The Post-Journal

Sanfilippo Never Had Chance for NY Titles

Joe Sanfilippo was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame on Monday night for his success as a football coach at Salamanca and later Jamestown.

In 17 years of coaching at Salamanca, from 1957 through 1973 seasons, his teams won 11 titles. Then he moved on to his alma mater, Jamestown, in 1975 and in the final five of his eight seasons there the Red Raiders compiled a 48-22-2 record and won two Division 1 titles.

But that was all before New York had state high school football playoffs. And when looking back at some of his successful teams at Salamanca and Jamestown, does Sanfilippo wish there had been state playoffs then?

"I sure do," he said Monday night before his induction. And that's because he had already been involved in state high school football playoffs when he coached at Cathedral High School in Gallup, N.M.

"I played for three state championships at Gallup, New Mexico, and won it twice and was runnerup once," he recalled. "It's a nice goal for kids to make, to be state champs. And I liked playing all the way like that."

He took that position after graduating from San Jose State and said, "I had the best coaching job in the state of New Mexico. My kids out there wanted to win more than I did and it was a pleasure coaching them. I've been back four or five times for a reunion and we have a ball."

But even with all his success in New Mexico, Sanfilippo still wanted to return home.

"I missed Jamestown and Western New York," he said. "I liked it here, I liked the season change. Yeah, I thought we'd be back."

So he left New Mexico and returned to Jamestown - cold turkey.

"I didn't have a job, but I knew I could get one," he said about his return to the area in 1957. "Vince Joy told me about the Salamanca job. I applied and I got it."

And what followed was a lot of success, but at that time Western New York teams only played a regular season and the lone title to win was for finishing first in a division. But if there had been state championships, could some of those Salamanca teams have gone all the way?

"I had a couple of teams there that I thought were the best teams in Western New York state with Chuckie Crist as my quarterback," Sanfilippo said. "We went six years and our first-string defense gave up four touchdowns. We had some super, super teams there. In our class I don't think there was anyone close to us."

Then came more successful teams at JHS and four of the last five were 7-1-1 in 1978, 8-1 in 1979, 9-1 in 1981 and 8-1 in 1982. Starting with that 1979 squad, Section 6 began having postseason games to start the process toward an eventual state championship that begin 1993.

"We went to Rich Stadium three times," Sanfilippo recalled and his Red Raiders won two times.

But that was as far as his team could go - the Section 6 Playoffs. Sanfilippo also would have liked to have seen some of those Jamestown teams have a chance to play for a state title.

"When Sammy Restivo was a senior (1979 season) we had a real good ballclub," Sanfilippo said. "And the last few years I coached I would have liked to have had state playoffs because I thought we were as good as anybody in the state."

Sanfilippo coached some standout players at Salamanaca and Jamestown.

"Sammy Restivo, of course - when you go to Florida State you have to have something," he said about the 1980 Jamestown graduate. "And Crist went to Penn State and (Nate) Davis (1979 Jamestown graduate) went to Michigan."

But when looking back at all his former players, Sanfilippo said, "Chuckie Crist was in a class by himself."

That's because Crist went on to play in the NFL with the New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers. But that was after he played basketball, not football, at Penn State on a scholarship.

"I talked with the Penn State coaches and said, 'This kid thinks he's a quarterback and you and I know he's the best defensive back ever,'" Sanfilippo recalled. "I thought he was one of the best in the country."

That's because from the fourth grade through his senior year in high school (1967-68) Crist lost only one game by one point as a quarterback.

"I said work him with the quarterbacks and after a week say 'Chuckie, if you want to play you have to go to defensive back,'" Sanfilippo said was his advice for the Penn State coaches. "And he won't miss a thing, he's a straight-A student."

But things worked out differently.

"First practice they said, 'Chuckie, go to defensive back,'" Sanfilippo recalled. "He went with them and at noon he went in the basketball office and he said to the coach, 'Is my basketball scholarship still available?' The coach said 'yes' so he played four years of basketball."

And Crist displayed some talent on the basketball court for the Nittany Lions. He was a three-year letterman and was the team's Most Valuable Player in his senior season of 1971-72 when the team was 17-8.

Then he quickly returned to football.

"He was the captain his junior and senior year of the basketball team, then walked into the New York Giants' practice and made their team as a defensive back," Sanfilippo said. "Does that tell you something?"

Yes, it does.

Crist was just one of many outstanding athletes who played on Sanfilippo's successful Salamanca and Jamestown football teams. Unfortunately, they never got a chance to display their talents in state playoff competition.

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