Memories of the 1975 Championship Guttenberg Pirates football team

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Teammates of the 1975 Championship Pirates football team on hand for the interview from left are, Tim Schmitt, Don Mackey, Dan Kuempel, Perry Moser, Dan Walke, John Finch and Ken Davis (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

In 1975, the Guttenberg High School Pirates varsity football team, comprised of 22 dedicated, determined players, won the Mid-East Iowa Conference with nine wins and zero loses.

The Guttenberg Press recently sat down with several members of the championship team who reside in Guttenberg to reminisce about their successful football season. 

At the table were then seniors Ken Davis, offensive tailback and defensive linebacker; Tim Schmitt, offense/defense tackle and punter; John Finch, defensive back; and Dan Walke, swing back.

Juniors Perry Moser, quarterback; Dan Kuempel, end offense/defense; Don Mackey, left tackle offense and defense, and Coach Craig McIntosh via cellphone. 

"We were one student over, which put us in Division 2A as opposed to 1A, which is a smaller conference," mentioned Moser. 

"With only 22 players, many of us played more than one position," noted Mackey. 

It was abundantly clear the respect, camaraderie and incredible sense of humor this group of former football legends possessed. "I'm sorry I can't be there in person, but I imagine it's probably just a bunch of bald guys sitting around the table," ribbed McIntosh. "I'll tell you what, as long as I stayed out of their way they were pretty darn good."

McIntosh joked a bit at John Finch's expense. He commented. "I remember when you sang the 'Minnesota Fight Song'." 

"Perry Moser wrote it," Finch interjected.

"I also remember you barely passed bookkeeping and now you're running Meusers," McIntosh added.

The quick-witted coach also had a thing or two to say to quarterback Perry Moser. "You were lucky I let you graduate, and didn't make you sit on the bench," he laughed. "You were a heck of a quarterback. You had good instincts. You usually did the opposite of what I told you, which often resulted in a touchdown. I can recall yelling my head off at you and Mackey and finishing the confrontation by asking you not to do a thing I told you to do." 

Moser gave credit to fellow teammate Don Schaefer, who was unable to attend. He noted, "Due to a broken collarbone early in the season, Don Schaefer took over my position and became the starting quarterback for the majority of the season."

Coach McIntosh's parents owned a cabin on Abel Island. He credited his familiarity with the area in securing his teaching/coaching position at Guttenberg High School. "I was just a kid – 21 years old at the time. I was the worst coach in Iowa my first year. It was a players' team, not a coach's team. They really took things over," he noted. "I knew in the future they would become outstanding husbands, fathers, employers, employees, and community members." 

Additional members of the coaching staff included Ed Dvorak, Howard Hubbell, Wes Baier and Mike Sasse. "Howard Hubbell was a man of few words, but when he spoke you better listen," said Kuempel. 

"We knew they were going to be good. We let the captains lead the conditioning and they worked the players harder than we would have," said McIntosh. "The players really bought into it. We spent more time in the weight room than on the field. We got stronger as the season went on. They were quality young men that had a willingness to work hard."

Pride, Hustle, Desire

"One of the things I remember was doing calisthenics before and after the game," recalled Kuempel. "We used the pre-game workout opportunity to psych out the other team. We meant the fact that we wanted to be in shape. It was our motto – 'Pride, Hustle, Desire.'"

Dan Walke, Public Works Director for the City of Guttenberg, was awarded the "Pride, Hustle, Desire" Award for his stellar work ethic on and off the field and humble attitude. 

"We were all supportive of Dan's well-deserved honor," remarked Davis "As players, this experience built a foundation that would benefit us for the rest of our lives. In my family and every job or company I ever worked for I have applied that same work ethic and team building approach." 

"Our best players were our best leaders because they were thinking about the team not themselves," said Finch. 

Davis continued, "One things for sure, some of the fond memories I have were of the offensive powerhouse that we had. I don't remember the games, but I do remember the holes in the line created by Mackey, Meyer, and Schmitt, that you could drive a truck through. On defense, the front line of Bob Ludovisssy, Dennis Walter and Joe Vorwald were animals, while in the backfield John Finch was like a human spear. As a linebacker, this freed me up to get in on every play because we worked so well together." 

The football players set a high standard and were an inspiration to underclassmen. "We offered a lot of encouragement to underclassmen," said Davis, "A number of players told me that they can see how hard the upper classmen are working, and that we want to work that hard too." 

