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1966 Football Team (2005)

On the heels of a glorious season culminating in Loyola's first Prep Bowl championship in thirty-five years, and with a solid returning cast, hopes were high in 1966 for a repeat. Historical precedent, however, was not as promising: only twice in the thirty-three years of the annual all-city showdown had a team repeated as both Catholic League and Prep Bowl champions. Smart, disciplined, and extremely well-coached, the 1966 Football Team staked its legacy on overcoming the doubters and affirming its preeminence in Chicago prep football. On December 3rd, in front of 61,133 fans in frigid Soldier Field, the Loyola Ramblers captured their second straight city title and, in doing so, cemented their place at the pinnacle of the high school game. Guiding the 1966 Ramblers was one of the finest high school staffs ever assembled by a Catholic League program. Head coach Bob Naughton and his assistants—Frank Amato, Dick Blackmore, Tom Powers, Bob Spoo, and Fred Wright—brought an unrivalled professionalism to the sideline. The team they led lacked size—most of the players were around 5'10" and averaged 180 pounds—so simply overpowering opponents was out of the question. Instead, the Ramblers relied on quickness, intelligence, discipline, and superior preparation to execute well-designed game plans with lethal precision. Manning the offensive line were ends Tom Nieman (Hall of Fame and 1998), Mark Lahey, tackles Mark Matthews and John Sheridan, guards Dan Paschen and Mario Marchese, and center Skip Starck. In the backfield stood quarterback Bill O'Donnell (Hall of Fame, 2000), fullback Mike O'Rourke (Hall of Fame, 1999), wingback Pete Fox, and All-Everything halfback Randy Marks (Hall of Fame, 1985). Anchoring the defensive line were Nieman and Lahey at end, Matthews and Austin Battaglia at tackle, and Bill Devine at middle-guard. The linebacker corps of Paschen and John Crowley was backed by safeties Marks and O'Donnell, and cornerbacks Jim Rianoshek and Carl Valentino. Finally, a deep and very capable bench played a crucial role in the run to the championship. Their march to the city championship began ominously before the Ramblers roused to the challenge. A hard-fought victory over St. Rita was followed by a disappointing tie with Mt. Carmel and, in a rematch of the 1965 Prep Bowl, a 14-12 loss to Vocational. Awakened from their slumber, the Ramblers ripped off three straight shutouts over St. Philip, Gordon Tech, and Weber, respectively, to set up a confrontation with undefeated Fenwick for the North Section title. On the first play from scrimmage, sophomore Jack Spellman (Hall of Fame, 1985) and filling in for the injured Mike O'Rourke, raced 68 yards for a touchdown. Loyola never looked back. Randy Marks added four scores of his own as the Ramblers crushed Fenwick's title hopes, 35-0, to take the North Section crown. In four straight shutouts, Loyola had outscored their opponents, 135-0, and now entered the post-season with all pistons firing. A win over St. Leo in the league semi-finals set up the Catholic League showdown with the newly-crowned South Section champion, Brother Rice. The expected nail-biter never materialized as Loyola raced by the Crusaders to a 34-0 lead on the way to one of the most lopsided victories in league history. The final score: 40-14, Loyola. Big plays ruled the day — Spellman's forty-yard rumble, Rianosheck's forty-eight yard scamper, and Marks' seventy-five yard interception return all resulted in scores. A huge contingent of fans, college scouts, and interested observers braved temperatures in the low twenties to witness a title tilt that ranked with the best in the three-decade history of the Prep Bowl championship. The Ramblers, at 7-1-1, faced Chicago Vocational once again with the chance to avenge the single blemish on their record. Pounding the Cavaliers with their running game, Loyola jumped to a 14-0 lead before Vocational fought back to tie the score at half-time. After a scoreless third quarter in which Loyola controlled the football but failed to put any points on the board, the game ultimately turned on three fourth-quarter plays. First, a botched Vocational punt on its own five yard line gave the Ramblers the ball at the 11-yard line, resulting one play later in a Spellman touchdown. Then, with Vocational driving, linebacker Carl Camastro (Hall of Fame, 2000) intercepted a stray pass and returned it forty-five yards. Finally, as the final seconds ticked away, Rianoshek and Ken Krajcovich broke up a pass on the goal line to preserve the victory. Spellman's 144 yards brought him a Prep Bowl MVP selection, but this victory was grounded in intelligent, well-executed, fundamental football carried out by well-coached overachievers. Post-season honors were abundant: Randy Marks was named honorary captain of the Daily News All-State team and the Sun Times Player of the Year. He was joined on the Sun Times All-Area team by Tom Nieman. The All-Catholic League squad included Marks and Dan Paschen (First Team), Nieman (Second Team), and Mark Matthews, Bill Devine, Bill O'Donnell, and Jim Rianoshek (Honorable Mention). However, the 1966 Football Team was never defined by the individual brilliance of a few gifted players. Rather, it was defined as most championship teams are, by the willingness of each individual to sacrifice self and ego for the communal good. Through their achievement, 1966 Ramblers kept alive an era of domination in Loyola football that began with the 1963 resurgence and continued on through the undefeated 1969 team to the end of the decade. In doing so, this team has secured a spot high on the list of storied teams in Loyola Academy football history.

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