Watertown Red & Black
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The Watertown Red & Black is a semi-professional American football team based in Watertown, New York. Founded in 1896, the team is the oldest semi-pro football team in the United States. Because of this, the team has the most wins (565), losses (268), ties (43) and games played (876) of any semi-professional team; their overall win percentage is .670.1
Watertown did not participate in the first World Series of Pro Football, instead loaning its entire backfield to the Syracuse Athletic Club for its entry into the tournament. Watertown participated in the 1903 tournament, finishing second to the Franklin Athletic Club, to whom the Red & Black lost, 12-0.2 During the 1903 season, the Red & Black defeated a team from Cortland, New York by a score of 142-0, the second-highest in football history (behind only a 148-0 win by the Massillon Tigers over a team from Marion, Ohio a year later).3 In 1919, the team participated in the New York Pro Football League playoffs, losing in the regional quarterfinals ("Central New York Championship") to Syracuse.4
It was in 1902 that Watertown Athletic Association became known as the Red & Black Professional Football Team. Though it declined participation in the first World Series of Pro Football, it loaned players to the Syracuse Athletic Club to participate in that contest, the first ever attempted national professional football championship. (The enhanced Syracuse team, which included Pop Warner, won the tournament in an upset.) Football enthusiasm reached a peak locally in 1903, a year which included a 142-0 rout of a team from Cortland (which still stands as the second-biggest blowout in pro football history, behind the Massillon Tigers' 148-0 win over a team from Marion in the Ohio League a year later). The 1903 season ended with the Red & Black participating in the second (and as it would turn out, the final) World Series of Pro Football. Watertown lost the championship to the superteam Franklin Athletic Club of Pennsylvania by a 12-0 score; J. B. Wise, Mayor of Watertown and the Red & Black's business manager lost $8,000 in bets during this contest.
The Red & Black team, mostly located too far from pro football's core in Ohio and western Pennsylvania to play an extensive schedule against other fully professional teams, then dropped back to the semi-professional level in 1904 and has played with semi-pro status ever since. This allowed the scheduling of teams located within what was then a reasonable travel distance of Watertown. Several teams during the decades of the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s brought the semi-professional championships of New York State home to Watertown. Alex Duffy wore the colors for 17 seasons, the last 15 as captain during the 1910s and 1920s. During the 1923-1925 seasons, the team won 31 games, losing only to Binghamton, 6-0. The 1927 squad was undefeated. In 1935, the Red & Black was reorganized under George (Buzzy) Gibson and produced several outstanding teams.
Jake Devito and Rocco Canale guided the team when it was a member of the Eastern Professional League in the late 40's and early 50's. In 1950, the Red & Black went undefeated until losing the championship game to Hudson Falls at the Fairgrounds in Watertown.
In 1954, after a two year hiatus, the Red & Black was reorganized by Dick Doe and Budjo Alteri, assisted by Earl Cole. Johnny Marra was the sponsor. Boots Gaffney coached the team, assisted by Joe Guardino and Nelson Sholett. In four seasons, beginning in 1954, the team won 28 games, lost one and tied two. In these four seasons, the defense allowed but 50 points. Sadly the team once again became only a fond memory after the 1959 season.
In 1969, Carmen Scudera, Francis Lyng and John Morgia headed efforts to revive the Red & Black. Pat Killorin was selected as coach and the team had a successful season of four wins, three losses. It was not only competitively successful but financially successful as well. Crowds of 5000 to 6000 were reported at the games.
In 1971 and 1974, the Red & Black went undefeated. In 1980, the team reached its pinnacle of modern history, nearly comparable to that of the 1903 team. The team, playing under the direction of Jim Powers and Tom LaDuke won the Empire Football League Championship and was ranked second in the nation by Pro Football Weekly.
The Red & Black have their own showcase in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as being the oldest semi-pro team in the nation. It is the very first showcase.
From 1980 until 1991 the team was under the direction of several different coaches. In 1991 to present, George Ashcraft took over as the head coach. Mike Britton was the offensive coordinator from 1992 through the 2000 season starting his own semi-pro team, the St. Lawrence Trailblazers in 2002. The Red and Black have made the playoffs every year since 1993. The team briefly played in the New York Amateur Football League (now the Northeastern Football Alliance) in the late 1990s, but a few years later, moved back to the EFL. In 2003 they won the Northern Division Championship.
