Prep football: Unbeaten 1968 Marquette Senior High School football team holding reunion

MARQUETTE – Then-head coach Jerry Pangrazzi knew what was coming after his 1968 Marquette Senior High School varsity football team had clinched an undefeated season with a 31-0 victory over host Manistique in the final game of the campaign.

“(My players) threw me in the shower (in celebration),” the Iron River resident recalls. “I was glad to have it happen.”

Pangrazzi, then-assistant coach Bob Apple and 23-25 members of that MSHS team which finished 7-0-1 overall will gather in Marquette on Friday to be recognized at the school’s homecoming game against Gladstone.

They will be saluted at William R. Hart Stadium prior to the contest, then gather at the American Legion building on Bluff Street from 10 p.m. to midnight to further celebrate the 45th anniversary of the unbeaten season.

“It’ll be a meeting of the ‘Older We Get, the Better We Were Club,” event organizer and 1968 MSHS team manager Bob Mercure of Marquette quipped.

He added members of the team, the only MSHS varsity football squad to go undefeated since 1957 other than the 1975 club, met five years ago as part of a class reunion.

But Friday’s event will be solely to honor the 1968 Redmen, Mercure noted. Ironically, he won’t be part of the pre-game celebration as he’ll be taking part in his daughter’s wedding activities.

The 1968 Redmen, after tying Kingsford 19-19 to open the season, reeled off seven straight victories en route to capturing the Great Lakes Conference championship.

Behind quarterback Dave Nyquist and linebacker John K. Olson – who shared the team’s Most Valuable Player nod – the Redmen scored 160 points while giving up 60.

“They played together so well,” said Pangrazzi, who coached the Redmen from 1964-68 before serving 18 years as the MSHS activities/athletic director. “They didn’t care who got credit, just as long as they won. They were relatively small, but very hard workers.”

Co-captain and offensive tackle Bill Michelin of Negaunee Township said the MSHS players were close on and off the field.

“We had great camaraderie,” the 1969 MSHS grad said. “We had 44 players and everyone played, even if it was just on special teams. Everyone had a purpose.”

That may have been the result of the coaches – Pangrazzi, Apple and the late Lou Marchiol – going to a platoon system after the Kingsford game instead of having many of the Redmen play both ways.

“It was smart on the coaches’ part,” Michelin said. “We didn’t get worn down in games.”

Added Mercure: “It was to our advantage … and I think a great reason for the team’s success.”

Both Michelin and Pangrazzi said the key game that season was the 12-9 victory over host Newberry.

“It was a brutal, tough game,” Michelin recalled. “With nine seconds left, they kicked a field goal to lead 9-6.

“So, with four seconds remaining, they squibbed the kickoff. One of our backs – Dave Bean – picked up the ball.”

Pangrazzi said some Newberry players began celebrating the win before the play was done. But somewhere about midfield, Bean lateraled the ball to Joe LaPorte, who went down the sideline for a touchdown as time expired for a 12-9 MSHS win.

“I was told later many fans in Marquette had turned their radios off (early), thinking we had lost,” Pangrazzi said.

“It’s hard to believe all this was 45 years ago.”

Michelin said there’s no doubt those attending Friday’s events will have stories to tell about the team and its exploits that special season.

“As we get older, we appreciate what happened more,” he said. “I think it will be a great time.”