If you're a long-time town resident and of a certain age, chances are you have fond memories of 1961 football season. The Flying Tigers, coached by the late , won all nine games and were awarded the Waskowitz Trophy, which was emblematic of state football supremacy in that pre-playoff era.
Many will be surprised to learn that football was a big deal in Fairfield during those years. Consider: Andrew Warde, coached by ( father), assembled a 9-0 record in 1959 and ranked among the top three or four teams in Connecticut. The following season, Fairfield Prep captured the Waskowitz Trophy with a seamless 10-0 record.
And then it was Ludlowe's turn in 1961.
Fairfield Ludlowe is planning to recognize the 50th anniversary of the school’s state football championship on Thanksgiving morning in half-time ceremonies of the traditional game with cross-town rival at Taft Field.
Here’s a look at some of the people who brought a state championship to Fairfield and then Roger Ludlowe High School in 1961:
Coach Emil Taft: He coached Ludlowe football for 24 seasons, highlighted by the undefeated state champions of 1961, the 9-1 squad in 1969 and three teams with 8-2 records, 1965, 1966 and 1971. "A real throwback. He was a hard-nosed guy with a competitive streak to him," recalled Cliff Tallman, who was an All-State halfback in that memorable 1961 season. In the special brochure produced by the late Ted Blair that was presented at the post-season dinner in 1961, Taft received the following praise: "The poise, the willingness, the unselfishness, and above all the intense desire of each member of this team reflect great credit on this man. He is an educator in the highest sense of the word."
Cliff Tallman, senior halfback/defensive back: Relying on skill and desire to trump his lack of size (5'9", 165 pounds), the speedy, elusive Tallman topped the 1961 squad in scoring with 90 points -- 13 touchdowns and six two-point conversions. He was the team's co-captain and the first of five Tallman brothers to play football at Ludlowe. "Nobody envisioned we'd go undefeated," he recalled. "We lost all nine games as freshmen, but we kept getting better and better (2-6-1 in 1959, 3-2-4 in 1960)." After graduation, Tallman enrolled at Virginia, but transferred to Villanova, where he played two varsity seasons as a defensive back. A first lieutenant in the Army, he served with Special Forces in Germany. Tallman spent many years in publishing and now operates a media consulting firm, Soskin Tallman Inc., in Norwalk. He and his wife, Connie, reside in Rowayton and are the parents of two grown children. They have two grandchildren.
Jerry Shnipes, senior fullback/linebacker: Shnipes, the other co-captain, was an immovable middle linebacker as well as a hard-to-stop runner and blocker. "They used to call me 'Night Train,'" he said via telephone from Summerville, S.C. "I put my head down and just went forward." After graduating from Kings Point (where he played four years of football) and serving three years in the U.S. Merchant Marine, Shnipes embarked on a career in engineering, living in Ohio, Indiana, and Florida prior to settling in South Carolina. He married his Ludlowe high school sweetheart, Bonnie (Morrissey), and they have been blessed with three children and five grandchildren.
Pete Gallagher, senior quarterback: At 6-3, he was the tallest of the 1961 Tigers. Gallagher's precise passing was instrumental in several of Ludlowe’s nine victories that season, notably on Thanksgiving morning when he passed for six touchdowns -- four caught by Charlie Skubas -- in a 50-13 rout of Bassick High School (Bridgeport) before an estimated 11,500 at Ludlowe field. There were other lopsided triumphs over Westport's (36-0), (50-10), and Norwalk's (50-0). Gallagher later played varsity football at Rhode Island. He then became a senior executive in the textile industry and now resides in Salisbury, N.C.
Fran Lynch, junior halfback/defensive back: The man who played nine seasons with the Denver Broncos (1967-75) may not have been the dominant back on this team, but he was a valuable contributor nonetheless. "I think my best game that year was defensively against Naugatuck," he said from his Broomfield, Colo., home. "Their reputation was bigger than ours. They were (Naugatuck) Valley football. Derby, Ansonia, . But we beat 'em (14-0)." Lynch co-captained Ludlowe’s 1962 squad, then, after playing at a junior college in Oklahoma, turned in two fine seasons at Hofstra (Ludlowe teammate Frank Marcinowski encouraged him to enroll there). He was selected by Denver on the fifth round of the 1967 AFL draft and went on to appear in 99 games with the Broncos. Now, with his son, he helps coach two of his three grandsons in youth football.
