Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Doug Williams Conquers The World

28 Oct

Super Bowl XXII, a very historic championship game, is the subject of our Throwback Thursday feature this week, the eighth week of the NFL season. On this week’s slate is a game between the Denver Broncos and the Washington Football Team, the 2 franchises who played in that historic title game on January 31, 1988. History was made before the game even started, as Doug Williams was announced as Washington’s starting quarterback, becoming the first African American to start at the position in a Super Bowl. He was an unlikely starter. He had entered the year as a backup and was 0-2 in the only starts he did make in the regular season. After leading the Redskins to their 2 playoff wins to reach the big game, he earned the start in the Super Bowl. His start hit a snag when he had to undergo an emergency root canal the night before the game, but he was pronounced fit to play. Denver, behind star QB John Elway, was making their second appearance in the title game in a row, having lost to the New York Giants the previous year.

The game started out slowly for Williams and the Redskins. Elway hit Ricky Nattiel on a 56 yard touchdown pass and Rich Karlis added a 24 yard field goal to give Denver a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. Near the end of the quarter, Williams twisted his knee awkwardly while dropping back to pass and had to leave the game. He returned in the second stanza, with a vengeance. The Redskins’ receiving corps at the time was small and speedy, and were collectively nicknamed “The Smurfs”. They also earned the moniker of  “The Fun Bunch” for their colorful touchdown celebrations. In the second period of this game, they got to celebrate a lot. Williams engineered an incredible 5 touchdown drives, throwing touchdown passes of 80 and 50 yards to Ricky Sanders,27 yards to Gary Clark, and 8 yards to Clint Didier. Also, the game’s other hero, Timmy Smith, ran 58 yards for a score. When the dust settled, the Redskins found themselves with an astonishing 35-10 lead going into halftime. The halftime show of the game was the first time a major act was booked to entertain the crowd and the television audience. The performers? Chubby Checker and The Rockettes. In another tidbit of trivia involving this game, Herb Alpert played the National Anthem on his trumpet, the last non-vocal performance of the song to date.


The Fun Bunch celebrates another TD


The third quarter of the game was scoreless, but the outcome had already pretty much been determined. Smith wrapped up a record-breaking day on the ground with a 4 yard touchdown run in the final quarter to give Washington a 42-10 victory. Williams was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, deservingly so with his play. Smith would have been a good choice also, as he set a new Super Bowl record with 204 yards rushing on 22 carries, a mark that still stands to this day.


Doug Williams enjoyed an historic victory in Super Bowl XXII


NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Ol’ Ball Coach Was A Player, Too!

21 Oct

It’s week 7 of the NFL season, and one of the matchups this week finds the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Indianapolis Colts. Our Throwback Thursday feature travels back to the 1969 season for a game between these 2 teams played on October 26th of that year. Coach Don Shula’s Colts were coming off the huge disappointing loss in the Super Bowl the previous season to the New York Jets. They were battling inconsistency as they started the year with 2 straight losses, then rebounded with a pair of wins. The 49ers were a team they hadn’t lost to since 1962, so a third consecutive win looked like a sure thing, especially with Baltimore being at home. San Francisco was enduring a down period in their history at this point. They were in the midst of a decade of mediocrity and coach Dick Nolan was struggling to make any headway in his quest to turn the franchise around, as the Niners entered this game winless at 0-4-1.

After a scoreless first quarter, Tommy Davis opened the scoring with a short field goal for San Francisco, but the Colts answered that with a drive that ended with Tom Matte hauling in an 11 yard touchdown pass from John Unitas to take a 7-3 lead. Quarterback Steve Spurrier, a career backup getting a rare chance to start, then guided a drive before the half with Ken Willard running in from 5 yards out, giving the 49ers the lead back at the half. San Francisco came out in the third quarter on fire. Spurrier led another drive in which he cashed in for a touchdown with an 18 yard scoring toss to Dick Witcher, then the defense took command by pilfering a Unitas throw, courtesy of John Woitt, which he ran back 57 yards for a touchdown to give San Francisco a shocking 24-7 lead. The proud Colts rallied as Unitas found his favorite target on the day, Jimmy Orr (8 catches for 146 yards), for a short touchdown pass, then closed the gap again with a one yard touchdown run by Matte. That was the end of the scoring, however, and Baltimore found themselves on the short end of a 24-21 score at the final gun.

