The Williams Quarterback became a Doctor

by Jon Petke '69

Jon Petke '69 died on August 3, 2021. He had submitted this piece to the EPHS project earlier in the year and what better time to post it than for Homecoming. Jon was captain of the 1968 Eph football team and also founded the Men's crew program at Williams. As his classmate and friend Dick Peinert '69 relayed, "There was probably nobody more beloved by the footballers of that era than Jon."

On November 18, 1967, Charles Bradbury ’68, the Eph quarterback, was a pre-med student like dozens of others on the Williams rosters from the classes of ’68, ’69 and ’70 on Weston Field that cold November morning.

A gifted passer recruited nationally, Charlie always felt confined in the Power-I, Option Running Game, that otherwise produced three straight years (1965, 1966, and 1967) when three different Williams tailbacks (Edward Wing '67, James Dunn '69 and Jack Maitland '70) led New England in rushing. Yet, the Ephs never won the coveted Little Three title in any of those years. Ironically the massive Williams pass-catching tight ends (Peter Richardson ’66 and then William Drummond ’68, both over 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds) were devastating Rob Gronkowski-like blockers, who destroyed enemy defenders at the point of attack but rarely were asked to catch passes, even though both were good enough for NFL tryouts. At the same time many of the interior linemen weighed less than the tailback and the fullback, who were repeatedly sent crashing into opponent defenses in a cloud of dust, or wet, cold mud, on the fateful day.

The Ephs had a 6-foot-7 wide receiver, Sandy Smith '69, a tiny (but incredibly quick) slot receiver, Randy Dygert '68, and a collection of gifted pass catchers like Robert Quinn '69, James Dunn '69 and James Lapierre '69, who coulda, shoulda, woulda caught passes from Charlie, if only the Ephs were allowed to throw and catch.

As fate would have it, of course, one simple pass would become the play of the day, and for many of us the “Andy Warhol Moment” that became a turning point in the history of the fabulous Williams Football Legacy.

The field on that fateful Saturday was already a muddy mess before the game even started. (Today modern, well-drained Weston artificial turf leaves only the wind and cold to challenge players). Overnight freezing rain, and a cold north wind, had turned sleet into daggers and the field into a morass of mud that quickly covered the players on each team and made running, never mind passing, a challenge just to find footing, forget throwing or catching the football. Weather benefitted the Navarro Monster Defense, which held the Jeffs to 10 points, and saw the likes of Lowell Davis '68 and Robert Bower '69, among many others, who watched the unblockable Ross Wilson '69 make virtually every tackle. (Ross would be seen 40 years later at age 60 playing rugby with his son, who said that opponents marveled at the curly, grey-haired dynamo who dominated both sides of the ball just like he did on Weston Field.)

Late in the game, however, passing and catching was the unexpected call from Coach Frank Navarro on the sideline. The future Doctor Bradbury (who would make Tom Brady look like a track star compared to Charlie rolling to his left in the mud) was asked to roll out and throw across his body, a tough task for anyone, especially this day. Jack Maitland on the other hand was a big strong, future NFL Super Bowl ring winner, who could run and catch in any conditions, including the cold rain, sleet, wind and mud. Jack would run around, over and/or through any defender, and he did just that on THE PLAY, on a broken field run down the sideline. That touchdown continues to exist on film (thank goodness) and, more important, on the indelible memory of those of us who were an integral part of THE PLAY, either on the field or in the hearts and minds of the thousands who were there to see Charlie throw and Jack to catch and run on that beautiful Saturday. 

Some, like Charlie’s personal pass protector, never saw the play until the film showed up 40 years later on Maitland’s mom’s film footage. Jon Petke '69 the fullback was busy planting his face in the muddy Weston turf, while occupying the hands and blocking the onrushing linebacker, who failed to get into the operating room of Bradbury, cuz that was his job. Downfield blocks by Dygert and Smith are now part of the historic record, just as much as Jack’s stunning touchdown run down the sideline, as is kicker Mark Winick '69’s sparkling clean uniform after the perfect extra-point kick, not to mention the scoreboard which records the ultimate final score 14-10, for the third undefeated season in Williams football history. It was also the only Eph victory over Amherst from 1962 through 1970, however, and even more significant, THE PLAY marks an historic beginning of a 36-21-1 run against the Mammoths, a 73-56-5 updated domination that includes 7 perfect 8-0 seasons, and, after 134 years, 12 undefeated seasons.

