By Nick Curcuru
---- — It took more than a century for the Gloucester football program to turn in its first unbeaten season, and it took a special team, possibly its most special team, to do it.
After countless near misses and close calls, the Fishermen finally ran the table in 2000 under head coach Terry Silva, a feat that has been accomplished three times since, with a devastating blend of top of the line talent and invaluable experience.
The 2000 Fishermen capped off their season with an 11-0 record and a Division 3 Super Bowl crown.
“We had a lot of big, strong guys who practiced so much together and made each other work every day,” said captain Christian Maki, the team’s starting tight end. “Everything was second nature to us, we communicated well at the line of scrimmage and if you had a bad play, the guy next to you would save you.”
The groundwork for the 2000 championship season was laid two years prior, during the Super Bowl run in 1998. As sophomores, most of the key contributors on the 2000 team played significant minutes on one of the program’s top 12 teams. While they were young and inexperienced up and coming sophomores during the 1998 season, they grew into experienced, all star players by the time the 2000 season rolled around.
“Those guys kind of laid the foundation for us and taught us how to win,” Maki said. “We had a bunch of guys starting on that team and a bunch more that got a lot of playing time, so by the time we were seniors we knew what it took to win big games.”
During the 2000 season, the Fishermen won several big games both in Northeastern Conference and non-league play, and the dominance in which they won puts them at No. 1 on the list as the best team to ever play football at Newell Stadium.
One would be hard pressed to find a team with more experience than the 2000 Division 3 Super Bowl champions. Quad captains Maki, Brian Harnish, Adam Orlando and Chris Zerilli along with junior Jim Unis were all three year starters. There were also plenty of two-year starters to go around in seniors Pat Andrus, Aaron Brennan, Mike Verga and junior Jim Rezza all started the previous season.
That experience paid off as Gloucester hit the ground running Week 1 and never looked back.
The Fishermen were also a balanced team in 2000 as their offense and defense were equally dominant.
On the defensive end, it all started up front with ends Unis and Andrus. Tackles Verga and Geoff Deppen were undersized but quicker than any interior linemen they faced, while Zerilli provided the muscle in the middle.
Brennan was an all star at outside linebacker as he and Jeff Muise were extremely tough to get around on the edge. Harnish, the Northeastern Conference MVP that season, and Orlando, one of the best two-way players the program has seen, powered the secondary at cornerback and safety.
The Gloucester defense allowed 79 points that season, most of them coming against the second and third units and 47 of those points coming in two games. Gloucester allowed three scores or more just twice all season, allowing eight points or less in nine of 11 games including four shutouts.
“I don’t think we had a weakness,” Maki said. “On defense we had Jimmy (Unis) on one end and four all conference players on the other end. It was pick your poison with us.”
Offensively Gloucester ran the wing-t to perfection averaging 33 points per game while eclipsing the 40 point mark six times.
The Fishermen were led by a four-pronged backfield. Orlando led the team in rushing at running back while Harnish, Verga and Muise were also productive in the running game as the quartet combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Sophomore Nolan Palazola was the quarterback coming to Gloucester after transferring from Manchester Essex, where he won a Super Bowl in 1999 as a freshman starting quarterback. Harnish was Palazola’s favorite target in the passing game.
Unis and Maki manned the end positions and it was like Gloucester put two more tackles on the end of the line that could also catch passes.
Zerilli was the leader of the offensive line as a three year starting center, he was flanked by Greg Thomas and R.J. Hopping at guard while Andrus and Rezza manned the tackle positions.
“With that lineup we knew we were the team to beat,” Maki said. “We only lost two games in the last two seasons and we had half our team back. We had a chip on our shoulder and we were going to do whatever it took. There were a lot of different personalities and a lot of different leaders and it really ended up clicking.”
Gloucester had eight players named to the NEC All Star team that season as conference MVP Harnish was joined by Orlando, Zerilli, Maki, Verga, Brennan, Andrus and Unis.
The Fishermen flexed their muscles right away in 2000 with an opening night meeting with eventual Division 2 Super Bowl champion Reading at Newell Stadium. The Rockets may have set up shop in a higher division than Gloucester, but it was clear that the two teams were on a completely different level as Gloucester came away with a 41-21 win that was not even as close as the score indicated.
“Reading ran the table from there and we pounded them,” Maki said.
After Reading, Gloucester ran through its next four opponents, Marblehead, Beverly, Winthrop and Lynn English, with relative ease moving to 5-0 and setting up the game of the regular season against Lynn Classical. As it usually is, the Week 6 matchup with the Fishermen and the Rams was for the conference championship, but that season the game was an even bigger spectacle as both teams may have brought their strongest squad in program history to Newell Stadium that night.
The 2000 Gloucester, Lynn Classical matchup may have been the most intense, physical and gut wrenching football game in a series of classic games between the two rivals.
Gloucester drew first blood in the opening quarter on a touchdown from Orlando. A Sandy Palazzolo extra point made it 7-0. While nobody knew it at the time, Palazzolo’s extra point was the difference in the game as Lynn Classical scored later in the first half but was stuffed on the two point conversion try and Gloucester was still ahead 7-6.
