Fighting City Part 3 – Dave Andrews
Exploring the Rich History of Boxing in Lowell – Part 3
Micky Ward’s ring career reads like a great boxing movie: boxer overcomes limited opportunity, repeated setbacks and seemingly insurmountable odds by virtue of grit and determination. Ward won the admiration of die-hard fans with a pro career defined by some of the best fights anyone had ever seen. Though “The Fighter,” a movie based on Ward’s life, was the first story about a local fighter to reach the big screen, the attic of Lowell’s boxing history is brimming with equally worthy tales of gutsy battlers who lived their lives in Technicolor.
Dave Andrews was the closest thing to boxing royalty ever to come out of Lowell. Given the nickname “Golden Boy” for his movie star looks and clean living, his Depression era story of hope and survival resembles a Frank Capra film, but it was every ounce real, just like Dave.
Born in 1920, Andrews became an avid boxing fan at 13, applying so much academic zeal to the study that he successfully responded to the taunts of a much larger neighborhood bully with his first KO. Good trainers keep their ears to the ground for stories like this, and Tony “Midge” Mello of the Lowell Boys Club soon heard about it. Dave was a fast learner, naturally talented and went on to win several local titles, capping his amateur career in Boston with the 1941 National AAU 147-pound championship.
Like so many, the Andrews family experienced grave financial difficulties during the 1930s. Punch-for-pay was still lucrative, especially for those who could draw a crowd. Dave’s well-chiseled features and golden locks appealed to female fans and lulled many an opponent into thinking him too pretty to be dangerous. Andrews went pro in 1941 and entered the U.S. Navy in 1943 as a boxing instructor. He left the Navy in 1944, rebuilt his rusty legs and met up with many of the great welterweights in the Northeast. One of his greatest ring victories came in May of 1946, when he knocked out Hartford power-puncher Johnny Cesario. Andrews cemented his place in Lowell history by winning the New England welterweight title by a majority decision against ring veteran George Martin. The sporting community of Lowell got together in September of 1946 to celebrate his win with a party on the roof of the Rex Arena, with Jack Dempsey making a guest appearance.
It seems athleticism runs in families, and the Andrews family was no exception. Dave’s younger brother, Roy, entered boxing as a way to help support the family, and he became a professional in the lightweight class after only four amateur fights. Eddie Andrews, the baby of the family, would later distinguish himself as a power-punching middleweight. Dave’s father was said to be able to lift a kitchen table clamped between his jaws, which does beg the question: How in the world did he figure out he could do that? This also explains the durability of the Andrews brothers in the ring. Boxers are often defined by three attributes: punching power, technique and a strong chin, or the ability to survive a direct hit to the lowest point of the jaw.
Dave’s one sister, Dorothy, is still remembered by gentlemen of a certain age as a “swell looker.” The dating life in Lowell wasn’t easy for young Dorothy, as it was a brave man who could withstand the cold, hard stares of her protective brothers. Dorothy would go on to marry and produce an athlete of her own, Baltimore Colts Pro-Bowl defensive back Bruce Laird.
Dave Andrews retired from the ring in the early 1950s and bought a home for his wife, Ruth, and three young sons, Dave Jr., Wayne and Gary, in North Billerica. Beginning his civilian life as a pipe fitter, his spare time was spent coaching the next generation of young boxers with the successful Robbie Shoe team of Lowell.
By setting an example with his lifelong habit of always doing the right thing, he managed to bring boxing out of the basement.
The world of professional sports was changing during the ’50s, and punch-for-pay was beginning to lose its luster. Sports such as football and basketball began drawing good athletes like Dave’s nephew. Lowell boxing manager Teddy Coupe would sigh sadly at the mention of Bruce Laird and say, “There goes my heavyweight.”
Broadcast TV brought boxing into the home, but televised fights eventually crippled a very important support system for the sport: the small gyms and arenas. With the paying audience watching the fights at home, venues where young professionals could develop out of the national spotlight were gone. Novice, unseasoned boxers were rushed to market before they were ready.
The Lowell Sun played a critical role in keeping boxing alive in the city by sponsoring a local franchise for the Golden Gloves, a national amateur boxing tournament that is still held in many major cities across the country. The Gloves were an instant success, and tickets would sell out every year. Most small city newspapers stopped devoting ink to local boxing, but the Lowell Sun, through writers like Jack Kenney, George McGuane, Joe McGarry and Gil Wood helped make celebrities out of amateur boxers.