhibition game against the Meriden Insilcos.

Papandrea’s injury kept him from playing football his senior year, but along with another injured player, Walt Gumkowski, he helped coach Maloney’s first freshman football team in 1959. He was on the sidelines during the second Stoddard Bowl.

“It was one of the best teams that ever came out of Meriden that year,” Papandrea said of the 1959 Spartans. “The Stoddard Bowl was quite an exciting event. It was difficult for the two of us because we wanted to be out there, but the team truly gelled into quite a force. But once again, the players had difficulty going against old friends.”

A memorable game in Stoddard Bowl history was in 1978, when Maloney’s Bob Biestek hit Rich Shamock with a five-yard touchdown pass with six seconds on the clock, giving the Spartans a come-from-behind 29-24 win.

The contest had to be stopped seconds prior to the touchdown pass as hundreds of fans ventured onto the field to get a closer look. As the Spartans mounted their 72-yard drive toward the west end of the field, spectators inched closer and closer to the action.

“It was like a dream,” Shamock told the Record-Journal in 1997. “You almost can’t believe the situation: having your number called in the huddle in what could be the last play in your last game ever.”

Fans charged the field after the catch, but the game wasn’t over yet. Platt quarterback Dan Wodatch threw a Hail Mary pass just out of wide receiver Jim Leonardo’s reach.

The only tie between the two teams came in 1995. Maloney needed a win and a loss by Killingly to reach the state playoffs. Leading 12-10 with 55 seconds left, Maloney had the ball at their own six-yard line and the Panthers were out of timeouts.

Spartans coach Rob Szymaszek called a pitch to star tailback Rahshon Spikes, who was stopped in his own end zone by Platt’s Jerry Hetherington for a game-tying safety. Killingly ended up losing, and Szymaszek was upset by his play call. But Platt coach Tom Ryan wasn’t happy either. At the time, Ryan blamed himself for not trying a 23-yard field goal on the Panthers’ last possession, which would have given Platt a 13-12 lead.

Ryan coached the Panthers from 1980 through 2006. Thinking back, Ryan’s first memory of the Stoddard Bowl was the last one he coached.

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