Nolan’s 49ers won only 4 games in the ’69 season, and ironically half of those wins came against the Colts, as they upset them again later in the season. He was building something for the future, and the team won 3 straight Western Division titles to start the 1970s. The Colts were underachievers at 8-5-1 for the year, and Shula departed for Miami after the season, where he would find great success on the way to becoming the winningest coach in NFL history. Shula’s departure didn’t initially hurt the Colts, as they won the Super Bowl under Don McCafferty in 1970.


Steve Spurrier shined in a rare starting performance


NFL – Throwback Thursday: More High-Flying AFL Action

14 Oct

The Denver Broncos face off with their AFC West rivals, the Las Vegas Raiders, this Sunday in a week 6 game on the NFL schedule. For Throwback Thursday, we’ll go back to the high-flying early days of the American Football League, to a game played between these clubs on December 15, 1963. The Raiders were based in Oakland at the time and this contest was played at Frank Youell Field, a glorified high school stadium that was Oakland’s home then. Prior to 1963 the Raiders were one of the AFL’s weakest franchises. They had finished the 1962 season with a 1-13 record, and Buffalo Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson had to loan the club $400,000 just to keep them afloat at one point. The Raiders’ fortunes turned around that season, however, when they hired a brash young assistant from the San Diego Chargers’ staff, Al Davis. Of course, Denver was the ultimate sad sack franchise of the AFL for the entire 10 year existence of the league. This game was the penultimate regular season contest of the ’63 season, with the Raiders enjoying an 8-4 record while the Broncos wallowed in last place of the Western Division at 2-9-1.

The game started out as expected with the Raiders scoring twice, on touchdown passes of 32 yards from Tom Flores to Bo Roberson and 18 yards from Flores to Art Powell, one of the AFL’s brightest stars in it’s formative years. Denver rounded out the first quarter scoring when rookie fullback Billy Joe rambled in from 9 yards out to cut Oakland’s lead to 14-7. Flores answered that by hitting his running back, Clem Daniels, with a 26 yard touchdown pass. The Broncos mustered up a field goal from Gene Mingo, and the clubs went into halftime with the Raiders holding a 21-10 edge.  When Flores threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, from 43 yards out to Daniels again, Oakland took a sizable 28-10 and it looked like the lowly Broncos were finished.

Denver quarterback Mickey Slaughter rallied the troops, however. He threw a 9 yard touchdown pass to Gene Prebola, and then led a drive that ended in a short scoring run by Hewritt Dixon, and suddenly Denver entered the final quarter down by only 28-24. The Broncos’ defense was their Achilles heel in 1963, as they allowed a total of 473 points overall for the season, by far the highest total in the AFL’s history. So it was easy pickings again for Flores, and he found Powell again for his fifth TD toss of the day. Slaughter didn’t give up easily. He engineered another drive and hit his All-AFL split end, Lionel Taylor, with a 29 yard scoring throw to pull his club to within 4 points again at 35-31. That would be all the scoring for the day, and Oakland held on to improve to 9-4. They finished the regular season the following week by outscoring the Houston Oilers in a 52-49 barnburner to end their season at 10-4, a miraculous climb from the previous year. It was only good enough for second place in the West as San Diego won their third division crown in 4 years. The Broncos put up a game effort on this day, and Taylor and Prebola both garnered over 100 receiving yards, but their reward for the “moral victory” was a date with the mighty Chargers in the regular season’s final week. The Chargers demolished them 58-20.


Al Davis transformed the Raiders’ franchise in 1963


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Young Gun Takes On The Master

07 Oct

The New England Patriots meet the Houston Texans on this week’s NFL schedule, and for our Throwback Thursday post we’ll go back just a few years to find a contest between these 2 clubs that turned out to be a wild shootout between the G.O.A.T. and a fresh young upstart, those players being the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Houston rookie DeShaun Watson. It was early in the 2017 season, in week 3 on September 24, when the Texans invaded Gillette Stadium to take on the mighty Patriots. New England was a heavy favorite, having won the Super Bowl the previous season, while the Texans were AFC South Division champs in a mediocre year for the division in 2016. Watson hadn’t done much to this point, although he did scamper 49 yards for the only touchdown of the game the prior week to give his team a win over Cincinnati.

