By Brian Pernicone and Bruce Mastracchio
The main part of this piece was written by Brian Pernicone of the East Greenwich Pendulum. I will add and intersperse my own material in this article. When I am the subject, it is Brian Pernicone writing. You all have been reading me for awhile. See if you can pick out where he begins and I end or vice versa. Seeing this is football season, another gridiron story.
Their faces stare out from a slightly yellowed newspaper. The headline reads, “The 1947 Townies!” I knew almost all of them. Many of them had just returned from service in the war
to end all wars. All but four are dead now. Those living are in their 90s.
I remember their uniforms were all blue with big white numbers front and back. They wore long white socks and all white helmets. My father had filmed them in one game against the Bristol Colts. They got creamed. But, they were continuing a tradition of East Greenwich Townie semi-pro football, which went back to the early 1900s.
In the days before the National Football League had found its legs, and its way to TV; before college football was on all over the place, towns like East Greenwich founded their own athletic clubs (EG fielded semi-pro teams in football, basketball and baseball), and for many people football was the game to see.
Beginning in the 1900s and continuing on into the ‘40s, the East Greenwich Townies Semi-Pro football team was showcasing local talent and talent from around the state. Interrupted by two World Wars, the Townies eventually faded from existence as the ‘40s came to a close.
In the meantime professional and college football were gaining popularity, especially with the infusion of radio and television carrying the games to national audiences.
It would be more than a decade before East Greenwich residents would see a semi-pro game
held in their own backyard again.
But then, in 1961, Bruce Mastracchio and George Battey began toying with the idea of bringing semi-pro football back to EG.
“We were sitting around talking about resurrecting the team,” Mastracchio said. “George and I talked about it and then we went out and did something about it. We had heard about a league in Rhode Island, so we found out how to get started. We decided to get the Townies going again, so we got sponsors who provided the equipment. Later on they helped us get jackets and trophies and a banquet for the team.”
Then came the recruiting. Mastracchio and Battey drummed up some good local talent, including some players who had cut their teeth on the college gridiron. Those guys signed on to bring the Townies back to gridiron glory.
With a little leg work Battey and Mastracchio had everything they needed; equipment, players, fields to play on, a league to play in. Everything that is, except for a coach.
In his search for a field general, Mastracchio needed to look no further than his old high school math teacher and coach, Domenic Iannazzi.
Iannazzi had been an assistant football coach at LaSalle Academy and East Greenwich HS. Mastracchio described him as a “Vince Lombardi clone.”
“I coached Bruce at the high school level. He was an outstanding athlete,” said Iannazzi. “He wanted to form a semi-pro team but no one wanted to coach them. So, I said, ‘OK, I’ll give it a whack.’ They had to follow my conditions. Everyone plays and no favoritism – none!”
With his conditions for coaching agreed to, Iannazzi and his players set about bringing the Townies back to greatness. Back to those glory days of yesteryear.
And great they were. The Townies romped over everyone on their way to an undefeated season in their first year in the Rhode Island Semi-Pro Football League. They went 10-0 in 1961. The next year they joined the tougher competition of the Southeastern Massachusetts Semi-Pro Football League and went 9-1, once again taking the championship.
“I thought we were getting in over our heads, ” said Iannazzi, “but little did I know we would go 19-1 in two years.”
The Townie surge was due to outstanding local talent, but also a good coach who could mold them into a winning outfit.
“You need good players,” said QB Tom Joyce, “and you need a good coach. We had a good coach.”
For his part Iannazzi deflected the credit to his players, saying the team’s chemistry was what allowed the Townies to excel. Twenty two of the twenty-eight-man squad were from East Greenwich with the rest from Warwick, West Warwick and South Kingstown.
“We played some teams that we beat pretty bad,” said Iannazzi, “and after the game their players would come up and ask if they could play for us the next year.”
Iannazzi said the ability of the guys to get along and mesh into a finely tuned machine was both amazing and critical to their success. Iannazzi’s rule that everyone had to play could have easily backfired causing resentment between the team’s stars, and its role players.
However, the players’ attitudes negated that effect, and instead, created a camaraderie and competitive spirit.
End Part 1