Then and Now: Steve Trapilo

Trapilo and Flutie (Boston College Athletics)

As a scout for the New Orleans Saints, Tom Marino scouted former Boston College guard Steve Trapilo, the man who held Doug Flutie aloft after the dramatic BC win on a Hail Mary against the Miami Hurricanes back in 1984. Find out why Trapilo is the athlete that Marino will never forget.

"Three wide receivers out to the right, Flutie flushed, throws it down ... caught by Boston College! I don't believe it! It's a touchdown! The Eagles win it! Unbelievable, I don't believe it! Phelan is at the bottom of that pile. Here comes the Boston College team. He threw it into the end zone. There was no time left on the clock. The ball went between two defensive backs from Miami," were the words uttered by a seemingly shocked and disbelieving Brent Musberger.

I'll never forget that game. It was the day after Thanksgiving, November 23, 1984.  And like most New England sports fans, I was glued to my TV watching the marquee nationally-televised matchup between the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes and the Boston College Eagles, led by soon-to-be-named Heisman Trophy winner, Doug Flutie.

My daughter Melissa had recently celebrated her third birthday. And on the biggest shopping day of the year, I sat relatively undisturbed on the living room couch functioning in a dual role of professional talent scout and chief babysitter.

As the desperation rainbow throw drifted untouched between defenders Darrell Fullington and Reggie Sutton and into the waiting arms of wideout Gerard Phelan, I remember leaping to my feet, extending my fist into the air and screaming, "touchdown!" Almost simultaneously I reached for my frightened daughter. Her world consisting of My Little Pony and Cabbage Patch Dolls had been interrupted by my outburst. I whispered softly into ear, all the while thinking, "I've got to watch that on the replay!"

A surprised, euphoric Flutie &mdash both he and head coach Jack Bicknell actually never saw the 48-yard miracle completion &mdash ran down the field to begin celebrating the greatest victory in the school's history with his ecstatic teammates. The diminutive quarterback leapt into the waiting arms of No. 65, Steve Trapilo.

For New England sports fans, the photo of Flutie with his left arm extended to the sky, being carried by this massive hulk of a man was in many ways more famous than that of the returning sailor kissing the young nurse in Times Square, celebrating the end of World War II.

Steve was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  And in his mid-teens he moved with his parents and four siblings to Milton, a suburb of Boston. He attended Boston College High School and was the last player chosen on the freshman team. Steve used this near snub as his motivation, and three years later was named a First-Team All-Scholastic, the highest honor a prep athlete can achieve in the state.  He elected to forego scholarship offers from Syracuse, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland, and Virginia Tech to attend Boston College. Given the closeness of his family, his loyalty to friends and commitment to the community, there was probably never a doubt where he would ultimately attend.

At BC, "Trap" had an outstanding playing career, starting three seasons at the right guard position. The only sophomore starter on the offensive line that was dubbed the "Secret Service," he was also a two-time All-East selection and offensive captain as a senior. At the conclusion of his career at the Heights, Trapilo was selected to participate in both the Japan and Senior Bowl All-Star games.

After the weigh-ins at the Senior Bowl, I had my first real opportunity to meet with Steve and was incredibly impressed with this individual. Within the hour, I had  spoken to his brother Sonny and his wonderful mom, who invited me to have dinner with them when I returned to Boston. 

Steve just had a way about him that can best be described as magical.

The 1987 senior prospect group at Boston College was not deep in numbers, but included quality performers like defensive end John Bosa, a first-round selection of the Dolphins, wideout Kelvin Martin, a fourth-round selection of the Cowboys, and running back Troy Stradford, selected in the fourth round by the Dolphins.

I was in my first season with the new-look New Orleans Saints. Along with other nationally-ranked players in my scouting area such as Haywood Jeffires, Shane Conlan, Harris Barton, Mike Junkin, Tony Woods, Paul Palmer, and Terrence Flagler  &mdash  who were all future first-round selections &mdash I really had a good feeling about the group of Boston College prospects. But I was particularly enamored with the skills of Steve Trapilo.


