‘Snow Bowl’ caps off storybook season for 1981 Bulldogs

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It will forever be remembered as the “snow bowl,” but Canton High School’s super bowl win over Somerset on December 5, 1981 was so much more than that.

Not only was it the necessary icing on the cake that was the 1981 regular season — a perfect campaign complete with blowouts, nail biters and comebacks — it was also the last great feather in the cap of Paul Therrien, Canton’s legendary coach who had already led the school to a state title in 1979 and who, for the past five seasons, had led the Bulldogs to the Hockomock crown.

The 20-6 victory was sweet revenge for the whole community as well, especially since it was against Somerset, the third-ranked team in 1980 who got to play Silver Lake in the super bowl, while the second-ranked, undefeated Bulldogs were forced to stay home because of a technicality.

Most importantly, the win at Schaefer Stadium on that snowy Saturday turned a great season into an historic one and took a talented group of young men and made them into local legends. And in a few short weeks, they will also become hall of famers, a title they will officially own after the November 24 induction ceremony at Canton High School.

When compared to some of the team’s other wins that year, the super bowl game itself could have been seen as a bit of a letdown, with Canton repeatedly turning the ball over in its own territory and failing to capitalize on many of its scoring opportunities through the first three quarters.

“It wasn’t much of a game because of the snow,” recalled Rob Davis, then a senior defensive end for the Bulldogs. “The field was fine when we started, but by the beginning of the second half, or maybe even earlier than that, it started coming down. It was very, very slippery and there wasn’t much footing at all.”

Canton was fortunate enough to get on the board before the storm came, going up 7-0 on a 53-yard run by quarterback John Homer, followed by a Dom Cammarata extra point. But as the field got sloppier, so did the play of both teams.

From the midway point of the first quarter to the start of the fourth quarter, neither team scored, but instead combined for seven fumbles and three interceptions. It was a Canton fumble, in fact, that put the game back within reach for Somerset, who scored on the first play of the fourth quarter when the quarterback found one of his receivers in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown.

It was all Canton after that, however. After Somerset’s extra point attempt hit the left upright, the Bulldogs came back with their second touchdown of the afternoon, scoring on a 67-yard run by Rich Shannon. Homer had faked the handoff to fullback Chris Cavallaro and the Somerset defenders bought it, giving Shannon a wide-open field to the outside.

Finally, with 2:35 remaining in the game, running back Pat Keelan gained 12 yards on three carries, capped off by a two-yard touchdown to seal the victory, and the championship, for Therrien’s Bulldogs.

The real stars for Canton on the day were its defenders, who stopped Somerset on drive after drive, even when the Raiders recovered the ball in enemy territory. Leading the way was Cavallaro, who, when not blocking or carrying the ball, was terrorizing the Somerset quarterback, finishing with four sacks and 12 tackles.

The snow continued to come down hard after the game had ended, but according to those who were there, the celebration had only just begun.

“It was an exciting time, coming back to Canton,” remembers Assistant Coach Tom Healy, now the CHS baseball coach. “We went through the mall area (Cobb’s Corner) and drove past all of the stores. The fire engines had greeted us and we went down Washington Street and all the way to the school. It was pretty exciting. A lot of people turned out on the sidewalks to congratulate the team.”

It was a fitting end to a spectacular season. They had started the season by avenging the tie that had kept them out of the super bowl the year before, and then finished with a convincing win over the team that had taken their place.

And for all of the players who worked so hard all season, after rewarding the town with a super bowl win on that Saturday, they were treated to a reward of their own on Monday: a snow day.

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