Bill Tighe: Staunch Patriot, Fatherly Presence

LEXINGTON, Mass. -- Anyone who's anyone, everyone who's had the pleasure of sharing at least one conversation with long-time Lexington head football coach Bill Tighe, until yesterday the nation's oldest active high school football coach, would agree on two things.

First, there's his legendary cackle, a sarcastic exclamation point on many of his locally-renowned "Tighe-isms", an infectious outburst that sticks with you, one that former player Justin Beckett described to ESPNBoston last summer as having "some irony and toughness in it. It's one of those things you never forget."

The other unforgettable trait is his undying loyalty to being a good countryman. Get him going on what it means to be an American, and he doesn't stop.

"You should come down and see us prepare my speech on Armistice Day, what it means to be an American, how much you love the flag, how much you appreciate this country," the 86-year-old Tighe said, following his Minutemen's 14-0 win over Burlington yesterday afternoon, the 514th and final game of a high school coaching career that has spanned six decades. "You never know, speaking to the younger kids, how well off you are. This is a great country, and I’ve always loved the National Anthem. I love the flag, everything that pertains to America. That’s my number one."

So needless to say, when he removed his cap and craned his head up for the final time yesterday morning with the playing of the National Anthem, emotions were running high.

"Oh," he began softly. "I thought of my dear wife and my two sons, who would have been looking down. It was special," referring to his wife Mary, who passed away four years ago from severe asthma; and his sons Billy and Michael, who died in 1969 and 1992, respectively.

Said senior linebacker Charlie Blackett, who recorded a sack, "On Veterans’ Day, we have a kid who recently enlisted (senior Chris Butler) and he was just making an example out of him in front of everybody –- this is a great kid, he’s doing something for his country. We all know how much coach Tighe loves this country, and that rubs off on all of us. So every national anthem means a lot to us, especially this last one."

Part of the patriotism, perhaps, is in turn an undying loyalty to the people around you. Mind still sharp as a tack, Tighe didn't forget any faces as thousands in attendance greeted him throughout the day for photo-ops and well wishes.

"Run the K-32 for me!" yelled Rashad Wilson, 36, as he snuck onto the Minutemen sideline and gave Tighe a pat on the back. Tighe, oblivious that there was a play being run, turned around and greeted the former four-year starter with open arms, and giving a handshake to Wilson's son.

"He made life easier," said Wilson, who attended Lexington from his Mattapan neighborhood in Boston as part of the state-sponsored METCO program. "Just a great man, man. One of the greatest men I ever met in my life. And again, he gave me a chance to start as a varsity player as a freshman, and he didn’t have to do that. Everything I did, I owe to him, and my dad obviously, him and my dad were great friends."

Among the many speeches read during the long halftime ceremony, the emphasis wasn't on the former players who had cups of coffee in the NFL (and there were several). Instead, it was about the military generals, FBI agents and polticians who credit their life lessons learned from Tighe to their successes.

"He was straight disciplinarian," said Louis Bullard, 38, now a Milton detective. "He broke you down but he built you up off the football field. When he’s out here, it’s straight, you know, mean, just teaching you lessons. But off the field, he helped me, as far as getting into college and things like that, and he taught it to you with common sense and he broke it down for you."

For 44-year-old Chuck Shaw -- the emcee of the halftime presentation, one of Tighe's first waterboys at Lexington in the 1970's and a stalwart in the Minutemen's successful early 1980's run -- memories of Tighe invoke plenty of sentiments, but mostly the ones that make one hinder a bit.

"Every memory with Coach Tighe is emotional," Shaw said, trying not to choke up. "Right up to the day my dad passed away, he was the first one calling me asking me what he could do. My father founded the booster club here, so coach has been a part of my family for many years.

"His love for the game and his love for the kids, he would do anything for any one of his players, and he has. And he has. It’s just being part of Coach Tighe’s family, and saying I played for him is just…amazing."

So maybe that's why junior quarterback Connor Murray, who scored both touchdowns, had such a hard time sleeping Wednesday night. Taking turns with his twin brother Nick waking each other up, Connor says he repeatedly woke up throughout the night -- "Twelve, 1:30, four and five," he said -- and was even more restless as reporters asked him to reflect on being the final scorer of the Tighe era.

"It’s an honor," he said. "Everyone, this game is not gonna hit anyone until, like, two days (from now), because it was all surreal, the whole thing."