Published November 20, 2018

MELROSE — In today’s edition of the Thanksgiving Throwback, we’re off to 1999 when Wakefield was partying after getting the bounce on a coin toss to settle a 14-14 tie against Melrose on Thanksgiving Day. Both teams entered the contest with perfect records as the winner would get to play in the Super Bowl.

The Warriors won the flip and the Super Bowl that year. They are Wakefield’s only Super Bowl champion as they went on to beat Acton-Boxboro in the big game. 

Wakefield’s leading scorer in ‘99 was running back Mark Sullivan who accounted for 801 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as well as 180 receiving yards and three touchdowns. 

The following is the headline and part of a game story that appeared in the Daily Item’s Friday, Nov. 26, 1999 edition. 

WARRIOR LINEBACKER BILLY MORRISON (48) and another WHS defender drag down Melrose tailback George LeBlanc during the ‘99 Thanksgiving game in Melrose. LeBlanc rolled up 114 yards in the first half, but a tough Warrior defense held him to just 14 yards in the second half. (Daily Item File Photo)

“Warriors win the toss, head to bowl; After WHS, Melrose dueled to Thanksgiving Day 14-14 tie.”

“After Wakefield and Melrose played 44 minutes of emotional, mud-covered football yesterday, nothing was settled.

It took a man by the name of Phil Lanoue and a 1921 silver dollar coin to determine this year’s Middlesex League Super Bowl representative, as coaches, captains, athletic directors and principals from both teams gathered at 9 a.m. this morning at Melrose High.

The Warriors and Raiders tied 14-14 yesterday, leaving each squad at 9-0-1 (8-0-1 ML). Both teams are, and always will be 1999 league co-champions, but by the luck of the coin bouncing off the brick floor in the MHS lobby, the Warriors will be heading to their second Super Bowl in three seasons under coach Mike Boyages. 

The coin flip is the final tiebreaker used by the Middlesex League which overrides the MIAA’s rule of eliminating the most recent Super Bowl participant when all else fails (Under the MIAA rules, Melrose would have gone). 

Each school principal – Wakefield’s Ron Struminski and Melrose’s Daniel Burke – grabbed an envelope, with each one containing a piece of paper reading either heads or tails. 

Lanoue tossed the coin, which landed on tails. Burke opened his envelope and then wished Wakefield the best of luck in the Super Bowl.

BOB CAIRA dashes into the end zone for the game-tying touchdown with only 25 seconds remaining during Thanksgiving 1999. Caira’s 20-yard TD reception made it 14-14 and left both Melrose and Wakefield at 9-0-1 (8-0-1 ML) on the season. (Daily Item File Photo)

‘The main thing is that we’re both co-champions,” said Boyages afterward. “I’m happy to get the opportunity to go back to the Super Bowl.

‘We talked before the flip and both teams said that whatever was the result, the other team would be at the Super Bowl rooting the other one on.’

Regardless of the way the coin fell this morning, this was one for the ages.

Melrose controlled the first half in a way that left many on hand feeling Wakefield didn’t have a chance – no matter what adjustments it made in the locker room – to come back and be competitive. 

Senior tailback George LeBlanc scored twice for the Red Raiders in the first quarter and only two straight heroic stands near the Warrior goal line by the Wakefield defense prevented a three-touchdown lead before the half. Wakefield, in typical Thanksgiving Day nailbiting fashion, did its scoring late. 

After a scoreless third quarter (A 12-play WHS drive of 7:24 stalled at the Melrose 19), the pace was furious in the final 11 minutes. Wakefield stopped Melrose on four straight plays, the last being a fake punt run by Jeff Coots, and marched to the Melrose 2 yard line to start the fourth quarter.

Om second-and-goal from the 2, Warrior fullback Billy Morrison was stopped and stripped by Melrose and the fumble was recovered by Jamaal Taswell. Behind LeBlanc, quarterback Matt Basteri and fullback Patrick Kent, the Raiders lugged the ball to their own 37 before punting. 

WHS tailback Mark Sullivan broke a 51-yard punt return to the Raider 13, helping set up the Warriors’ first score of the day. Sullivan carried for gains of six, four and two on the drive, which was capped by Morrison’s tough running on a huge fourth-and-goal play from the 1. The TD cut the gap to 14-6. On the extra point try, holder Nathan Wood handled a tough snap, got to his feet and found wingback Dan Relihan wide open in the back of the end zone – and overcoming a breathtaking bobble on the catch – for two points. 

Boyages said that despite the desperate look of the play and errant snap, it was a planned fake. Planned or not, it worked, and would prove to be a huge play in the game. With 4:24 left to play, it was a 14-8 game.

With LeBlanc struggling through the mud on the middle of the field, Melrose went three-and-out. 

On first-and-10 from the Raider 20, Wakefield experienced some trouble with getting the play call in from the sideline. With the clock ticking near 30 seconds, the play finally got off. It was worth the wait for Wakefield, as Kirk Irons found junior wide receiver Bob Caira near the left hash mark at the 10. Caira came back to the ball for the catch, and then scooted up the middle through a surprisingly clear path to the end zone with 25 seconds left.

‘Coach (Boyages) told us that we’ve done it before in the fourth quarter,’ said Irons afterward. ‘We’ve been a team of destiny. The ball has been bouncing our way.’

A golden chance to win the game came on the extra point try, but a Melrose player got a hand to Frederico Marques’ kick, which still had the distance but was wide right. 

Neither team rushed onto the field after the clock expired, and neither seemed thrilled with celebrating a Middlesex League co-championship. They simply shook hands, headed for the bus/locker room and thought long and hard about the Super Bowl-settling question: Heads or tails?”

The ‘99 Warriors went on to beat Acton-Boxboro 13-7 on Dec. 5 at Boston University.