This turned out to be a breakout performance for the young rookie as he battled Brady for 4 quarters. New England opened the scoring with Brady hitting Rob Gronkowski with a 5 yard touchdown pass. Then Watson led his team on a pair of scoring drives that ended with a field goal and a 29 yard scoring toss from Watson to Bruce Ellington. Brady answered with a touchdown throw of 7 yards to Chris Hogan. Houston added another field goal, then suddenly took a 20-14 lead when Jadeveon Clowney scooped up a fumble and ran 22 yards for a defensive score. As he has done his whole career, Brady never flinched. He found Hogan again from 47 yards out to regain the lead for his club at 21-20 at the half. Brady increased the lead to 28-20 in the third quarter when he hooked up with Brandin Cooks, who ironically now plays for the Texans, on a 42 yard scoring throw.

Not to be outdone, Watson pulled his team to within a point by finding Ryan Griffin for a 12 yard TD, then engineered a pair of field goal drives to give Houston a 33-28 lead. Houston made the mistake of leaving time on the clock for Brady, and he took advantage. He led the Pats downfield and finished the drive with a controversial touchdown pass to Cooks. Replays seemed to show that Cooks bobbled the ball, and that it hit the ground, after he landed out of bounds. However, the catch was upheld, Brady hit Cooks for a 2 point conversion and New England hung on for a 36-33 win.


Brandin Cooks’ controversial touchdown catch


In all, Brady threw for 5 touchdowns on the day, and his team needed every one of them to squeeze out the victory over the young buck. Cooks and Hogan had great statistical days, with Cooks grabbing 5 passes for 131 yards and Hogan adding 4 receptions for 68 yards, with both receivers scoring twice each. Watson, a tremendous talent, threw for over 300 yards and 2 TDs and added 41 yards on the ground in the losing cause. It should have been the breakout game that launched him to All Pro status, but his career has taken a turn for the worse today due to off the field issues, and the Texans are actively trying to trade him in 2021, with no takers so far.


Brady, Watson shake hands after epic battle


MLB – Cleveland Indians – The End of An Era

04 Oct

The Major League baseball regular season wound up this week and an event of historical proportions took place in Cleveland, Ohio as that city’s big league team ended the 100+ year era as the “Indians”. The franchise had been known as the Cleveland Naps, after star player Nap Lajoie, but when Lajoie left the club, owner Charles Somers asked baseball writers to pick a new name. They went with Indians to honor another player, Louis Sockalexis, a Native American. And so, the “Tribe” was born. Bowing to pressure from Native and other groups to change the name, Cleveland’s team, beginning in 2022, will be rebranded as the Guardians, named after iconic statues on a local bridge that “guard” the city.

Perhaps the rebranding will change the team’s luck. They have won only a pair of World Series titles, in 1920 and 1948, and the span of years from ’48 until today marks the longest non-title drought in major league baseball. The Indians have had some iconic players and moments over the years. Bob Feller was one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League shortly after Jackie Robinson did it in the NL with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Frank Robinson became the first African American manager in the majors when he took the reins as player/manager in 1975. The Indians were the opponent when Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak came to an end in 1941.

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller


There were tragic and comical moments also. In 1920, Tribe shortstop Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitched ball and died the next day, becoming the only player in history to die from being hit. Pitcher Herb Score was struck in the face by a batted ball, breaking facial bones and effectively ending his career, although he became the iconic play-by-play voice of the team for many years after that. In spring training of 1993, 2 players, Ken Olin and Tim Crews, were killed in a boat crash, with Bob Ojeda seriously injured also. When Bill Veeck owned the team, he hired a clown known as “The Clown Prince Of Baseball”, Max Patkin, to coach third base as a promotional stunt.

