40-year-long friendly football tradition lives on

As childhood friends, they roughed it up on the football field in South Philadelphia. They still meet to play today.

This story originally appeared in 6abc.

It was a Sunday morning tradition for Ed Marrone.

“Back in the day in South Philly, I would get up at seven o’clock. Go to Stella Maris church at eight. Then at nine, we would play football at FDR Park in South Philly,” he said. “You just looked forward to it. It was camaraderie, relationships and then rivalries. It’s a South Philly thing.”

Marrone, like many of his friends, moved to South Jersey to start a family. Soon, the weekly tradition of roughing it on the football field began to fade. But even though they had less time for the sport, they still made an effort to meet and play every once in a while.

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“That’s when I decided, I’m like, you know what, instead of everybody going over the bridge, let’s find a field here,” said Marrone. “And it worked.”

About a dozen men gathered today at Washington Township High School for the recurring reunion game. Among them were “Tommy Gun,” “The Mayor,” “Gabey,” and “Frankie Bugs.” Nicknames were another one of those “South Philly things.”

The tradition dates back more than 40 or 50 years depending on the player’s seniority.

“I was 16, so now I’m 68,” said Gabe Paoletti. “But the one thing that hasn’t changed is, same kind of quarterbacks, same plays. Trying to beat a guy deep or intercept. None of that’s changed.”

The oldest player was 77-year-old Vincent Lombardi, an Italian-American immigrant and one of the founding organizers of the South Philly football games. As a player since the 1970s, Lombardi continues to exercise and claims he is a ‘Weekend Warrior.’ Now, he enjoys coming to the reunion games with his son and grandson.

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“We stayed friends all these years,” he said about the group. “But unfortunately, it’s about four or five that I know that are not here.”

Today’s game was played in memory of Anthony Cavalier, also known as “Bogie,” who passed away at the age of 63 earlier this year.

“A great, phenomenal family guy,” said Marrone about Bogie. “All these guys, they have phenomenal words to say about the guy. It’s a big loss.”

Now, it is more important than ever that these friends never forget the sport that brought them together decades ago. Marrone hopes to continue organizing reunion games at least once per year.

“Who’s going home with a little injury here, guess what, it’s all worth it at the end of the day,” said Marrone. “They’ll text me, ‘Thanks again. Blah, blah, blah,’ and we’ll do it again.”

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