Charlie Skubas, senior end/defensive back: A five-sport athlete at Ludlowe, Skubas played football just one season as a senior -- and was selected to the New Haven Register’s 1961 All-State team. His acrobatic catches became legendary and he was on the receiving end of no fewer than 10 touchdown passes that season, including a school-record four apiece against Norwalk and Bassick. (He also had two interceptions in the Thanksgiving day win over Bassick.) Skubas later excelled in football and baseball at Yale, from which he earned a B.A. degree in economics. An MBA from Penn’s Wharton School of Business helped prepare him for a series of executive positions. He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease on Jan. 3, 2011.
Pete Ambrose, senior guard/linebacker: Still very much involved in the community, Ambrose last week was on Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting. A practicing attorney and a former president of the , Ambrose looks back fondly on what he and his teammates accomplished 50 years ago. "We just happened to hit it off together," he says. "We had a strong work ethic. Coach Taft was fair and very instrumental in directing us." After graduation, Ambrose received a football scholarship at the University of Vermont, and then went on to earn a law degree at the University of Connecticut. He's remarried, the father of three and recently became a grandfather for the first time.
Frank Marcinowski, sophomore guard/defensive end: At 5'8" and perhaps 160 pounds, Marcinowski typified the lack of size on this championship team. "What we lacked in weight we had in speed," he says, pointing to Taft’s emphasis on getting off the line of scrimmage quickly. After co-captaining Ludlowe’s 1963 squad, Marcinowski moved on to Hofstra, where he captained both the football and lacrosse teams, earning All-American recognition in the latter. He’s now the controller at , married (to classmate Kathy McGoldrick) and the father of two grown sons. They reside in Fairfield.
Paul Brundage, two-way senior tackle: These days you'll find this man living in semi-retirement in Union City, Calif., a San Francisco suburb. After graduation, he majored in math at Trinity College in Hartford and continued to play football. "I was shocked to go from an undefeated team in high school to a winless freshman team in college," he said with a chuckle. "I take credit for both." After three years of military service, Brundage moved west and wound up working for a California state agency that regulated insurance. He and wife Donna have two children and two grandchildren.
Charles Marsland, junior center/defensive end: "We had the hottest August in memory, and the two-a-days (practices) were tough. The temperatures that week put me in the best shape of my life," remembered Marsland, who now operates a small engineering firm, PLM, in Hopkinton, Mass. "There wasn't a lot of bickering on our team. We all got along pretty well." After graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force, then entered RPI, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees. He married a Fairfield girl, Amy Johnson, and they have three children and four grandchildren.
Jeff Tallman, junior halfback: "We were like the team in 'Hoosiers,' a small team that did so well," said Tallman, who was a back-up running back and defensive fill-in. He had his moments that season, though, and recalls the Brien McMahon game when both he and brother Cliff scored two touchdowns apiece. He is a partner in J. Tallman Builders, a Fairfield-based construction business. Jeff and Ariane Tallman, who live in Weston, have been married 45 years, with three children and two great-grandchildren.
Sadly, two members of this championship team were killed in military service in Vietnam: Steve Melnick, a starter at guard and on defense, and Mark Chenis, who played center.
A freshman end on the squad, Gary Klahr, went on to greater heights as Ludlowe’s 1964 co-captain, a star linebacker at Arizona and a 1970 NFL draft choice of the New Orleans Saints. Later, he had minor -- but billed -- parts in films such as "Big," "Trading Places," "Married to the Mob" and "Pink Cadillac."
Don Harrison is the author of a new book, "Hoops in Connecticut: The Nutmeg State's Passion for Basketball," published by The History Press.