Baseball clown Max Patkin


And, in one of baseball’s most forgettable evenings, the team hosted Ten Cent Beer Night at Municipal Stadium, with the game ending in a Tribe forfeit to the Texas Rangers as drunken fans stormed the field and caused a riot.

Riots on “Ten Cent Beer Night”


Cleveland has had a terrible reputation for trading away players who were stars or would become stars, with the dubious list including Roger Maris, Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Tommy John, Tommy Agee, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Dennis Eckersley, Joe Carter, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and most recently Francisco Lindor. The franchise rebounded somewhat in the 1990s and fielded respectable teams, including a pair that reached the World Series, in 1995 and 1997, only to lose both times. Those clubs had star power, with names like Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Eddie Murray, Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser. Perhaps the most odious of seasons for the Tribe came in 2016, when they reached the Series only to blow a 3-1 edge in games to the formerly lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, and lose in 7 games.

Will the Guardians start a new chapter in 2022 and give the fans a team worth cheering for? Despite a not-so-special year in 2021, they do boast a promising core of players going forward. We’ll examine what the future looks like for them in an upcoming post. For now, it’s time to say a fond farewell to the Cleveland Indians, as they make their way to the Happy Hunting Grounds of baseball history. Also, GO GUARDIANS!



NFL – Throwback Thursday: Squishing The Fish

30 Sep

We’re already headed into week 4 of the young NFL season, and one of this week’s matchups features a pair of teams who were once division rivals in the AFC East – the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts. The game we are highlighting was played on December 9, 1973 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. The Dolphins were the class of the NFL at the time, having completed a perfect 17-0 season in 1972 culminating in their first Super Bowl win. Some consider the 1973 club even better, even though they had lost to Oakland earlier in the year to snap their unbeaten streak. Miami came into the game heavy favorites, with an 11-1 record under coach Don Shula, who had formerly coached the Colts. Baltimore entered the game with a dismal 2-10 mark, and were coached by Shula’s old assistant, Howard Schnellenberger. Also, the rivalry between these 2 teams had been completely one-sided in Miami’s favor. The Fish owned 4 consecutive shutout victories over the Colts, including a 44-0 shellacking in Miami’s Orange Bowl a month earlier. Even with all the odds stacked against the Colts, this turned out to be one of those “any given Sundays” that pop up in the NFL all the time.

Baltimore achieved what had to be a moral victory in the first quarter when George Hunt kicked a short field goal to give his team their first score of any kind in 5 meetings against the stifling Dolphins. Colts’ quarterback Marty Domres played an extremely conservative game on this day in an era where conservative was the norm. Relying on his running game and throwing only 8 passes, the career journeyman signal caller engineered touchdown drives in each of the next 2 quarters. Bill Olds scored from 2 yards out to up the lead to 10-0 at halftime, and Domres found tight end Tom Mitchell for a 1 yard touchdown toss to put the Colts up 16-0 with the extra point attempt failing. Meanwhile, the Colts’ defense played their best game of the season, picking off a pair of Dolphin passes and recovering a fumble. They also at least contained Miami’s strong rushing attack, and held the defending champs to only 228 total yards. Garo Yepremian’s fourth quarter field goal was all the offense the proud Dolphins could muster on this day, and the Colts pulled off a huge 16-3 upset. Player of the game for Baltimore was their workhorse running back Lydell Mitchell, who carried 35 times for 104 hard-earned yards.

Miami got the wake-up call from this loss, for certain. They won their final game of the regular season, pounding Detroit 34-7, then defeated Cincinnati in the divisional playoffs, and avenged the earlier loss to the Raiders in the AFC title game. The season ended with a second straight Super Bowl title win as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings.