That score would hold until the finish and while neither team put points on the board for the remainder of the second half, the game was still as exciting as it gets as the nearly 10,000 fans that packed Newell Stadium were on the edge of their seats with every bone crunching hit, every big run and every key tackle.
“I remember saying to myself ‘when is something gonna break in this game,’ and it never did,” Maki said. “It gives me chills just thinking about that game. It was just warfare in the trenches. Both teams were so good up front and having Sandy Palazzolo, a kid who could kick the ball, won us the game.”
The Northeastern Conference hadn’t seen teams of Gloucester and Lynn Classical’s caliber in a long time, and to see two teams that talented battle for four quarters with neither team giving an inch was an extra special sight. The only shame from that game was the fact that somebody had to lose.
“I actually felt for Lynn Classical after that game, the only game where I felt bad for an opponent,” Maki said. “Both teams were banged up, it was the most physical game I played in and the difference was that we kicked an extra point and they didn’t.”
The physical nature of the Lynn Classical game took its toll on the Fishermen the following week as defending Northeastern Conference champion Salem, who beat Gloucester in dramatic fashion at Newell Stadium the previous season, put a big scare into the eventual Super Bowl champs. The Fishermen, however, pulled out a 6-0 win and kept the dream season going.
The Fishermen finished off the regular season by trouncing Saugus, Swampscott and Danvers on Thanksgiving Day and moved on to the Division 3 Super Bowl to take on a massive Foxborough team that averaged more than 250 pounds at each spot on the line.
The Warriors, champions of the brutally tough and deep Hockomock League, came out guns blazing in the first half opening up a 19-2 lead on a Gloucester team that hadn’t trailed the entire season up until that point. Gloucester’s only points came when Harnish ran back a blocked extra point.
Before the half ended, Gloucester finally got an offensive touchdown on a long Orlando run. That score was the start of the turnaround for the Fishermen, who went into the break down 19-9.
“In the first half we started getting away from what got us there,” Maki said. “All of a sudden late in the second we went back to our base 4-4 defense and ran our regular wing-t. Our athletes started to come through and they couldn’t keep up with us.”
The teams traded scores to start the second half and the Warriors still held a two score lead, but it was all Gloucester from there on in.
Championship teams win games in the second half and Gloucester proved that it was indeed a championship team with a furious finish in the biggest game of the year. A Palazola touchdown made it a one score game at 26-22 and Orlando followed with the biggest play of the season.
Relentless pressure from Brennan on a blitz from the outside led to an Orlando interception in Foxborough territory. The Gloucester quad captain would take it to the house giving Gloucester its first lead of the game at 29-26 late in the third quarter.
After a goal line stand at mid-field in the middle of the fourth, Gloucester put the game away with one last touchdown drive to earn a 35-26 win, a Division 3 Super Bowl title and the program’s first unbeaten season.
“We were a second half team,” Maki said. “We always won big games in the second half and it was due to our grueling practices.”
Gloucester’s second half performance in the Division 3 Super Bowl put an exclamation point on a dream season, a season that ended with an unbeaten record and a season that stands tall as the best season in the program’s history.
Newell's Best 1. 2000 2. 2007 3. 1956 4. 2010 5. 1987 6. 2009 7. 1949 8. 1995 9. 1938 10. 1991 11. 1974 12. 1998 The Best of the Rest 1955- First of back-to-back Class B state championship teams under Nate Ross. Gave us one of the school's best linemen in Tony Marino and a deep backfield. 2008- Finished 11-2 under Paul Ingram making it all the way to the Division 2A Super Bowl falling to a Duxbury team that may very well be the best squad a Gloucester football team has ever met in postseason play. 1948- Robbed of a Class B state title thanks to a botched call on Thanksgiving Day. Was the most controversial call in program history until the Division 2 Super Bowl in 1987. 2001- High powered offense under Terry Silva averaged more points per game (36) than any team in school history. Finished 10-1 falling to Whitman-Hanson in the Division 3 Playoffs, captain Jim Unis was named to the US Army All American game. 1947- Widely regarded as one of the best teams under Nate Ross that did not win a championship. At 8-1-1, only loss was to Harry Agganis' Lynn Classical team. 2004- One of the school's most feared rushing attacks with a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in Nick Giacalone and Tony Testaverde. Dropped a winner take all Thanksgiving Day game against Danvers to finish up at 10-1.
2000 Gloucester Football Schedule Gloucester 41 Reading 21 Gloucester 39 Marblehead 0 Gloucester 46 Beverly 6 Gloucester 21 Winthrop 0 Gloucester 40 Lynn English 6 Gloucester 7 Lynn Classical 6 Gloucester 6 Salem 0 Gloucester 47 Saugus 8 Gloucester 42 Swampscott 6 Gloucester 41 Danvers 0 Gloucester 35 Foxborough 26* *Division 3 Super Bowl