Photo: Boston College Athletics

He was not what I would consider a good knee-bender, an essential quality when evaluating offensive linemen.  But his mass, football intelligence, great desire, functional playing strength and power were a thing to behold.

GM Jim Finks, the coaching staff and a newly-assembled scouting group had never worked together as a unit and didn't know exactly what to expect from each other at our first player draft. I can remember spending the last two days prior to the draft participating in seemingly endless litany of mock drafts. What if we trade up with Cleveland for the fifth pick? Should we trade down if Jerome Brown is off the board? Do we like Jeffires better than Nattiel?

Around 4:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, Jim Finks, in my opinion the greatest GM in professional football history, got to his feet, bid the rest of us in the cramped meeting room a fond farewell and headed for the door.

Draft day arrived with the Saints holding the 11th selection in the first round and a rigid draft blueprint that we hoped to implement. The die had been cast; our first selection was going to be University of Miami defensive tackle Jerome Brown. Should Brown be selected prior to our pick, our second choice would be North Carolina's offensive tackle Harris Barton. Should both of these player be selected prior to our choice, our plan was then to trade down to the 19th selection and select NC State wide receiver Haywood Jeffires with the pick.

The first eight selections in the draft went along pretty much according to Hoyle, with one noticeable exception. Rod Woodson, a top-five projected pick along with the aforementioned Jerome Brown were still on the board! I can still remember looking across the table at a pensive Bill Kuharich, our college scouting director, and thinking to myself, "we're going to get one of these suckers."

The Eagles, picking 9th, took two-thirds of their allotted time and picked Jerome Brown. I sighed &mdash or maybe even uttered a brief obscenity &mdash but with just 15 minutes remaining before our selection, we couldn't afford to dwell on our misfortune.

One of our coaches stated that he had heard that the Steelers were very concerned about Woodson's commitment to the game and "signability."  Woodson, a world-class high hurdler, was competing on the European Track & Field circuit at the time of the draft.

Ten minutes passed. Why are they taking so long? Maybe they will stay local and draft the University of Pittsburgh's Tony Woods? 

At the 14-minute mark, Finks walked from his seat over to the speakerphone and said, "Danny, write the name Rod Woodson, Purdue University, DS on the card and be ready to run it up if the Steelers fail to make their selection in the allotted time."

We heard Danny Simmons, the Saints longtime equipment manager, give an affirmative response, but mere seconds later came the announcement by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle that the Steelers had selected Woodson. At the exact moment of their selection, my gaze was directed toward head coach Jim Mora, who grimaced and disgustedly hurled his first pencil of the day in the direction of the draft board.

Okay, we're on the clock. And although he wasn't our first choice, both southeastern scout Hamp Cook and I agreed Harris Barton was a very solid choice and would play a very long time for the Saints, barring injury. But something was wrong. Finks, Mora, and Kuharich had left the draft room and were huddling in an adjoining office! Was there a trade in the works? Team owner Tom Benson and his brother Jerome also seemed puzzled by the events, but like all of us waited patiently for the three to return.

Fourteen minutes later, the trio returned to the room.  With all eyes trained on Jim Finks, he instructed our table in New York to write down the name Shawn Knight, DE from BYU and run it up to the podium.

Shawn Knight, what were they thinking! Area scout Bill Baker had rated him a late second-, possible third-round selection. Cross-checker Carmen Piccone had dubbed him an overachiever who was not worthy of first-day draft consideration. What had we done?

Our second selection, Lonzell "Mo" Hill was a skilled receiver who lacked speed and who previously had some off-the-field issues. Among the scouts, the Hill selection did not evoke any real sense of euphoria.

Third-round pick Michael Adams from Arkansas State was, in the mind of both Hamp and I, a long-term project at the cornerback position with some kick return potential. By the look on some of the faces in the room, I don't believe I was the only principle in the room that felt that we had blown the draft with these top three selections.

As Finks scanned the board at the beginning of the fourth round, he pointed to a card positioned higher than any other and asked me, "Tommy, you have a low first-round grade on Steve Trapilo. Is there any reason we wouldn't select him with our next pick?"