Colts’ QB Marty Domres celebrates the upset win


NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Classic AFL Shootout

23 Sep

Week 3 of the NFL season is upon us, and one of the matchups features the Denver Broncos and New York Jets. For our Throwback Thursday feature of the week we’ll revisit an old-fashioned American Football League shootout played on November 22, 1962 between these 2 original AFL franchises. It was played at an old minor league baseball park in Denver, Bears Stadium, and the New York club was still known as the Titans. Denver came into the game with a winning record at 7-4, a rarity for that team in the AFL days, and was favored at home in this contest. It turned out to be the crowning moment in the career of Titan quarterback Johnny Green, who had been acquired from Buffalo after languishing with the Bills in the first 2 seasons of the league’s existence. Coach Bulldog Turner’s New York team jumped out to a surprising 17-0 lead on a short touchdown run by Bill Mathis, a Green scoring toss to Dick Christy and a Bill Shockley field goal. Denver finally broke the ice as Frank Tripucka found Bob Scarpitto open for a 35 yard touchdown, but Green matched that by hitting Art Powell, one of the AFL’s first stars, from 4 yards out for a touchdown. Denver ended the half with a pair of field goals from Gene Mingo to cut the Titans’ lead to 24-13, and the Broncos rode that momentum and came out storming in the second half. First their defense struck, as Bud McFadin scooped a fumble and rambled 69 yards for a score, followed by an offensive strike, as the other Bronco signal called, George Shaw, threw a 6 yard touchdown pass to Scarpitto to give his team a 27-24 lead. Now the shootout was on.

When Shaw fell on his own fumble in his own end zone to give New York a safety, he didn’t know at the time that he was providing the Titans with their margin of victory. Denver’s lead was now down to a single point, and that evaporated when Green hit future Hall of Famer Don Maynard for a 35 yard touchdown. New York missed their extra point attempt, and when Shaw found Lionel Taylor with a short scoring pass to open up the final quarter, Denver took advantage of an AFL rule that didn’t exist in the NFL at the time – the 2-point conversion – to take a 35-32 lead. The Broncos then took command. First Jim McMillin picked off a Green pass and returned it 59 yards for a score, then Mingo added a field goal to give Denver a sizable 45-32 lead. In the old wild and wooly AFL, however, no lead was safe. Green redeemed himself for the pick six by engineering scoring drives that ended in his 4th and 5th touchdown passes of the day, both short tosses to Christy and Powell, and the Titans left the Mile High city with a hard-earned 46-45 win.


Dejected Denver coaches Mac Speedie, Jack Faulkner after loss to the NY Titans


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Raiders Slay Their Dragon

16 Sep

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders square off this Sunday in the second week of NFL action, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to the AFC Championship game of the 1976 season, played in Oakland on December 26th between those 2 franchises. They had become heated AFC rivals at this point, and this was to be the third consecutive year they would battle for the right to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. There were stark differences in the two teams’ histories. The Steelers were perennial losers in the 1960s, elevated by coach Chuck Noll to become solid playoff contenders in the 1970s, and had 2 straight Super Bowl titles in their resume from the previous 2 years. Oakland had the winningest record in all pro football for a decade, but had earned a dubious distinction of not being able to achieve the ultimate goal of winning it all.

The Raiders were dominant in the regular season, finishing 13-1 overall, while the Steelers wound up 10-4 and were hampered by injuries. In fact, with both of their starting running backs, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier out with injuries, Pittsburgh was at a distinct disadvantage going into the AFC title game. So this was going to be the best chance yet for coach John Madden’s Silver and Black troops to finally climb to the mountain top by slaying the dragon that had kept them out of the big game the last 2 seasons. As expected, the defenses of both teams dominated the game. Oakland scored the only first quarter points on an Erroll Mann field goal, then increased their lead to 10-0 in the second quarter when Raider linebacker Willie Hall intercepted a Terry Bradshaw pass and returned it to the Steelers’ one yard line, with Clarence Davis bursting  into the end zone  for a touchdown.  The Steelers, knowing they needed to answer to not let the game get out of hand, did just that. Bradshaw rebounded from his miscue to engineer a 75 yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 3 yard touchdown run from Reggie Harrison, who was filling in for the injured starting backs.

Not to be outdone, Raider signal caller Ken Stabler guided his team on a long, time-consuming drive, and hit Warren Bankston from 4 yards out to give his club a 17-7 lead going into halftime. With the way the defenses were playing on this day, that lead could almost be considered insurmountable, and when Stabler found Pete Banaszak for a 5 yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, Oakland led 24-7 and was clearly in the driver’s seat. Both team’s defenses took over again after that and 24-7 turned out to be the final score. Oakland had cleared a huge hurdle in finally beating the Steelers, and they wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Madden’s forces went on to dominate Super Bowl XI, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 to capture their long-awaited first Lombardi Trophy.


