AUBURN — Edward Little was pinned deep in its own end, a stiff wind blowing in the Red Eddies’ faces.
On 3rd-and-7, they lined up in punt formation. Remarkably, that wasn’t enough to make South Portland think Doc Hersom was up to something. By the time punter Wayne Chapman executed the Statue of Liberty and handed the ball to Barry Richardson, it was too late. The EL speedster had ripped off a 45-yard gain that tilted field position in the Eddies’ favor in the fourth quarter of a battle of unbeaten teams.
“The wind was blowing like you can’t believe. It was a gale,” Richardson said. “If we had punted, it would have gone only five yards. Wayne was in the end zone. I think we had practiced it, I don’t know, maybe three times, figuring we’re never going to use it.”
Richardson, who will be inducted into the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame this Sunday, played like a Hall-of-Famer on that late October afternoon in 1968. With EL trailing, 13-0, he scored the tying and winning touchdowns, but the game wasn’t sealed until that trick play, and Richardson’s late-game interception. The win gave the Eddies hope of winning a championship until they were shut out by Thornton Academy the following week.
Winning a title was about the only thing Richardson didn’t do for EL football. He started out as a defensive back/backup running back as a sophomore. His junior year he played end/backup QB and defensive back. He began his senior year as starting QB, but the offense sputtered and Hersom moved him to halfback.
As the South Portland game showed, he saved his best performances for the biggest games. He was MVP of EL-Lewiston game his junior and senior years and remains the only person to be named the MVP outright for two years. The meeting between the rivals at Lewiston Athletic Park in his senior year stands out in particular.
“There was about five inches of snow on the field and a lot of mud and I had about a 90-yard interception return for a TD,” he said. “I can remember I intercepted it in the middle of the field at the 10-yard line. I took off and then I got into this section that was all mud and I slowed way, way, way down and everybody’s catching up to me. Then I came out of the mud and took off and then everybody else hit the mud, so they slowed down.”
Hall of fame pedigree
In his own mind, the highlight reel is short. Richardson doesn’t recall what happened on the field so much as the people who influenced his life through athletics.
“I don’t remember a lot of plays and stuff, but I remember every coach I ever had. It’s amazing,” he said. “This guy Phil Plummer who was my coach at Webster Junior High, I can see him standing in front of me now. But the plays, I don’t remember a lot of them.”
Perhaps there were just too many to remember. Richardson starred in football, baseball and skiing at Edward Little and later was an all-Ivy League cornerback at Princeton.
He has a Hall of Fame pedigree. His father, Davis, is in the state’s golf Hall of Fame. His uncle, Norm Cummings, is a Hall of Fame ski jumper. Richardson himself is already in the Auburn-Lewiston Hall of Fame as part of the great Edward Little ski teams of the late 1960s.
Some of Richardson’s earliest athletic memories revolve around ski jumping with Cummings on a wooden pair of regular skis.
“That’s how I got started. He used to take me to the jump at Pettengill in fifth grade,” he said.
Richardson had a number of great mentors growing up, but one in particular stands out.
“Artie Belliveau is probably the guy that made my athletic career,” he said. “He was a wonderful guy. Knowledgeable. Could probably have coached anything.”
Under Belliveau, EL baseball was perennial Andy Valley League champs, and Richardson, a pitcher and catcher, certainly did his part. He no-hit Lewiston his senior year and struck out 17 against Oxford Hills.
Belliveau, who was Hersom’s defensive coach in football, also gave Richardson a big vote of confidence by starting him at defensive back as a sophomore. That later helped Richardson form a special bond with the gridiron legend Hersom.
“Back then he lived in Gardiner. I think it was Gardiner. It was out of town anyway. On Monday nights he’d show game films (at the school). The Grandstand Club sponsored the thing and he’d narrate the film and talk about what we did right and what we did wrong,” Richardson said. “He used to come over to our house before and have dinner with us. We’d always have some of the other players come over. I just remember all of the really good times I had with him sitting around the dining room table. He was a special man to all of us back then.”
“He was fiery,” he added. “I can’t remember all the times he’d throw his hat on the field and stomp around.”
Richardson’s athletic exploits drew interest from a number of Division I schools. He admits to being easily impressed with every one he visited, but he instantly fell in love with Princeton’s campus.
“Every one I went to I was going to go. You know, I went to Columbia, I was going to go to Columbia. I went to Rutgers, I was going to go to Rutgers,” he said. “But Princeton was just steps above in terms of the facility and its reputation couldn’t be beat.”
Richardson had interesting timing. The year he enrolled was the year Princeton went coed, but Ivy League football, which had dominated the college football landscape for most of the century, was slipping.
“It was the Vietnam era and co-education had just come in, so football had kind of taken a back seat,” said Richardson, who studied politics and was a three-year letter-winner. “It just wasn’t the big fan attraction that it had been.”
After playing defensive back on Princeton’s unbeaten freshman team, Richardson carved out a role as punt returner and cornerback on the varsity. He earned All-Ivy League honorable mention as a junior, then started his senior season with a bang, blocking an extra point attempt that proved to be the difference in a 7-6 win over Rutgers. He took home the game ball in a 31-10 win over Brown thanks to a couple of big punt returns and some outstanding play on defense. He was named to the All-Ive League second team and awarded the Charles Caldwell Memorial Trophy as the Tigers’ most improved senior and was scouted by the Dallas Cowboys.
He ended up making a career in banking, then worked for, and eventually bought, Lewiston/Auburn Tent & Awning Co., which he still owns and operates. The company worked Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration and the1983 World Series.
He remained active in baseball, playing pitcher and catcher for the Auburn Asas, hitting .462 and throwing two shutouts in one season. After five seasons, he thought he’d hung up his spikes for good.
“I was 35 and decided I was going to play again,” he said. “I played for the Auburn Knights of the Pine Tree League with all of these 23-year-olds. It was actually a good recruiting tool because I hired some of them to work for me. I played for three years and we won the Pine Tree League championship.”
Lobster Bowl co-founder
Perhaps Richardson’s greatest legacy is his role in helping establish the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl, the popular football all-star game that annually raises money for Shriners Hospitals. He was the game’s first athletic director, serving in that role from 1990-97. and in 1992 took over as general chairman, serving in that capacity through 1995.
Getting the game off the ground wasn’t easy, and Richardson credits the coaches with helping make it the prestigious event it is today.
“I basically took the manual from the Maple Sugar Bowl (New Hampshire and Vermont’s equivalent of the Lobster Bowl),” he said. “I met so many wonderful guys because the coaches association is so heavily involved. It was an unbelievable experience. The first two coaches I picked were Rod Wotton from Marshwood and Pete Cooper from Lawrence and the (assistants) that they brought with them were unbelievable. They set the tone. They were classy and got the meaning of the game right off the bat.”
Now 59 and living in Auburn with his wife, Deborah, Richardson doesn’t actively participate in the Lobster Bowl anymore, although he still likes to get together with the coaches every year.
The father of three children from a previous marriage (with four grandchildren) is recovering from a broken foot that required 18 screws, so he won’t be re-creating the Statue of Liberty play in the near future. But he admitted to having a little extra hop in his step when he got word of his Hall of Fame selection from Hall founder Malcolm Philbrook.
“It was quite a surprise,” Richardson said, “and it was good to hear it from him.”