'66 Bobcats celebrate 50th anniversary of title

The 1966 Bloomfield football team remains the only squad in program history to win a state title

Karl Schneider

BLOOMFIELD — The Bloomfield football program has had its share of success, earning numerous playoff bids and six state championship appearances, but no team was as successful as the 1966 Bobcats.

Members of the 1966 Bloomfield High School football team are honored during halftime of the Bloomfield football game on Friday at Bobcat Stadium in Bloomfield.

The ’66 Bobcats won the program’s first and only state title on Nov. 19, 1966, capping an undefeated season with a 34-23 victory over the heavily favored Jal in Jal. And on Friday, during the Bloomfield-Farmington football game at Bobcat Stadium, the school and community honored the team for the 50th anniversary of the state title.

More than a dozen members of the championship team, along with former cheerleaders and longtime announcer Burch Howard, who called the game, were in attendance for the ceremony.

“This team, we were close. We were a close-knit, cohesive group,” said LeRoy Dugger, a senior on the team who played tight end and defensive tackle. “We’ve remained friends our whole lives. There’s a lot of great memories.”

Team photo of the 1966 Bloomfield Bobcats’ football team. Front row, from left: Roy Weyant, Gary Smouse, Kenny Palmer, Steve Beloat, LeRoy Dugger, John Sategna, John Cometti and Grady Hampton. Second row: Marvin Stock, Allen Corder, Leonard Raymond, Jesse Evans, Rodney Litke, Tommy Palmer, Merle Dennis and Don Tharp. Third row: Lester Green, D. Archuleta, Jim McGee, Phillip Satenga, John McSmith, Jerry Knutson, Bobby Mize and Roger Loftis. Fourth row: William Richmond, L. Jones, Henry Vigil, C. Armenta, Fred Steck, John Johnston, Irvin Raymond and Anthony Gomez. Fifth row: John Estlack, Robert Chavez, Terrence Archunde, Lyle Guffey, Randy Pearson and Bennie Armenta. Back row: Marvin McSmith, John Gutierrez, R. McCullough, Dean Stowell, D. Hare, Ricky Palmer and John Salvo.

Cecil Linnens, the athletic director at Bloomfield High, said the ceremony was put together on short notice, which led to a number of former players having to decline the invitation because of travel constraints.

Prior to Friday’s game, Bloomfield hosted a dinner for those able to make the ceremony. In the film room at BHS, where the dinner was held, the game film of the win over Jal was projected on a screen. As the game film played, the former players looked on, breaking away from their pleasantries, motioning at the screen to point out a play, joking about a missed coverage, dropped pass or a hard hit, their faces lighting up with smiles as the memories came flooding back.

“This championship has stayed with me my whole life. To win a state championship, you can’t forget it,” Dugger said. “It’s something that I cherish, and to see it again, it’s pretty neat.”

The players at the event all live in Bloomfield or the surrounding area. They still see each other around town, catching up from time to time and exchanging stories of their kids, grandkids, work or retirement. Typically, talk of their playing days is infrequent, reserved for special occasions such as the title’s anniversary.

Lyle Guffey, left, Terrence Archunde, Grady Hampton and other members of the 1966 Bloomfield High School football team are honored during a halftime ceremony on Friday at Bobcat Stadium in Bloomfield.

“We still talk and visit when we see each other, but we don’t talk too much about playing,” said Bennie Armenta, who, as a senior, weighed 185 pounds and played offensive tackle and nose guard for the championship team. “The only time we do is when we remind each other about a time they got lit up or something like that.”

In the film room at BHS, as the game was shown on the projector and the reminiscing built, one memory came up more often than the rest.

After winning the title, the Bobcats didn’t have time to celebrate down south, hopping on the bus almost immediately and making the 500-plus-mile trek back to Bloomfield.

As the bus pulled into town after 2 a.m., the streets dark with the absence of streetlights, the Bobcats were suddenly blinded with light and the sound of blaring horns. The community had turned out in force to welcome home its champions. Cars lined the sides of the street, honking their car horns and flipping on their headlights to illuminate the bus’s route back to school. After the bus passed, most cars followed in a caravan to the school’s parking lot to congratulate and embrace the players as they got off the bus.

“It still gives me chills to think about it,” Dugger said.

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.