FOXBORO, Mass. – The crowd filed into their seats in the bleachers at the Ahern Middle School field on Sunday morning, including players in uniform, while friends, family, and speakers filled out the seats in front of the podium at midfield. When the crowd was settled, Foxboro fire trucks and police cruisers pulled in behind the bleachers with sirens blaring, providing an honorary motorcade to deliver the man of the hour.
Foxboro football coach Jack Martinelli, who will kick off his 36th season in charge when the Warriors travel to Hingham on Sept. 8, walked onto the grass field that he has called home for more than three decades and received a standing ovation from current and former players, town and state officials, fellow coaches, parents, alumni, and administrators who were all on hand to honor Martinelli’s contributions on and off the gridiron.
Sunday’s ceremony dedicated the field at Ahern in the longtime coach’s honor, renaming it Jack Martinelli Field to confirm the legacy of success that he has brought to the Foxboro football program and also, as the speakers all noted, his positive impact on more than 3,000 Warriors that have played for him.
“In 1982, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime,” Martinelli said. “With longtime friends and Norwood assistants Joe Mooney and Joe Smith…we embarked on a journey that has run the gamut of football emotions.
“Today’s generous honor really belongs to some 3,000 tough and hard-nosed Foxboro young men that always combined working class traditions with white-collar skills that had a passion for the game and always played with such unity, focus, and determined resolve.We grew together as coaches and players and shared the various responsibilities in victory and defeat.”
Martinelli has won 261 games in his time at Foxboro, which ranks him 10th in the state for career victories according to an article from the Boston Herald. He has won 11 Hockomock League titles and taken the Warriors to eight Super Bowls, winning four of them (the last one in 2006, which was also his 200th career win).
In addition, Martinelli, who came to Foxboro from Norwood High, has coached in the annual Shriner’s Game three times and twice was named the New England Patriots Coach of the Year. He has been inducted into the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
When he took over the program in 1982, Martinelli had fewer than 30 players on the roster, but grew quickly into one of the largest programs in the Hockomock. Despite decreasing enrollment at the high school, which has made Foxboro one of the smallest schools in the league, the Warriors have more than 90 players on this fall’s roster
Longtime assistant coach Michael Bordieri, who was also a player when Martinelli was hired, recalled, “We only had 29 returning players from the year before and I remember we were all anxious and unsure of what to expect from our new coach. We came into the first meeting unsure…but I remember exactly how we felt as a team when we were leaving – confident, capable, and excited to play for coach.”
“Here we are 35 years later and although the record speaks for itself,” Bordieri continued, “it’s the relationship with players that matters most to coach.”
One of Martinelli’s longtime rivals also came to speak about his impact. Mansfield coach Mike Redding is beginning his 30th season in charge of the Hornets and he relishes the opportunity to face Martinelli each fall on Thanksgiving morning. He called the Mansfield – Foxboro rivalry “the best in the state of Massachusetts.”
“It’s not the banners and the rings,” Redding said, “it’s what he did for the players in the Foxboro uniforms…You will be a better young man having played for Jack Martinelli and when you get to be a senior you will be ready to play the best football of your life.
“I can say on behalf of all the coaches in our league that we have been simply amazed that, despite declining enrollment at Foxboro High, we still have to face 90-95 guys in blue and gold who compete at the highest level every single year.”
A person with a unique perspective on the influence that Martinelli has on the sideline is Jim Artz. A former Foxboro player, who was on the 1987 Super Bowl-winning team, Artz went on to join the Warriors coaching staff as an assistant and then faced Foxboro as an opponent while the head coach at Oliver Ames.
Artz said, “Coach genuinely cared for each of us in a way that we could feel the support and belief he had in us. He always gave sound advice and showed there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”
He continued, “To a player he trusted and believed that if given the opportunity his players would rise to the occasion…It’s a tremendous feeling to know the guy in charge believes in you and will always support you. I tell people that didn’t play for Foxboro about why they have been so good for so long and for me it was his players would always run through a wall for him.”
Another former player who provided the assembled crowd with unique insight into Martinelli’s career was Tom Nalen, a member of the 1987 and 1988 Super Bowl champion teams who went on to a successful collegiate career at Boston College and played 14 seasons with the Denver Broncos (winning two Super Bowls and being named to the Pro Bowl five times).
Even with the high level of coaching he received, Nalen credited Martinelli with teaching him the lessons that led to a professional career. He explained, “I’ve been around a lot of good coaches and they all have these positive attributes and just the combination of them – he’s the only one who had them.”
A sign for the scoreboard was revealed that bears the new field’s name and a banner was unveiled on the back side of the bleachers that can be viewed by all spectators entering the field. It was a fitting tribute to a coach that built the Foxboro program into a perennial power and who shows no signs of slowing down as he passes the midway point of his fourth decade at the helm.
“He is Foxboro,” Nalen insisted. “A guy from Milton, came to us from Norwood, lives in Holliston, but he’s Foxboro. He’s the guy. It ain’t Tom Brady; it’s Coach Martinelli.”