We had spent a lot of time discussing the relative worth of Trap during our spring scouting meeting, so my answer was both quick and to the point. 

"Yes sir, there is a great reason why I wouldn't select him. The head coach doesn't want anything to do with him."

With that statement and the ball squarely in Jim Mora's court, he readily admitted that he didn't think Trapilo was a good enough player to help our football club. After viewing tape and watching him live at the Senior Bowl, it was his opinion that he didn't play strong, never finished anything, nor was he particularly tough. He also related he had some friends on the coaching staff of the Chargers who shared his negative opinion.

I believe Jim's (he hated to be addressed as Coach) last statement did not go over especially well with Finks, who responded by saying he thought we needed to listen to our own people and the hell with what the Chargers' felt. 

He then turned to me and calmly asked if Trapilo could make our football team. I answered with alacrity that not only did I believe he would make our football team, I felt that barring injury, he would start for the Saints as a rookie.

The silence that accompanied my answer was followed by the announcement that the Cowboys had selected Trapilo's college teammate, Kelvin Martin, with their fourth selection. The Saints were now on the clock.

"Dan, write this name down: T-R-A-P-I-L-O, Steve, Boston College offensive guard and run it up," was Finks' charge. And at that moment, amid mild congratulatory expressions, Steven P. Trapilo became the expressed property of the New Orleans Saints football club.

With the selection, Jim Mora, the most intense individual I had ever worked for in professional ball, quietly got to his feet. But before exiting the room, he hurled his second writing implement in the direction of the draft board.

In rookie minicamp, Trap quickly dispelled one negative connotation immediately. During a "mirror pass protection drill" he accidentally poked rookie linebacker Scott Leach in the eye. Leach took offense to the act and clubbed Trap across the head with his forearm. Trapilo responded by leveling the Ohio State linebacker with a single right uppercut to the chin.

"At our staff meeting that evening, I think Mora ran that play back at least 25 times," said longtime NFL assistant Paul Boudreau. "When Trap hit him, the kid's legs looked like spaghetti. It took (team trainers) Dean and Kevin nearly ten minutes to get him back on his feet."

That summer, just prior to training camp on a late-night run, Trapilo stumbled upon a woman standing next to a luxury automobile who had hit a tree head-on. The car was obviously totaled. 

"Are you okay ma'am?" Trap asked the noticeably shaken woman. When she answered affirmatively, Trap informed the woman that since she was okay, he had to continue with his workout since he was running for time. The next day, the Boston Globe reported that Joan Kennedy, the former wife of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, had been charged with a DUI after being involved in a single-car accident in Cape Cod. 

"Way to go Trap," was Boudreau's only comment upon greeting the rookie. "You left the Senator's wife on the side of the road so you could complete a run, what's wrong with you?"


Photo: New Orleans Saints

The banter between longtime NFL assistant Boudreau and Trapilo easily rivaled that of Abbott and Costello or Martin and Lewis and was a constant source of entertainment for everyone involved in the Saints' family. At the same time, Boudreau, the consummate teacher, never let up for one minute on his star pupil. 

"Keep your hands inside your frame ... Hey, how many times do we have to go over this protection? ... Can't you bend those knees Trap? You look like the Tin-Man in the Wizard of Oz," were the constant refrains from the position coach. Boudreau recently told me that in his 20-plus years of professional coaching, he had never worked with an individual that he liked and admired more then Steve Trapilo.

The rigors of training camp, particularly in the stifling Louisiana humidity were not something that most players relished, but Trap was hell-bent on proving himself to his teammates and coaches alike from the go. During one-on-one drills on his short sets, Trap consistently stoned his defensive teammates. And when pulling and leading down the field, he was a surprisingly nimble big man.

Two weeks after the veterans reported, after concluding one of his daily press conferences, Jim Mora entered the scouts meeting room on the campus at Southeast Louisiana and asked if he could meet with me in his office. Now on this particular day, after 10 to 12 consecutive loses in gin rummy to my dear friend and fellow scout Carmen Piccone, I actually had a commanding lead.  But I had learned many years before that meeting with the head coach took priority over playing cards.

