PRIDE OF SCHENECTADY: 1961 Linton football team was a step from perfection

The 1961 Linton High School football team. (Photo provided)

The 1961 Linton High School football team. (Photo provided)

SCHENECTADY Sixty-one years later, and for all the Linton High School football team accomplished in its brilliant 1961 season, what Mike Meola still remembers is the one blemish on what was otherwise a perfect season.

“We hung tough. We were right there,” Meola said. “And I’m thinking that had we not played that team, and played someone who was less powerful or someone from our area, I think undoubtedly we would have gone undefeated. And that would really have made us a special team.”

That loss to a powerhouse Easton (Pa.) team was all that prevented Linton from completing an undefeated 1961 season.

“If they’d have played with their front 25 and we played with our front 25, we would have won,” said Paul Bricoccoli, the team’s quarterback. “But as quarterback, I looked at six different linebackers, and they’re all just as good as the ones they would come in for.”

But everything else the team did left a mark that earned the squad a spot as a Legacy Team for the 2022 Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame. The squad, coached by Dick Lalla and featuring a trio of previous Hall of Fame inductees in Meola, Bricoccoli and Ron Oyer, will be honored during the Hall of Fame ceremony on Sept. 19 at Rivers Casino & Resort.

Outside of the Easton loss, Linton’s 1961 season was essentially flawless. The Blue Devils finished the year 7-1, winning the Class “A” League by outsourcing league opponents 85-0. A shutout against Diocesan League champion La Salle Institute meant that Linton — which also defeated New York Military Academy and Newburgh — finished the year without surrendering a point to a Section II opponent.

“We had guys who liked playing defense just as much as offense,” Meola said.

And as dominant as the defense led by assistant coach and Hall of Famer Don Denio was, the offense was equally as impressive, led by a trio of star running backs in Oyer, Bill Makofski and Rit Wilgocki.

Bricoccoli, an honorable mention All-American at quarterback who went on to start for three years in college at Rhode Island before moving on to a legendary high school coaching career of his own at Glens Falls, said the backfield lined up behind him in 1961 was as good — maybe better — than anything he’d ever seen.

“I coached up in Glens Falls for 35 years, and we had some great football players, but there was nothing as good as anything that I was a part of back there in ’61,” he said. “It was Makofski, Wilgocki and Oyer, the three running backs, and they were just fabulous. They were bigger, faster, more aggressive. Really all I had to do was hand the ball off that year.”

Meola said that the arrival of Oyer, an All-American that season, to the team helped put Linton over the top.

“We had a guy come from California in Ron Oyer, and he was probably one of the best high school football players to come out of this area,” he said.

It was a team that reflected the impact made on their lives by the coaching staff. Bricoccoli said that Lalla and Denio took him under their wing and guided him toward the potential of using football as an avenue to head to college, rather than being resigned to follow in the footsteps of his family and head to a job at General Electric straight out of high school. 

“There’s a lot of great guys, and they’ve all grown up to be successful people,” he said. “It’s just a good reflection on how the leadership of the coaching staff took a bunch of guys from the Goose Hill section of Schenectady and around the Central Park area and just meld them together into a team.”

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