Editor's note: We published this story about Bob Rosmarino on Nov. 7, 2013. After his passing at age 85 last Thursday morning with family around him, we thought it would be appropriate to re-run the story about this legendary Merrimack Valley figure again. Enjoy.
Beyond all else, Bob Rosmarino never wanted to let down his father.
Roger Rosmarino came over from Italy at age 13 and worked tirelessly in the mills so his son could have a better life.
A lot of Bob’s Holy Cross teammates were from well-to-do backgrounds, but the Rosmarinos had to scrap for everything. Roger would hitch-hike to Worcester to watch his son play. He’d have his ever-present cow bell for whenever the Crusaders made a big play.
The only reason he didn’t have to hitch-hike back to the three-decker on Jackson Street in Lawrence was his son would scalp his extra tickets so his father could take the bus.
“My father had very, very much to do with my success,” said the man they call Rosey.
That success included starring at Central Catholic and Holy Cross then becoming one of the area’s winningest football coaches with a 177-120-12 overall record. Rosmarino has been inducted into the Central Catholic, Mass. High School Football Coaches and Aquinas (N.Y.) Institute halls of fame.
One of Roger’s co-workers saw Rosey play for Central. Maybe it was one of those showdowns before 14,000 fans against Lawrence High when Rosey starred for coach Dick Moynihan against legends like future Green Bay Packers star Bill Quinlan and nifty quarterback Gerry Callagy.
The co-worker said Bob could get a scholarship. Roger couldn’t believe it. It was the American Dream.
From then on, he implored Bob to do still more push-ups, eat right and get his rest. And always, always be tough.
“He said, ‘Bobby, when you run with the ball, you don’t have to run away from them. You can run over them,” Rosmarino recalled.
Tough and tender
The contrast was always striking between his kind heart and his intimidating demeanor.
I’ll never forget riding up to an Eastern Mass. Super Bowl meeting with Rosmarino, who was well into his 60s at the time. Early on, I was petrified, he was just that intimidating. I figured if I said the wrong thing, he might pop me.
But by the end of the night, I had an entirely different perception of him.
His impact on his athletes was recognized when in 1998 he was named The Eagle-Tribune Man of the Year. Not Sportsman of the Year, Man of the Year.
When asked his favorite football memories, he focused on some of the letters of appreciation he’s received which made the tough guy weep.
One of his former Greater Lawrence Tech players who came from nothing has made it big in business.
He invited Rosey to his gorgeous home and when he stepped out for a minute, the player’s wife showed Rosmarino a couple old suits in the closet. They were ones Rosmarino had quietly given him years ago when he noticed the football star seemed to be wearing the same clothes every day to school.
“I got all choked up,” said Rosmarino.
The memories like that are special.
“When you get a letter from a kid, reading those letters make you feel better than when you won a game,” he said.
“You know you’ve had some kind of impact.”
Like his father said, “You can run over them.”
That’s how his teams played.
Then-Superintendent Louis Gleason hired Rosmarino at Greater Lawrence Tech. For that, his son Pedro Gleason, is grateful.
“What he said was law,” said Gleason, a Reggie Hall of Famer who made Eagle-Tribune All-Star teams in football and basketball in the mid-’80s. “He was as tough as advertised. His knowledge of football seemed to know no bounds. ... He had a way of making you feel like the toughest kid in the land and could accomplish anything.”
The fiery and feared coach was dramatically different away from the field.
Gleason said, “Many people never saw this side of Bob, a man of few words and always a gentleman. My parents would attend dinner parties at Bob’s house. He’d thank all who came and walk everyone to their cars. This was a stark contrast to the man I knew each fall!”
Heart problems forced him out of coaching when he was churning out championships teams at Greater Lawrence Tech.
Although three months shy of 80, he still looks terrific.
“If these (expletive) doctors would let me, I’d be coaching tomorrow,” said Rosmarino, who has a defibrillator and a pacemaker. “It’s been 13 years. To this very day, you can’t believe how much I miss it. I feel great.” The way he stormed the sidelines, it’s probably a good idea he hung up the whistle.
He and his wife of 35 years, Rosemarie Janco, have made the most of the free time.
Rosey now enjoys bocce, which cracks even himself up. And he’s found out there is quite a world out there outside of the football field.
“We never knew what it was like to take a vacation. Since I quit coaching, I’ve been to Italy three times, Paris, London, Spain and Egypt,” said Rosmarino, who has lived in Salem for decades. “She’s making up for all those years.”
That traveling was kept to a minimum while growing up. He was a homebody.
Rosey hated to disappoint his dad. That’s why the heavily recruited fullback said no to his favorite, Miami, and the Florida sunshine to play for Holy Cross.
“He said, ‘If you want to go to Miami, you go. But if you want to make your mother (Irene) and father happy, you go to Holy Cross.’ That was that,” said Rosmarino, who also starred in basketball at Central, where he won the prestigious Garvey Award and was a class officer.
Holy Cross was glad dad intervened. In 1954, Rosmarino scored a team-high eight TDs, all in the final four games of the season.
Another time, though, Rosmarino couldn’t help but go against his father’s wishes. Rosmarino was at Suffolk Law School and he was assisting legendary Lawrence High coach Ed Buckley. The football bug was just too much to resist.
“I shook up my mom and dad and said I was no longer interested in being a lawyer,” said Rosmarino, a retired Methuen High history teacher. “They weren’t too thrilled. I can still recall my father saying, ‘Bob, if you are dead set on wanting to be a football coach, I hope to God you turn out to be a good one.”
He certainly did.
Butkus, Coughlin and Rosey
He helped Buckley build a juggernaut at St. Rita’s in Chicago, which a couple years after Rosey left won the mythical national title. One game Rosey had to get the St. Rita’s boys fired up to face Chicago Vocational with its star Dick Butkus, the future NFL Hall of Fame linebacker.
Rosey eventually got the head job St. Philip’s High in Chicago in 1961 and then it was on Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y. He won five titles in seven years and in 1970 the nearby college, Rochester Institute of Technology, asked him to interview for its head coaching job.
But his father suggested it was time to come home and Rosey, who was approaching 40, dutifully returned. Oh, the Rochester job went to a promising 24-year-old by the name of Tom Coughlin, who, as Patriots fans well know, has guided the N.Y. Giants to two Super Bowl championships.
There were mostly highs, with the exception of a disappointing five-year run at long-struggling Methuen High in the mid-’70s.
He was a perfect fit at Greater Lawrence, where he went 97-58-5 with five Eastern Mass. Super Bowl appearances in 15-plus years before the heart forced him to retire after the first game of the 1999 season.
“They gave me everything they had and we had the wins to attest to it,” said Rosey.