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Coach Bedini thankful for his Rye years

Posted Sunday, September 28, 2008 by LoHud/Carpinello

No-nonsense Bedini thankful for years at Rye


By Rick Carpiniello
Journal News columnist • September 28, 2008

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RYE - No doubt, this is the greatest era of football at Rye High, and that fact didn't require yesterday's lopsided, school-record sixth consecutive victory over rival Harrison to be validated. But it helped.

These Garnets, with five straight sectional championships, two state titles and two state runners-up seasons, are 62-3 over that five-plus-year span, with 51 consecutive wins against Section 1 opponents.


But half a century ago, there were a series of Rye teams that had comparable success - albeit in the days of eight-game seasons, before sectional and state playoffs. The coach of those teams was Ben Bedini, who was at Rye for eight seasons and went 59-5.

The old coach isn't doing so well down home in Raleigh, N.C. He's 87 and has been diagnosed with a lung ailment called interstitial pneumo-fibrosis - which has no known cause or cure. It's progressive and irreversible, and Bedini can't walk 10 steps without being short of breath. He's hooked up to oxygen.

The prognosis?

"Bye-bye," Bedini said. "The doctor ... said, 'Don't measure your life in years, measure it in months.' "

There are other ways to measure it. In number of people touched. The number of kids who learned discipline and so many life lessons through Bedini's hard-nosed football.

"He was such an amazing individual and we are all so grateful to him for the things he did in shaping our lives," Ward "Winky" Cates, who played in the Bedini era, said from Chapel Hill. "He was the ultimate in terms of crafting teams and a winning attitude and an approach to life that says, 'You can do it' that left many of us imprinted with an essential foundation."

You can do it. And when Bedini was the coach, you'd better have done it. Bedini took over a Rye team that had won 18 games in a row under Frank Robinson, in 1954, and stretched that streak to 33 before a loss to Harrison broke it in '55. His worst season, 6-2 in '56 (when Rye upset Harrison), was followed by three more 8-0 years, and he carried another 33-game winning streak into the Harrison game of 1960, and the Garnets were on a run of 70 wins in 73 games. Again, the Huskies ended that streak. By then, Ralph Friedgen Sr. was Harrison's coach, and he and Bedini had an interesting relationship.

"Yes, to say the least," Bedini said.

There was a newspaper clip in which Bedini said, "Friedgen? If I couldn't outcoach him, I'd quit."

"Yup. I did say that," Bedini admitted, but because Friedgen is no longer around to defend himself, Bedini didn't want to go any further with that.

Bedini still blames himself for the second loss to Harrison, for changing his mind on a play call and running a quarterback option that was sniffed out near the goal line on the final play of a 13-7 loss.

"I talked myself out of, doggone it, out of what I wanted to run, and I didn't run it and we had a missed assignment and it cost us a touchdown and we lost the game," he said. "The first time it was a deflection on a kickoff. The ball hit somebody in the helmet and deflected to the side, and Willie Furman picked it up and went all the way with it."

Gary "the Bear" Fender, a fullback in the late 1950s who now lives in Dallas, described Bedini as a rock-solid guy who would wear a sweat shirt, football pants and cleats to practices and a coat and tie to every game. He didn't allow water breaks, and players had to stand, with helmets on, throughout practices and games.

"Overall, his football players were not afraid of him as an individual, but they had immense respect for him," Fender said. "But you knew who was in charge. He was in charge, and on that football field, whether it was practice or a game, he was god. You didn't argue with him at all."

"Ben and I didn't always agree on everything," said his former line coach, Bob Litchard, a former Giants taxi-squadder and then a collegiate assistant coach now living in Denver. "But I can tell you one thing: there is nobody in the coaching profession - and I knew Woody Hayes and Duffy Dougherty and I got to know most of the coaches in the country - but nobody worked as hard or taught me how to work, or could motivate young people, better than Ben did."

Bedini moved on to Iona College, where he went 25-9-1 in five seasons, including 9-0 in 1967, and was dubbed "The father of Iona football." One of his many local players on that team was a rover named Dino Garr, who is now the most successful coach in Rye history.

"He was well organized," Garr said. "The players respected his ability to prepare for a game. A lot of his skills in terms of preparation for a game, I still use today.

"Yeah, he was tough. He expected you to go out there and give your best and he wasn't very big on excuses for not being there, practices especially. But he was fair."

Bedini later was the offensive coordinator at Fordham, and joined his friend Sam Rutigliano as a scout with the Cleveland Browns, and then Marty Schottenheimer with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Rye years are the ones that stand out, though.

"I was joking with him," Cates said. "I said that one of the real values of sports that people learn over time is learning how to lose gracefully and return over time. But he never taught us that because we never lost."

In 2005, dozens of his former players (and ex-Huskies, too) came from all parts of the country when Rye honored him, the last time he saw the Garnets play. Yesterday, seven former Garnets from the 1958 team, on its 50th anniversary, were honorary captains.

"I was given the opportunity to coach the Rye Garnets and it was an opportunity that I shall be forever grateful for," Bedini said. "It just was a very, very special time in my life and I was lucky enough to coach a lot of great kids."

Now whenever he wakes up in the morning, he said, it's a good day.

"And I'm telling you I'm awfully lucky," Bedini said. "I really am. I've had great memories, I've had a great, great run, and I have great, great friends who haven't forgotten me."

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