ORONO, Maine — When the 1965 season began, the University of Maine football team had many question marks.
Coach Harold Westerman’s Black Bears had lost numerous veterans, which meant a lot of first-time starters.
“The expectations were that we had lost so much the year before, we were going to be lucky to go .500,” offered Jerry Perkins of Orrington, an offensive tackle on the squad. “It was a storybook season.”
UMaine surprised even itself, going 8-2 and earning a trip to the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla., where the Bears lost 31-0 to East Carolina.
This weekend, UMaine athletics pays tribute to the Tangerine Bowl team with several events that coincide with the Bears’ 6 p.m. Saturday home game against Stony Brook.
UMaine won the Lambert Trophy given to the top team in the East and claimed the Yankee Conference title with a perfect 5-0 record.
“That team is always recognized as one of the great teams that has ever played here at the University of Maine,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
As a student-athlete, Cosgrove played for head coach Walter Abbott, who was an assistant in ’65, and quarterbacks coach Dick DeVarney, who led the Bears’ offense that season.
Waterville native John Huard went on to twice achieve All-America status before playing with the NFL’s Denver Broncos. He, along with Westerman, are the only two members of UMaine football’s “Ring of Honor.”
UMaine development officer Pat McBride said some 35 team members, coaches and family members are expected to be in town and will be honored during halftime of the game.
“It’s an opportunity to connect the past with the present, have those guys share some of the history of the football program,” said McBride, who was instrumental in reuniting the group. “It’s just awesome.”
While small groups of players from the team have gathered periodically, this will bring them all together.
“I think the type of thing they’re doing this weekend is good for the school,” said former cornerback Ron Lanza (Class of 1966), who also played on the 1964 College World Series team. “I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
For Perkins, a farm boy from Orrington, it was Westerman who asked him to play at Maine, and found him some much-needed financial aid.
“He gave me a chance,” Perkins said. “Being invited by a coach up to the University of Maine was an honor. I was the first Perkins to go to college.”
He said Westerman’s no-nonsense approach to football and the staff’s ability to create a close-knit unit were instrumental in the Bears’ success. He employed some of those philosophies during a stellar career as the wrestling coach at Rumford High School.
Perkins will never forget the scene at Bangor International Airport when UMaine returned from the Tangerine Bowl.
“There was a tremendous crowd waiting there,” Perkins recalled. “We really felt like we’d let down the state and let down the coaches, so it was nice to see so many University of Maine students who had really supported us so much.”
Toward that end, Lanza explained the Tangerine Bowl team has become more active in supporting UMaine football financially. Last year they raised $16,000, an amount matched by a grant from the Alfond family.
“None of us have ever lost the feelings we have for University of Maine football,” Perkins said.
A reunion such as this is the perfect way for former players to give something back.
“We’re all getting to that age where we start considering things beyond ourselves,” Lanza said.
The list of people expected to attend the festivities includes: Nancy Avery, William Beeaker, Charles Belisle, Ivan Braun, Dennis Cary, Woody Carville, DeVarney, Dennis Doyle, Chris Eldridge, John Fahlgren, Carl Fitzgerald, Dick Fox, Jason Hirst and Huard.
Also, Robert Kocsmiersky, Lanza, Bill Libby, Tom London, Alan Merrill, Dana Mulholland, Walter Nelson, Peter Norris, Paul Pendleton, Perkins, Alan Riley, Paul Smith, Bob Stolt, Richard Tardiff, Coyne Turcotte, Westerman, Don White, John White and George Wilcox.