In his 13 seasons in pro hockey, Chuck Scherza of the R.I. Reds earned a reputation as a scorer, fierce checker who could dig the puck out of the corners, and a tough customer who never backed down from a fight.
His career penalty totals rank third on the list of all Reds’ players in the team’s 51-year history. And his list of serious injuries ranks near the top, too. They include a punctured lung during a NHL game and a 16-stitch wound in the top of his head during one of his 10 years with Providence in the AHL.
But there was one time when Scherza was quick to turn down a fight, when he realized that discretion far outranked valor. And no one could blame him.
His fisticuffs foe would have been Rocky Marciano, who just happened to be the guy who would reign atop with world’s heavyweight division for more than four years and earn The Ring magazine Fighter of the Year award three times. Eventually, after 49 victories and 43 knockouts, he would retire as boxing’s only undefeated heavyweight champ.
“It was Mike Thomas (a former Providence Journal sports writer) who suggested a Marciano-Scherza boxing match in one of his columns,” Chuck once recalled for an article in 1111 Echoes, the newsletter of the R.I. Reds Heritage Society. “Marciano fought a lot of his bouts at the auditorium and I had seen him fight there quite a few times. I remember Manny Almeida was handling him back then, and promoting him and other fighters in Providence. And I remember once autographing a hockey stick for Rocky.”
If Marciano had a “home” arena, it certainly had to be the R. I. Auditorium. The old barn on North Main Street was the site of many boxing programs, as well as scores of other kinds of events, in addition to hockey.
Born in nearby Brockton, MA, Marciano fought more than half of his pro bouts at the 1111 North Main Street showplace about 40 miles southwest of his birthplace. It was the site of 28 of his 49 pro bouts, and 24 of his 43 knockouts.
And it was in Rhode Island that Rocky actually became Marciano. It was during a bout at the Auditorium that the ring announcer was having difficulty pronouncing Rocky’s birth name, “Marchegiano.” So, Rocky’s handlers suggested “Marciano” as a short, easier alternative.
It certainly wasn’t fear of fighting that kept Scherza from stepping into the ring against Marciano. On the ice, Chuck always was quick to drop his gloves and pay back an opponent. His style of play was rough enough that he logged 539 minutes in the various penalty boxes of hockey. That total placed him third among all Reds’ players, trailing only Jim Bartlett’s 705 minutes in the sin bin and Bert Wilson’s 567.
And it certainly wasn’t fear of being injured that kept Scherza on the outside of boxing’s squared circle. He played with abandon and often paid a price. The previously mentioned punctured lung (which came when he was with the NHL’s New York Rangers in 1944-45) and the head wound (suffered while he was with the Reds) were just the starters. Along the way there were many and varied other bumps, breaks and bruises, and more stitches than Chuck could remember.
But Church Scherza was wise enough that none of those bumps, breaks and bruises came from a knockout punch thrown by a boxing legend named Rocky Marciano.
Chuch Scherza passed away in 2014 at the age of 91, having spent most of his life in Rhode Island though he was born in Canada. Rocky Marciano died in a plane crash in 1969 at the age of 45.
(Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Mike Stanton – previously with The Providence Journal – presents a vivid word-picture of Rocky’s life in “Unbeaten: Rocky Marciano’s Fight For Perfection In A Crooked World,” Holt 2018.)