I hurried to his office, and without any fanfare Jim told me that he had been totally wrong in his evaluation of Steve Trapilo and wanted to apologize to me for his near draft-day blunder. And he finally told me how glad he was that I was a member of the Saints' scouting staff. He then stated that after just one preseason game, Trap had already established himself as a starter at the right offensive guard position. I assured him that no apology was necessary and that we were all in this thing together. While walking back to the room to continue my contest with Carm, I thought about how big a person Jim Mora was to have admitted his judgment error.

For the season, Trap was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team. Over a career that spanned just five years and 57 games before being cut short due to injury, he still accomplished enough to be named to the New Orleans Saints All-Time Team at the offensive guard position.

Everyone associated with the Saints from 1987 through 1992 has a Steve Trapilo story. 

Longtime assistant trainer Kevin Mangum tells the story of how Trap twice limped to the sidelines during pregame versus the Jets, complaining about the tape job he had performed in the locker room. After the third taping session, Mangum inspected the inside of his shoe, removed a full mouthpiece from the bottom, and with a deadpan expression on his face, handed it to Trapilo.

Assistant equipment manager Silky Powell has his own favorite story. A few weeks after the mouthpiece incident, the Saints traveled to Buffalo and as luck would have it, encountered sub-zero weather. The equipment staff had warned the squad about placing their equipment in front of the portable heaters. Trap heeded Silky's warning and instead decided to place his helmet directly on top of the heaters &mdash only to find later that a portion his helmet had melted.

After five years with the Saints, Steve signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots.  But a lingering injury to his foot ended any chance for him to finish his career in the area of the country he loved the best.

After concluding his football career, Steve and his wife Kim went into the health club business and ran five successful clubs throughout the Boston area. Trap loved people and the clubs afforded him the opportunity to interact with them on a daily basis. But the two things that gave him the most joy was simply his marriage to his beautiful wife, Kim, and being the very best dad he could to his twin daughters, Jordyn and Devyn, and his son Ozzy-Dean.

Kim, whom I met on her first visit to our complex, was a classic beauty.  In spite of her great looks, I always felt that what really attracted Steve to her was her terrific sense of humor, intelligence, great heart and street sense. All of us who knew her readily agreed that Kim had better comeback lines then he did.  And I swear, if it came down to it, she could literally kick his butt.

At nearly 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, Trap was a giant of a man. But his physical size paled in comparison to the size of his heart. I won't embarrass anyone by directly revealing the many things he did for so many people, but the dollar expenditures that he made were significant.

He actually presented me with my first laptop, a gift he said would hopefully make it easier for me to find players better then the likes of him. 

When the nation's most popular boys band at the time, "The New Kids On the Block," appeared in Raleigh, Steve arranged for my then seven-year old daughter, her mother, and a young friend to attend the concert. I remember calling him on the eve of the event to thank him, and to let him know that backstage passes really weren't necessary for six- and seven-year old girls.

The weight room at BC High, where Steve was also a volunteer coach for six seasons, is a direct result of his generosity and loyalty. He had always felt that school was directly responsible for his successes.

I would have liked to have ended this article by saying that Steve and the rest of the Trapilo family are all doing well and are continuing to make a difference in the lives of those people that he has touched. Unfortunately, in May of 2004 while on vacation with his family in Effingham, New Hampshire, Steve suffered a fatal heart attack and died at the age of 39.

He was an absolutely great father, son, husband, brother, nephew, uncle, cousin, classmate, teammate and friend. 

He was, in every sense of the words, the athlete that I'll never forget.

Tom Marino has over 35 years of experience as a professional scout working for the NFL's Bears, Saints, Rams, Giants and Cowboys along with both the WFL and USFL. As Scout.com's Lead NFL Analyst, he has primary responsibility for network reporting, the NFL Draft, Free Agency databases and rankings.


 

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