When The Buffalo News selected a 50th anniversary All-Western New York football team in 2007, Rob Sutton of Kenmore West was named the second-team quarterback. The first team choice was Rick Cassata, who played at Tonawanda High in the early 1960s.
Sutton, one of the stars of Kenmore West’s undefeated 1969 football team, died suddenly on March 17. He was 64. His life will be celebrated at a graveside memorial service on Wednesday at Elmlawn Cemetery in the Town of Tonawanda.
Sutton and the Kenmore West Blue Devils enjoyed a wondrous 1969 season under coach Jules Yakapovich. They went 8-0 and won all their games by 33 points or more, including a 44-0 victory over the archrival Kenmore East Bulldogs. They were declared national champions on the basis of their 8-0 record and amazing defensive performance.
Sutton, No. 19, ran a devastating option offense. He passed for 24 touchdowns and ran for 11 more as the Blue Devils won a third straight Niagara Frontier League championship, going 23-1 over the span. Many of his TD passes went to fellow All-WNY back Gary Streicher, Bob Miller or Billy Tepas.
After that season, Sutton was named to the Sunkist High School All-America team. Another member of the team was future Pittsburgh Steelers’ Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.
That Kenmore West was so dominant playing Yakapovich’s “Radar Defense” that it outscored opponents, 389-67. The Blue Devils’ lowest scoring game was 38-0 over Lockport. The high was a 64-0 over Trott Vocational of Niagara Falls. Opponents were held to an average of 59.8 rushing yards and 70.1 passing and just six first downs a game.
With a promise of a full scholarship waiting for him at Syracuse University, Sutton went on to Manlius School near Syracuse and then went on to the university in 1971. He played two seasons as a quarterback under longtime Orange coach Ben Schwartzwalder. He got some starting time with the 1973 team, passing for two touchdowns. Against Pitt, Sutton and Syracuse were in the game for a half until the Panthers’ star freshman running back and future Heisman Trophy winner, Tony Dorsett, ran wild.
The 1973 season was the last of Schwartzwalder’s 25 campaigns as coach at Syracuse. Sutton did not survive the coaching change to Frank Maloney and left the team and Syracuse.
“Maloney was trying to get rid of all the juniors and seniors on the team,” said Freddie Sutton, Rob’s brother, repeating what he had heard from his brother many times.
After that, Sutton, who was a man with no pretenses despite his star football player status, came back to Buffalo and worked mostly as a bartender. For 35 years he was the daytime bartender at Cole’s. In recent years, he also worked at the Wehrle Golf Dome in Amherst part time. Golf was one of his favorite pastimes. He was a longtime member of the Sheridan Golf Club, having grown up in the Delaware-Sheridan Drive neighborhood.
Another pastime was listening to jazz. Wander in to Cole’s when Rob was working and you often would hear the sounds of jazz radio shows hosted by such hosts as the late Fred Klestine, who had passed away many years before. A big jazz fan, Sutton had a collection of tapes he had recorded at home, preserved and brought to work and played for appreciative customers.