July 2 – Happy Birthday Bobby Gutowski

gutowski222I’m not exactly sure when I first met Bobby Gutowski, probably 1964. He lived around the corner from me when we were kids. His house was on Steadwell and mine was on Guy Park. If you met him back then and didn’t know better, you’d have thought he was this quiet and kind of shy kid. But once we began to pal around with each other, two things became crystal clear. Physically, he was a freak, strong as a bear and he could run faster and jump higher than anyone in our age group. The second thing I realized about young Mr. Gutowski was that he was a wee bit crazy and if he happened to be in the mood to combine his physical strength with his tendency to go slightly off kilter, well let’s just say it got real interesting.

For example, Dove Creek was next to his house on Steadwell and there was a bridge over it with about a ten to fifteen foot drop to a shallow and very rocky creek bed. One day we were goofing around up there and Bobby’s little brother Danny started getting on his nerves. Before you know it, Bobby picked Danny up over his head and threw him over the railing of that bridge and Danny landed flat on his back, with a muddy, rocky thud.

Now before you get all crazy about what a psycho Bobby must have been you need to understand something. If that had been you or me he had tossed into that creek bed we’d have required hospitalization for sure but this was Danny Gutowski, who at the time was just slightly less physically gifted and fearless than his older sibling. Danny not only bounced right back up, he raced up the embankment with a huge boulder, which he intended to use to get even with Bobby, who by that time, had wisely run back into their house and locked the door.

That winter, me and Bobby were in the backyard of my house on Guy Park, which was one of those old, huge three story dwellings that sit one block east of St. Mary’s Hospital. Bobby got the bright idea to try and throw snowballs over the house and hit cars traveling on the street in front of it. It was at least forty feet to the peak of the dwelling’s roof and a good 200 feet to the center of the street and we were just eleven years old at the time. I of course had to use every ounce of strength to get the slushy spheres just over the peak but young “Mr. Catapult Arm” had no such problem.

The game ended when we heard a huge kaboom a few seconds after one of Bobby’s rocket launches and a few moments after that an Amsterdam police officer comes walking down my driveway. Gutowski had hit a police car and now we were trapped like rats because there was a six foot high chain link fence behind us. When I turned to see if Bobby was as scared as I was, I saw him scaling that fence faster than a speeding bullet and disappear on Division Street. Fortunately, the cop was so impressed with Bobby’s arm he let me off with a warning.

So fortunately for the folks in my neighborhood, the Amsterdam police and the interscholastic sports program at Amsterdam High School, Bobby Gutowski decided to channel his strength, agility and craziness into playing football. He spent three seasons terrorizing the backfields of Amsterdam opponents from his defensive end position. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that he was the Lawrence Taylor of the Rugged Rams. Case and point: during Bobby’s junior season he made or assisted on the tackles of seventy percent of the team’s defensive plays!

He started for varsity as a sophomore during the 1969-70 season, on the same line that featured his older brother Jake and everyone knew this tenth grader was going to be something special. He really came into his own during his junior year.  In addition to leading that team in tackles, averaging 11 per game, “Gutter” had an uncanny ability to disrupt and contain plays back into coverage. He was the leader of that 1970-71 squad’s defensive unit and it was that unit that led the rams to their first Class A League title in 22 years.

The following summer, Bobby went under the knife to repair a knee injury. Then he put the pads back on, went back to Lynch Stadium and had one of the greatest seasons in the history of Amsterdam football. By then, the game plans of opposing coaches could be summed up in four words; “Stay away from Gutowski.” He still led the team in tackles with 70 and when the season was over, Amsterdam had won its second straight league title and his head coach, John Los called Gutter the greatest high school lineman he had ever seen. In addition to making every all-star team in the capital district area, Gutowski was also selected as one of the top 14 best high school linemen in the entire country by Gillette.

He also happened to be a superb offensive weapon at the tight end position. In addition to being the best blocker on the team, Bobby had great hands and in his senior year, he caught 17 passes, gaining over 300 yards.

In addition to football, Gutowski swam the butterfly on the AHS swim team and was an excellent pole-vaulter on the AHS track team. Though he drew attention from all the major colleges in the country, he weighed just 190 pounds so he went to Wesley Junior College and did well enough there to transfer to the University of Northern Colorado where he starred at defensive end for an 8-1 Bears squad that captured the 1976 Great Plains Division II Athletic Conference title. He ended up remaining in Colorado after graduating, marrying Amsterdam native Joanne Grajewski, his high school sweetheart and becoming a teacher. There’s lots of snow in Colorado which makes me wonder if Bobby’s still throws a snowball or two now and then.

(Gutowski shares his July 2 birthday with one of Amsterdam’s greatest success stories.)

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