By DAVID WEINBERG for the current
ATLANTIC CITY — Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman played in the Atlantic County Junior Football League nearly 40 years ago.
His memories of those days as a two-way lineman for the Ventnor Pirates are just as vivid as those he picked up while coaching in the NFL.
“We won the championship when I was in eighth grade in 1985,” said Roman, 49. “We started 1-2 and ended up making the playoffs, but we had to play on the road. We went to Atlantic City and beat the Dolphins, then we went to Buena and held them 10 times at inside the 5 yard line to win the game. Then we went to EHT (Egg Harbor Township) and won the championship.
“In 2013, when I was with San Francisco (as offensive coordinator), we started 1-2 and made the playoffs. We had to go to Green Bay in the first round and we beat the Packers (23 -20). We went to Charlotte the following week and beat Carolina (23-10), but lost to Seattle (23-17) in the NFC Championship Game. We just couldn’t pull it off. like we did in 1985.”
People also read…
Similar stories were told at Bally’s Atlantic City event center last Friday night. Roman was among hundreds of former players, coaches and executives who gathered for a 65th ACJFL meeting titled “One League, One Night”.
The league was formed in 1957 with the Absecon Blue Devils, Brigantine Rams, Linwood Panthers, Northfield Cardinals, Pleasantville Mighty Mites, Pleasantville Tornadoes and Ventnor Pirates serving as franchises.
The late Bob Lacovara, who coached the Mighty Mites and later the Panthers, helped create the league along with Don Hudson, Howard Savell and Lou Wagenheim. Bob was the first president of the ACJFL. Bob and his late wife, Ruth, also came up with the name for the season-ending All-Star Game.
“They were sitting around the table having lunch one day trying to come up with a name,” son Tom Lacovara told Bally’s. “And mom said, ‘What about the Sand Bowl?'”
Bally’s group included approximately 20 former ACJFL players who reached the NFL as players, coaches and/or executives.
The first to do so was Wayne Colman, who was among the first Ventnor Pirates players. The 75-year-old then played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. Son Doug Colman, who played for the New York Giants, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns, also started his football career with the Pirates.
Other NFL alumni who began their careers in the ACJFL include Indianapolis Colts safety Cory Bird (Mays Landing Lakers), New York Jets linebacker Greg Buttle (Margate Colts); and Cleveland Browns running backs William Green (Brigantine Rams) and Dino Hall (Pleasantville Tornadoes).
Former Jets general manager and current Carolina Panthers consultant Terry Bradway got a taste of football with the Venice Park Black Knights in the mid-1960s. He later played for Holy Spirit High School and the College of New Jersey (then Trenton State) before joining the Philadelphia Stars from the USFL as personnel manager in 1983.
“Baseball was always my favorite sport growing up,” Bradway said. “But once I started playing football, I developed a passion for the game.”
Countless other people who first put on a pair of shoulder pads in the ACJFL went on to careers in college football, including Linwood Panthers running back Bob Coffey (Clemson), Atlantic City Dolphins running back Brian Little (Delaware) and Linwood Panthers brothers Fred and Jim Dalzell (Princeton and Yale).
Little played for the Dolphins in the mid-1980s. His 66-yard touchdown in the 1984 championship game against the Egg Harbor Township Orioles is part of a video posted on the 65th Anniversary Celebration website. ‘ACJFL. The Orioles were led by the late Al Mallen, who threw two touchdown passes in that game. Little, Mallen and Roman were later teammates at Holy Spirit High School.
“It was a great experience,” said Dr. Fred Dalzell, an orthopedic surgeon who joined President Joe Calvi Jr. and other event committee members. “But what I remember most is the camaraderie. It was a fantastic time.”
Some of them are now grandfathers. The hips and knees that carried them into the end zone at age 13 have been replaced. The hair that was tucked into the helmets is gray or has disappeared.
None of that mattered at the celebration. They posed for photos with keynote speaker Ron Jaworski, and smiled and hugged while reminiscing about plays, games and seasons from a special time in their lives.
For a league and a night they had become young again.
David Weinberg’s columns can also be found on his Dave Weinberg Extra Points Facebook page and blog, as well as on 973ESPN.com. His podcast, Tequila and Touchdowns by Dave Weinberg, can be heard on Anchor, Facebook and Twitter. You can also hear him every Monday at 5:10 p.m. on Newstalk 1400-AM WOND and WONDRadio.com on Off the Press with Scott Cronick. His Weinberg Wednesday segment airs at 6:15 p.m. weekly on 97.3-FM ESPN.