Willie Hall tracks down Steeler WR John Stallworth


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Another Joe Cool Production

09 Sep

The 2021 NFL season begins this Thursday, which also means the return of our weekly Throwback Thursday feature on Rayonsports. When Tom Brady guided his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to a Super Bowl title in 2020 he cemented his place as a certified G.O.A.T., winning the coveted Lombardi trophy for the seventh time. For our opening TBT story of the new season, we’ll harken back to a divisional playoff matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, who meet on the opening’s week schedule on Sunday. This matchup, played on New Year’s Eve in 1983, featured a classic, but typical performance by another quarterback who is roundly thought of as the G.O.A.T., the one and only “Joe Cool”, 49er signal caller Joe Montana. Ironically, Brady grew up in the Bay Area and his football idol growing up was Montana.

The 49ers, in the 1983 season, had already won a Super Bowl in 1981, but regressed badly in the strike-shortened 1982 season, finishing with a dismal 3-6 record.  Coach Bill Walsh rallied the troops in ’83 and the team again qualified for the playoffs, meeting the Lions in this divisional round clash at Candlestick Park. The young, hungry Lions, who limped into the playoffs with a mediocre 9-7 mark, held their own with San Fran in the first half but could only muster 3 Eddie Murray field goals. The 49ers countered with a pair of short rushing touchdowns, from Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler, to hold a 14-9 edge at the half. The lead jumped to 17-9 on a third quarter field goal for the Niners, but the fireworks were just about to begin as the game entered the final stanza.

Billy Sims, the elusive Detroit running back who had been his team’s most potent offensive weapon all day, broke loose and finally found the end zone for his team. He rambled for touchdowns from 11 and 3 yards out, and suddenly, the favored club from the Bay found themselves trailing 23-17. So it appeared that the game was now squarely in the hands of Montana, who never saw a deficit he felt he couldn’t overcome. His statistics to this point in the game were very pedestrian, as it was the defense, which intercepted Detroit QB Gary Danielson 5 times, that had carried the 49ers. As he had done in the past and would continue to do throughout his career, Joe Cool calmly guided his team downfield and with a little under a minute and a half left, connected with Freddie Solomon for a 14 yard score that lifted the Niners to a 24-23 victory.

It was a noble effort in a losing cause for Sims, who rushed for 114 yards and the 2 TDs on 20 carries. San Francisco’s luck ran out the following week as they lost to Washington in the NFC Championship game,  but Montana would continue to collect Super Bowl titles in upcoming years.


Billy Sims sparkled in a losing cause for the Lions


One Play For The Rest Of Your Lives

27 May

The following is a first-hand account of a football memory written by Rayonsports columnist Connor Pohlman:

On a brisk October day, I was packing up my books in my backpack, getting ready to leave my last class of the day. I was a junior then, and was anxiously waiting for my playoff football game later that night. Our team was undefeated that year, and since I was a junior, I had a small role on the team, only playing a limited amount of snaps, but still cherished every moment I was fortunate enough to experience. This game was important, as the winner would go on to play at the time, New Era Field, for a chance to win the Section VI Championship. If only I knew that the remaining hours of the day would be a rollercoaster of emotions. Driving to the school on that game day was a nerve-wracking experience. I felt a lot of pressure to perform well for my teammates and my school. The sight of the large W which represented West Seneca West that is posted on the wall near the sports entrance would always give me butterflies in my stomach. When I walked into the locker room, the smell is one that still sticks with me to this day… yes, the stink of it. Looking back to it, I get a sense of nostalgia thinking about it though. I put my equipment on, and looked around at the seniors, who were
contemplating the fact that this game could be their last. I wanted to do everything I could to assure they would live to fight another day. Once everyone was ready and warmups were done, we all waited in the locker room for our head coach, Mike Vastola, to give his pregame speech.
Something that the entire coaching staff preached was being a good man first, then a good player second. I as well as them, believe in and try to live this philosophy. While walking out of the locker room onto the path to the field, I could already hear the sounds of the game. Music was playing, fans were murmuring, and cheerleaders were practicing their routines. The sound of our cleats walking in unison on the stone path sounded like soldiers marching in formation. This experience was virtually new to me at the time, as I had only been a part of one other playoff game my first year on varsity football. Before I knew it, I was out on the field for the opening kickoff. Once the ball met the air, I along with my teammates chased after it down the field. The play always seems longer than it actually is. Adrenaline running through my body, I jogged back
to the sideline once kickoff was over with, now watching my team perform. We got off to an early start going up 7-0. In a blink of an eye it was then 14-0. They went back on offense, but our defense shut them down fairly quickly. I would play a few snaps every now and then, and when the adrenaline rush wore off, I started to tire. At that moment, nothing could’ve tasted better than the cold water stored in the Gatorade squirt bottles. When we got the ball back, we methodically drove down the field and punched in another touchdown. 21-0. A few more drives of no scores followed our fast start and at halftime, the score was 21-0 us. Some of us were riding high, but the team leaders drove home the message that we haven’t done anything yet, and that the job
wasn’t finished. Taking a knee in our end zone listening to our captains and coaches talk to us was always a learning experience for me, but especially on this night. It was important for me to keep my emotions in check and not get too excited, as the game certainly wasn’t over yet. The feeling of my gloves going back onto my hands never got old. The second half of the game was underway, and we were in for a rude awakening. Starpoint had the ball to start the half, so we went out on defense. Their offense found something that worked, so they kept going to it. They eventually found themselves in the end zone for the first time all game. 21-7 now. It was at this moment where I realized a victory wasn’t as assured as I thought it was going to be. The mood on our sideline shifted, and I noticed some of our players and coaches had a nervous aura about them. I wasn’t sure how to feel exactly. Throughout the year, almost every game seemed to come easily. But now was when we were going to be truly tested with adversity. Just like when we were scoring, it seemed like mere moments until they scored again and it was 21-14. Blink again and it was now 21-21. Everyone started to lose hope when they got the ball back and managed to quickly score again. In the span of mere moments, they were now leading 28-21.

What I remember most about standing on the sideline was just taking in everyone’s attitude and demeanor about the situation. Many were disheartened, but our resilient guys never lost hope. “Just take it one play at a time boys. Just focus on the now, don’t worry about the score” Coach Vastola told my group of receivers I was standing with. When we got the ball back, we stayed hopeful and found the end zone again finally, evening the score at 28. From then on, the field became a western shootout, constantly going back and forth. 35-28, 35-35, 41-35, 42-41. The score would’ve been tied at 42 at this point, but Starpoint had a failed 2-point conversion. There was less than 3 minutes now in the game. The moment when Starpoint scored once more, and
had a successful 2-point conversion is when I could hear my heartbeats every thump. 49-42 with 2:11 to go. I didn’t take any moment for granted, appreciating every second and every little detail of my surroundings. My teammates are like brothers to me and I didn’t want it to end so soon. As our offense took the field for the final drive I just kept remembering, “come on guys, one play for the rest of your lives.” All we needed was one big play to secure a victory. Our offense drove down the field play by play, clock running still. I remember the time exactly. 47 seconds. That’s how much time was left when we scored a touchdown. The score was 49-48. Instead of going for the tie, our coach made the bold decision of going for 2 and the lead. When the ball was snapped, it seemed as if everyone at the field took one collective breath and held it. Everything happening on the field was in slow motion for me. I watched as our running back made one cut, and muscle his way into the end zone to take the lead. That moment of relief as we watched the clock run out with our team having one more point could not be understated. I ran into multiple teammates hugging them and jumping up and down.
I believe that football represents what America should look like. People from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs, coming together to achieve one goal. That’s what I loved about playing football, and what I still love about the game today. From this game, I learned so much about appreciating every little moment of life, and everything I’m blessed to have in it. Never take anything for granted, enjoy the moment, and don’t worry about the future. This game taught me more about life and about myself than I could have ever imagined, and that is why I believe this moment made me grow not only as a football player, but as a man.