Schmitt credited the Evers brothers for their impact on the team. He said, "Jeff Evers, who had graduated the previous year, was very instrumental in our success. He united the team. His brother Steve Evers always emphasized that we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves - did we give 100 percent?"

The coaching staff used a variety of strategies to keep the players focused and pumped up. "I will always remember watching NFL clips before the game to get us pumped up," Finch recollected. "On occasion we weren't allowed to speak during school to keep our emotions in check. By the time we took the field it was like an explosion.” 

Guttenberg vs. Hudson

The Mid-East Iowa Conference champions were under prepared for their 2A playoff game against Hudson. “We were down five starters because of injury and illness when we played Hudson,” remembered Mackey. 

“We didn’t even know what a playoff game was,” added Finch. 

Although Hudson would win the game, and go on to be State 2A Champions two years in a row, the Pirates gave their best effort. “I was so sick, it was the worst day and game of my life,” shared Davis.  

Pirates vs. Lincoln 13-12 last-minute

Guttenberg Pirates beat Lincoln of Stanwood 13-12 aided by last minute heroics of Dan Walke and Don Schaefer.

The Pirates were down 12-6 with 1:34 left after Lincoln’s Larry Gruenwald blocked a Tim Schmitt Punt and raced into the end zone to put Lincoln ahead. The game appeared out of reach for the Pirates, yet Steve Evers received the ensuing kickoff and carried it back to the Pirates 35-yard line. 

Fans were starting for the parking lot when quarterback Don Schaefer pitched a pass toward end Dan Kuempel. Kuempel misjudged the ball, which slid through his hands, glanced off his shoulder pad and somehow ended up in Dan Walke’s grasp, who then carried it to Lincoln’s 27-yard line. 

People stopped their exit and watched, hoping for the unbelievable. It came in the form of the next play when Schaefer lofted a pass towards the end zone. Dan Walke stood waiting, as did three Lincoln defenders. It appeared a Lincoln defender intercepted the ball as all four athletes stretched for the pass, but as the four fell to the ground Walke was able to steal the ball from the Lincoln defender and tie the score at 12-12. 

Tim Schmitt booted the extra point kick through the uprights to put the Pirates up 13-12 with 33 seconds left. 

Lincoln would have another run at scoring, but the Pirates defensive line would stop the play and the game ended in a win. 

Recognition for the win and player of the week awards went to Don Mackey defensive lineman; Joe Vorwald, defensive player; Dan Walke, offensive player and Mike Meyer offensive lineman. “Tim Schmitt was the best punter and field goal kicker in the state that year,” said McIntosh.

It takes a village

Coach McIntosh and team members expressed deep gratitude for faculty, parent and community support. “We were grateful for fan support during our championship season,” commented Macintosh. “The parents went out of their way to provide healthy meals for team members to fuel their intense physical needs. I was especially grateful for Dennis Hanna, longtime band instructor. The two of us worked together to make sure team members involved in the marching band could experience that opportunity as well. Many coaches in the past had not been as cooperative. I also admire all the Guttenberg High School coaches that went on to become great sports leaders.”

Pride, Hustle, Desire award recipient Dan Walke recognized the late Darwin Duwe’s contribution to the success of the team. “Darwin was our trainer and did an excellent job,” he humbly shared, “He was a big part of the team. He was something special.” 

McIntosh pointed out the loss of two young men associated with the team. “The community suffered a huge loss when John Vorwald, our first captain, died at age 18 from spinal meningitis,” he sadly remembered. “Our friend Darwin Duwe also lost his life at a young age while working on a barge line. The two young men and their extended family members were such good people. It was heart-breaking for the entire community.”

The championship team would take the lessons they learned on and off the field and apply them to daily life. 

“Basically we had a great coaching staff, some great players, and a lot of good players that could play great football when they had to,” Moser commented.

“I have tried to live my life with a fourth quarter mentality,” Walke commented. “Just when you think you are at your wits end – down and out – you pick yourself up and move forward. You leave everything you have out on the field. It has always been a part of my life, these guys, my friends – they are my life-long friends.” The team members all nodded in agreement. 

The football team started each game reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” “I have always recognized the importance of God’s presence in my life on and off the field. We did not honor the Lord because we wanted to win, we only asked for protection and safety for both teams involved,” commented McIntosh. 

Macintosh reminded his former players, “I have never been a very good speller, but I do know there is no ‘I’ in team. Every play is designed to score a touchdown. Think how many of them you missed out on,” he concluded with a laugh.

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