HAVERHILL -- What did Dante Gobbi do the day after being honored by about 100 of his closest friends, family and co-workers – via a surprise party – for his 38 years of coaching youth and high school football players in Haverhill?
He cut the lawn in and around Trinity Stadium. Of course.
In the end, Gobbi, 64, decided he not only needed more time to relax beyond his current job as groundskeeper for Trinity Stadium, but the game was more complex than it used to be.
“It was time,” said Gobbi.
Over the last few years dealing with former Hillies (2014) offensive line great Dan Burrows, a UMaine grad, who took over the offensive line coaching position, he realized it was time.
“He was on a different level than I was,” said Gobbi, who coached Burrows (a 2014 Hillies graduate) on the offensive line. “He was saying things I didn’t understand. He’s going to be great. It was a perfect time to move on.”
Gobbi was honored at the Haverhill Touchdown Club event, hosted by Haverhill High coach Tim O’Connor, on Sunday at the Garibaldi Club.
It was a total surprise. His wife, Laurie, had told him she was working on wedding stuff for their son, Brian, but had been decorating the club for the surprise party in Gobbi’s honor.
“They got me real good,” said Gobbi. “I realized something was up when my son Brandon dropped me off and I saw my nephew’s face inside the window. I wasn’t looking for anything like that, but I do appreciate the support. It’s been a great run.”
Technically speaking, the “Dante Gobbi Era” with Haverhill High football has spanned 80 years, as his father, Dante O. Gobbi (he is Dante L. Gobbi), played football in the early 1940s.
Inducted into the Haverhill Hall of Fame, the elder Dante left school early in his senior year to serve during World War II. Upon his return he spent the rest of his adult life involved with sports, whether it was coaching, selling tickets or as equipment manager.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
"Dante and the Gobbi family are the brick and mortar of Haverhill football,” said O’Connor. “I always called Dante the Swiss Army Knife of Haverhill football. He did numerous jobs on a daily basis that most coaches despise doing. He represents the team culture daily with his willingness to cultivate and nurture.
“His smile and laughter will be missed more than he will ever know,” said O’Connor. “We had our good times and bad times, but I could always count on Dante.”
O’Connor said that Gobbi had a special relationship with the players, because of his character. He recalled a time during a playoff game in which two teammates started fighting on the sidelines.
“We had two guys that did not get along,” recalled O’Connor. “Dante broke up the rather raucous encounter with ease. I remember looking back at him and he said, ‘Just another day in Haverhill football,’ with a huge smile.”
Along the way he was able to be on the sidelines coaching his son and nephew.
His youngest son, Brandon, didn’t play football, but was seen along his father’s side on the sidelines or helping out at Trinity Stadium beginning about the time he turned 5-years old.
“My dad is my hero,” said Brandon, who spent a few years as a Patriots ball boy in Foxboro and now is full-time funeral assistant at H.L. Farmer & Sons Funeral home in Haverhill.
“I saw up close and personal all of the kids he affected,” said Brandon, who has written a book about his dad. “He always made the kids laugh. I remember seeing him walk into the locker room while they kids were playing rap music, which he hated. He would dance through the locker room and the kids would laugh like crazy. Those are memories I will never forget.”
Gobbi said he will continue to help on in small ways with the high school and football program, including his gig as groundskeeper at the stadium.
His immediate goals in retirement as coach is to watch his grandchildren – Cameron (5) and Connor (2) – grow up and play sports.
“I really can’t wait,” said Gobbi. “My granddaughter plays soccer and she appears to like it.”
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.