Remembering VHS Football’s Biggest Loss

By on February 4, 2014

1966Team-75scoreDenver Broncos, there’s a Verona High School football team that feels your pain. They know what it’s like to experience a really humiliating defeat, except that theirs was larger and came, not at the end of a winning season, but in the midst of three years of non-stop losses. Their story, a story about the worst loss in VHS football history, is the subject of a new movie coming out this month.

The 1966 Hillbillies had nothing but losses on their record. They had had no wins the year before, they had no wins in September. And on a bright October day, the team took the field against Madison High School and was crushed, 75-0. So many Verona players were injured in that game, and the next, that VHS actually had to forfeit a game. By the end of the 1967 season, they had amassed 32 consecutive losses, the most ever by a New Jersey high school football team.1966Team-Forfeit

Venanzio “Lou” Cortese and Jay Curtis, who played on that long-ago team, have had more than 40 years to contemplate the defeat. They’ve created a film called, simply, 75-0: The Documentary that will have its premiere at the Yogi Berra Museum on Wednesday, February 26.

“We were the only class that never won a football game,” says Curtis.

How did something like this happen in football-mad Verona? How did it happen after VHS teams had been state champions in 1960, 1961, and 1962? There were multiple coaching changes, but the larger issue may have been the Vietnam War: Young men in the 1960s were subject to the draft, but college students could get a deferment. There seemed to be a deemphasis on sports in Verona as academics rose. Fewer young men went out for football.

Ten years after the defeat, Cortese and Curtis did some filming for a movie, but never completed it and lost what little they shot. Last March, “semi-retired” from careers in film production and television news marketing, they started the project again, and turned to the Internet to find the players who had made news that October. “It’s a hell of a lot easier to find people than it would have been 30 years ago,” says Curtis. That included a number of Madison starters, like the team’s quarterback, Steve Natale. And they learned that, when Natale went to Mississippi State for college, his team lost 75-0 in the Astrodome. “I felt Verona’s pain,” says Natale in the movie. Says Cortese, “The Verona guys didn’t blame Madison. The Madison guys seemed to have more regrets.”1966Team-600

What is this?

Then they found what Curtis calls “the Holy Grail”: Footage of the actual game, in the archives of Madison’s sports boosters group. They had it digitized and added some sound effects. “It looks like it was shot yesterday,” he adds. And for the Verona players featured in the movie, guys like Bernie Weich, Frank Miscia, Kerry Mucci, Lenny Nigro, Mike Berman and Robert Zazzali, it seems as if the game was just yesterday. “For some people,” says Cortese, there are three things in your life that you remember: eating, girls and football.”

If you’re looking for a Hollywood happy ending, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Yes, Verona eventually did start winning football games again, in the fall of 1968. But the players of 75-0 had moved on. “Everyone went on in their lives and they more or less succeeded,” says Cortese. And they learned a lesson that was perhaps more valuable than winning.

“In the bad times in your life,” says Curtis with a chuckle, “You can say, ‘this is bad, but we’re not losing 75-nothing’.”

You can watch the movie’s trailer on Vimeo or YouTube. If you want to see the full film at Yogi Berra Museum, there will be screenings at 6 and 7:30 p.m. on February 26. Tickets are $10 and you’d be advised to make a reservation now by calling 973-655-2378.1966Team-MoviePoster


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9 Comments

  1. JoAnn Naklicki

    February 4, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I remember that dreadful day! As fate may have it, I now live in Florham Park…about 1/2 miles from Madison. If it would make anyone feel better, I’ll go throw eggs all over Madison High School!!
    Which of those two showings do you guys plan to attend? That might be fun! JoAnn

  2. Virginia Citrano

    February 5, 2014 at 8:07 am

    That’s karma for you, JoAnn.

    The funny thing is, when you watch the trailer, the Madison guys are very apologetic and the Verona guys just roll with the memory. I’m calling for my tickets today.

  3. Norman Liedtkr

    February 6, 2014 at 9:17 am

    I remember this game and used it as motivation in 1969 when my senior football season we beat Madison 52-0. It was a payback to the seniors before me who played in thAt loss

  4. Bob Goman

    February 6, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Virginia, just a correction. After the 1967 season, Verona’s losing streak was 31 games. In 1968 Verona lost the first game of the season to Boonton to extend the losing streak to 32.
    We won the second game of the 1968 season beating Mountain High School.

  5. Virginia Citrano

    February 6, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for the clarification Bob. It’s amazing to me how vivid the memories of that time remain in the minds of so many people.

  6. Art Horn

    February 8, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    I played halfback on the 1952 Nutley High School football team. Our record Some3 of the\games were close.
    The worst was a 48-0 loss to Montclair. Our coach had a nervous breakdown after the 7th game,
    Nutley High went 9-0 and won a state championship 2 years later in 1954.

    Art Horn

  7. Bob DiTrani

    February 9, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Just for the record, the sophomores on that team like myself, Bud Hart, Willie Trimmer,etc were able to payback Madison our Senior year when they came back to Verona undefeated and we beat them 14-12. It was the second time in two weeks that the goal posts were torn down.

  8. Dave Oremland

    June 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    I just found this. Its nice to see comments from Norman, Bobby, and Deo.

    My memory is exactly like Bobby Goman’s. We lost the first game of the 68 season and then started winning. I think everyone felt we were going to win in ’68.

    I’m glad to see that Norman used it for revenge in ’69. As for Deo, Bobby Ditrani: I seem to recall that he and Willie Trimmer lifted weights all year between 67 and 68 and were really bulked up for the ’68 football season. If so, it payed off!!!

    I remember tons of games after school all during the years growing up with the above mentioned guys; I’d say we played sports on every field possible…

    …and Here is a funny story for those guys: I had this conversation w/ Russ Bershad. Russ and I played stickball w/ Don Overholser for years. Russ and I never played each other.

    Overholser crushed me. All the time. Evidently Russ too.

    Guys: The way I figure it I think Russ and I were the pigeons for Don, so he could improve his pitching and help have a great baseball team in Spring of ’69. Ha ha.

    I just saw the trailer for the movie. That was terrific. Really remarkable memories and a great story. I’d like to get a copy of the movie.

    Dave Oremland

    (you have my email)

  9. Virginia Citrano

    June 2, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks for the memories Dave. We’ll pass your email along to the movie’s producers.

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