There has been JOY IN MUDVILLE, from that day forward, especially for those of us who choose to have been reminded 40 years later by Mrs. Maitland’s Movie, and then again at our 50th Reunion, where we began an even more significant retrospective.

The 2007 Williams Football Reunion was 40 years to the day after that great victory. We were privileged to have been invited to the Williams College formal reception for the NCAA Football Hall of Fame induction of legendary Coach Dick Farley. The event was fittingly held in the Lasell Gym, which added great ambiance to the occasion. Coach Farley’s achievements were humbling to us ’69ers and all the other attendees, including 1967 captain Dennis Kelly '68. At the very same time we were honored to be considered an integral part of the foundation, the history, the legacy and, more importantly, the stewardship for Williams then and in the future.

One significant historical footnote at our 40th was a request by a former underclassman defensive back, Craig Smith '70, to attend the Farley Reception Dinner. Dr. Richard Peinert '69(himself a Harvard Medical School Graduate, our class secretary/unofficial historian and offensive lineman), advised us that surely we should make room for Craig, the heart surgeon for the president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. 

The Farley Reception was the highlight of the celebration. It is simply mind-boggling to think that Coach Farley can forever say, “every player who ever wore the Purple for us, played at least one season (sometimes more than one) on an undefeated team!” and he always felt that accomplishment was even more important than his individual hall of fame recognition.

For many of us, attending Williams was the realization of a dream. Then we had the chance to not only graduate and succeed in life, but to be part of a special undefeated football team. After celebrating 40th and 50th reunion years, we can see now that the look back and the look forward gets even better.

The Williams legacy and stewardship is far more exciting today than when we first set foot on campus. We look forward to participating with the dynamic leadership of President Maud Mandel and the college/town team of strategic planners to help grow the mission of the College, to continue the pursuit of academic and athletic excellence, access, inclusion, sustainable campus facilities, and a responsible, pro-active built environment. We were blown away at our 50th by the spectacular campus improvements: from the Athletic Facilities, Adams Memorial Theatre, the library, the residence halls, the Science Quad, and especially the new Williams Inn nestled into the Old Growth grove of trees on Christmas Creek at the end of the pedestrian friendly Spring Street, we can see, touch and feel the creative capital investment in Historic Williams. 

How nice would it be to continue the Williams Strategic Planning to allow quarterbacks (and linemen) to become doctors, to increase the access and inclusion, to allow even more friendly, safe, non-intrusive underground utilities, modern pedestrian/vehicular movement trails, roads and infrastructure, to preserve/protect/enhance historic features like the Field Park Rotary (where the site of the first Williams graduation still exists), such that the enduring lessons of the past help us in our pursuit of accessible, inclusive and meaningful capital accomplishments for the future.

The Williams future is now.

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3 comments on The Williams Quarterback became a Doctor

  1. I knew Jon Petke off the gridiron as my physics lab partner. Great guy to work with, none better. I would also like to salute Bill Drummond who served as a positive role model and leader in Bryant House during ’66-’68.

  2. Jon was football captain of the 1968 team but that was only a small part of his athletic prowess. He was a starting defenseman on the lacrosse team for two years, tho he never played before coming to Williams . Senior year, he had to give up lacrosse to complete his Marine ROTC training, receiving his commission the day we graduated. Today, Williams has a thriving crew program Guess who started it? Jon Petke! Jon barely knew how to skate but the freshman hockey team needed a goalie. Guess who?
    If you read the piece he wrote about the 1967 game with Amherst, he concludes with making Williams a more beautiful place. This was not just talk. Jon was a city planner and water resource management expert. Before his death, he had worked with Rita Coppola Wallace as well as the Williamstown town manager on making cnages to pedestrian access to rte 2 and placing the overhead utility wires underground.

    He was quite a guy

  3. Jon Petke was a dynamo rock of Gibraltar fullback blocker and runner on our ’67 undefeated football team who was one of the many reasons we had such a successful year and a heck of a lot of a lot of fun and excitement capped by our first defeat of the Lord Jeffs in some years. Amherst showed more heft and sensitivity in later years by giving up the Lord Jeff’s moniker in favor of the mammoths. Jon was a teammate everybody loved. I met Jon’s parents and knew where all that came from. peace, brother. Best to all my teammates who got us to the pinnacle and particularly to my cocaptain Bill Drummond in ’67 and through all these later years still a great friend. Go EPHS. Sincerely, Denny Kelly’68.

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