In 2005 agency producers contacted several AFA member teams regarding use of players and coaches to give their TV commercials the professional football appearance they are looking for. One such Chunky soup commercial, featuring Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb did just that. Several Empire League football players were used in the production of that popular TV spot. The agency relied heavily on the coaching experience of AFA Hall of Famer George Ashcraft from the EFL's Watertown Red and Black team. Ashcraft provided the agency with the technical football advice (and several EFL players) they needed to make the McNabb/Chunky soup commercial convincing to the viewers. It is the Red and Black players and other EFL players wearing the Cleveland Browns uniforms.
In 2006 the Red and Black was the floater team for the EFL. They played all of the teams once. They were the only floater team, but were still considered a Northern Division team. They won the Northern Division Championship game against the Vermont Ice Storm and lost to the Albany Metro Mallers in the EFL championship game.
In 2007 the team finished with a 12-4 overall record. They were the 2007 Western Division Champs and lost in the EFL championship game to the Vermont Ice Storm 9-8. They went on to play in the National Tournament at Watertown High School. Before the game there was a tribute in memory of a fallen coach and soldier, Dave Connell, who lost his life in Iraq. The Tenth Mountain Division at Fort Drum landed a helicopter on the field before the game to deliver the game ball. Four members of the Watertown Red & Black team returned home from Iraq that week and played in the game. They were Ben Pritchard, Lorenzo Sanchez, Gregory Duckson, and Mike Jester. The team lost to the Monroe County Sting of the New York Amateur Football League 21-6. Monroe went on to win the National Championship game. Long-time veteran Earnie Wash also returned home from Iraq earlier in the season to finish the year.
The 2008 season saw Thomas Schultz of Sports Partners Inc. claim that he "bought" the team, with intentions to move it back to the Northeastern Football Alliance. The owners of the Red & Black denied this, and a court settlement eventually led to Schultz being barred from using the "Red & Black" name. Schultz's team took to the field as the Watertown Revolution for the NFA, with no further connection to the Red & Black. The original Red & Black played in the EFL and finished with a 4-7 overall record.
The Red & Black rebounded in 2009 to win the Empire Football League championship over the Plattsburgh North Stars 6-0 at the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds. Almost 3000 fans packed around the field to watch the team win its first EFL Championship since 1980. The Team finished with a 13-1 overall record. The Red and Black did go to Florida and played the Carolina Express in the Orange Blossom Bowl in January. After a hard fought battle the Red and Black came up short and lost 7-6. Running back Anthony Noel and LB Dustin Houppert received honors for the team for their outstanding play. The team finished with over 3800 yards in offense. The defense posted seven shutouts. The Red and Black was ranked 20th in the nation on October 13.
To start the 2010 season the Watertown Red & Black traveled to Florida to play in the Orange Blossom Bowl. The Red and Black played The Carolina Express. It was a hard fought battle but the Red & Black came up short losing 7-6. Dustin Houppert and Anthony Noel received honors for the team for their great play. The Red & Black took the field in June with no choice but to defend their title. The team finished with a 12-3 overall record making it to their second championship in two years. The team lost to the Plattsburgh Northstars in the Championship game 13-10. The R&B missed a field goal with 22 seconds left that would have put the game in overtime. The Red and Black finished another great season. Running backs Brian Williams and Joe Brennan led the offense both rushing over a thousand yards. This was the first time since 1902. Also Mike Dumaw led the defense receiving all league honors becoming the second player on the Red & Black team to be the EFL Iron man of the year.
In 2011 the team finished 6-6. After starting the season 1-4 the Red and Black regrouped and surge into the playoffs beating the Glenns Falls Greenjackets on the road for the first round of playoffs. The team will never forget that day after the events that led up to the game. Being the true underdogs the Red and Black pulled out a 17-10 victory after trailing 10-0. A week later the team lost to the Syracuse Shock in a hard fought battle to finish the season 6-6. The team also earned many EFL honors at the end of the season.
The Red & Black Football Association has always shown a unique ability to draw players, fans, workers and supporters from all social and economic backgrounds. It is from this unique ability that the organization has drawn its strength throughout its long history and developed a deep sense of pride that can only come from working with such an organization.
- Brainerd, Steven. Minor league football record: games. Retrieved 2010-12-22. Note that Brainerd's records only go through 2009.
- PFRA Research. The First Football World Series. Excerpted from From AAA to '03. Retrieved 2010-12-22.
- Brainerd, Steven. Minor league football record: points. Retrieved 2010-12-23.
- Crippen, Kenneth. 1919 Buffalo Prospects. Coffin Corner (Professional Football Researchers Association). Retrieved 2010-12-23.
- Gun stolen from semi-pro team's locker room. Associated Press. Retrieved 2012-08-21.