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Disabato: St. Rita to fete its 1963 national champion football team

St. Rita's 1963 football team went 9-0 was crowned national champion. John Byrne scores TD for Mustangs vs. Chicago Vocational

St. Rita's 1963 football team went 9-0 and was crowned national champion. John Byrne scores a TD for the Mustangs vs. Chicago Vocational in the Prep Bowl at Soldier Field. | Suppiled photo

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National Champ

ST. RITA’S 1963 RESULTS

Week 1: Beat Lindblom 46-0

Week 2: Beat Leo 44-0

Week 3: Beat St. Laurence 44-6

Week 4: Beat Mount Carmel 48-0

Week 5: Beat Mendel 44-6

Week 6: Beat Brother Rice 42-20

Week 7: Beat Fenwick 22-6 (Catholic League playoffs)

Week 8: Beat Loyola 16-15 (Catholic League playoffs)

Week 9: Beat CVS 42-7
(Prep Bowl)

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Updated: October 28, 2013 6:56AM



They may not have been the most physically gifted or imposing team to ever walk the halls of St. Rita.

Heck, some regard the 1961 squad, which registered an undefeated regular season but stubbed its toe in the first round of the playoffs, a more skilled team.

The Mustangs’ unbeaten 1978 team that won the Class 6A state championship was a monster. And the 2006 team that claimed the Class 7A state title was immensely talented.

What can’t be debated is this: Since 1910, the National Sports News Service has awarded a national champion, and St. Rita’s ’63 team is the only squad from the South Side to earn the distinction.

This isn’t a myth. It’s a nod to that team’s remarkable dominance.

On Friday, during its much-anticipated Catholic Blue showdown against Mount Carmel, St. Rita will honor the 50-year anniversary of its ’63 team’s 9-0 season with a pregame dinner and halftime ceremony. Approximately 31 of the 48 rostered players from 1963 will be in attendance, a few traveling from as far as the east and west coasts. Some, sadly, have passed on and will be represented by their widows.

“It’s going to be great to see everybody,” said John Byrne, a running back on the ’63 team who now resides in Munster, Ind. “It brings back some great memories.”

There were no state championships back then, kids, just like there weren’t any water breaks during grueling three-hour practices.

The Prep Bowl was akin to the state championship, and St. Rita claimed it by way of a 42-7 win over Chicago Vocational in front of 81,270 fans at Soldier Field.

That’s not a typo, folks. There were 81,270 fans watching a high school football game.

“It was a blockbuster affair,” Byrne remembered. “Public school vs. private school. Two South Side teams. It was a big game. That’s why 80,000 people were there.”

How dominant was the ’63 team? Those Mustangs outscored opponents 348-60.

They were undersized, even by 1960s standards — only two players tipped the scales beyond 200 pounds. And, yes, the playbook was vanilla, consisting of a half-dozen or so plays.

But under the guidance of coach Ed Buckley, a former Marine who earned nine letters as a three-sport star at Harvard, the ’63 Mustangs were a disciplined, well-oiled machine.

Their ability to execute the game plan with impeccable precision, combined with Marine-style conditioning, produced a take-no-prisoners, never-say-die attitude that resulted in one of the most dominant seasons in state history.

“We were afraid of his (Buckley) wrath the next day if we made any mistakes,” Byrne said. “He was a legendary coach. We weren’t the most talented team, but we worked hard. We played smart and didn’t make mistakes. We had perfect execution and we played as a team.”

Make no mistake, the ’63 ’Stangs had some great players. Byrne, a St. Margaret of Scotland graduate, went on to play at Indiana before a knee injury ended his career. Larry Smith, an offensive lineman, went on to play at Michigan State. Another lineman, Joe Kosiak, went to Nebraska before finishing at Drake.

Then, of course, there’s Jim Klutcharch, the quarterback who went to Purdue and has coached at various local high schools, including Shepard.

“The whole season was a highlight for me,” Klutcharch said. “The previous two years we went undefeated and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Fenwick beat us bad both of those years.”

The third time proved to be the charm, as St. Rita beat Fenwick, 22-6, and then dropped previously undefeated Loyola 16-15 in a thriller to advance to the Prep Bowl. The Ramblers were the only team to come within double digits of the Mustangs all season.

“Loyola was so much bigger than us,” said Klutcharch, who grew up in Sheldon Heights, just outside Roseland. “We connected on a 2-point conversion to win 16-15. It was a great game.”

The Mustangs then made quick work of CVS to cap their undefeated season.

That was 50 years ago.

“It’s a lot of years and it makes you feel old,” Klutcharch said. “It wasn’t until years later that you even thought about it (undefeated). It’s a very neat thing. You’re proud of the fact at how you played and how you did and the guys you played with. A lot of great, great memories.”



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