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When Dick's Restaurant Ruled the Torrington sports scene. Story by Dan Lovallo.

POSTED June 18, 2014
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

There was a time not too long ago in Torrington, when adult amateur leagues dominated the local sports scene, providing reams of copy for the local newspaper.

No team was more dominant in flag football than Dick's Restaurant.

The driving force behind this dominance was Charles Janssen, known as "Charley" to friends and acquaintances. Janssen, who died at age 71 from cancer, was your prototypical organizer. He was so detailed oriented as manager of Dick's Restaurant's football team, he even chronicled his team's successes in a loose-leaf notebook almost three inches thick. 

Eddie Janssen, Charley's brother, recently shared this binder of Torrington sports history, after it was discovered in a relative's attic. It is a treasure trove of memories. 

"Charlie was the type of person, who was mechanical, as far as keeping things in order. He was so meticulous, he even kept statistics. I didn't know he was doing this," Eddie Janssen said.

There was an introduction by Charlie Janssen: "This book contains records that I managed and played in the City leagues. As you thumb through the statistics and photos, you will see a definite correlation with names of players playing on softball teams as well as flag-football teams and bowling teams."

The correlation? 

The players were the same in each sport. Whether it was flag football, softball or bowling, these same bunch of guys became teammates, Torrington's athletic band of brothers. 

Some have died. Others moved away. But all realized they were part of something special and nothing was more special than Dick's Restaurant's flag football team.  

Janssen, who served in the U.S. Air Force and later became a resident trooper in both New Hartford and Sharon, wrote that during a 16-year period only two players left the team. 

In those same 16 seasons, Dick's Restaurant compiled a flag football league record of 113 wins, 18 losses and 1 tie.  The tie cost them a title in 1970, but they would win many more.

"We won the "A" Division championship in nine years out of 14, Janssen wrote.” We were undefeated in six seasons. We were the first team to win 100 games in the flag football league. We had 13 shutouts."

Why the success?

"We never changed players. We had the same 15 guys, year after year," said the lanky Eddie Janssen, who played defensive end, and at 75 still looks as if he could play today. 

"Just look at the pictures (yearly team photos)," added Eugene Barbero, 71, who manned the line.   "Very few guys left and went to another team. We had guys who wanted to join us from other teams.  We had real good players.”

"And they did not argue,” said Janssen. "I don't think I ever heard anyone raise their voice in all the years we played. We all got along,"

Barbero agreed.

"All of these different guys were best of friends. We hung out together. We enjoyed playing on the same team,' said Lenny Lopardo, 65, a split end and tight end.

"Everyone knew their part," added Janssen.

It is difficult for these players to recall individual games, as the memories run together.

Janssen's binder helps to bring them into focus. 

From 1968 through 1983, he detailed each of Dick's seasons with opponents and scores. 

Take 1977 for example. 

Dick's went 7-0 and won the league championship. 

Figuring prominently in the team's success was Charley Turina.

"Charley was one of the most likeable guys," said Lopardo. 

Turina, 65, lost his bout with cancer last December, while living in California. Early this year, a memorial service for Turina packed St. Peter Church in Torrington, with many in attendance his old Dick's teammates.

Again, thanks to Charley Janssen's record keeping, his brother Eddie and Barbero were able to recall the 1974 title game, another Dick's championship.

"The game was played at Fuessenich Park on a frozen field. Nobody could run. It ended up 18-0," said Eddie Janssen.

"It was fun playing the offensive line," added Barbero. "We had a running game. All we did that day was push the other team and their players would slide as our backs ran by."

In general, the players could remember the tough opponents. "Our only tough games were against The Place. We came out of those games bloodied and bruised," said Janssen.

Barbero agreed, although he could recall battles against The Vatican, Regency Lounge and Sal's Autoworks. 

Many of the same players on Dick's football team were teammates on the Bake Shoppe softball team.  Eventually most of the players would leave the Bake Shoppe for Dick's softball team. 

"When we switched from fast pitch to slow pitch softball, we didn't get beat until our third year," said Eddie Janssen, still steaming because Dick's lost the game to end the winning streak on a botched play.

Despite the softball successes, however, it was flag football that was the cornerstone to Dick's dominance.

"There is no doubt that in those 16 years that I was the manager of the team and all of those players that began with that team and played for most of those 16 years that this would never be duplicated again in our lifetime. It was always Dick's Restaurant is who I play football for," Charley Janssen wrote. 

So meticulous was Charley Janssen, he even wrote his own obituary. Above the type written obituary, his widow Saundra wrote: "Yes, he did write all of this a few weeks before he died.'

Thankfully, he also wrote much more, enabling us to harken back to a golden era in Torrington sports.

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