Crowd's cheers echo, 30 years after touchdown

Michael Olesker

November 22, 1990|By Michael Olesker

Thirty years ago today, in the space of 85 yards and a few ticks on a scoreboard clock, Tom Duley inscribed his name across a schoolboy era.

It was Thanksgiving Day of 1960. John Kennedy had been elected president two weeks earlier. Gas was 20 cents a gallon. William Donald Schaefer was a rising young politician, and Kurt Schmoke was a rising young elementary school student.

And, as City College prepared to take the field at Memorial Stadium for America's second-oldest high school football rivalry, they hadn't beaten archrival Poly in 10 years.

"I was lucky," Tom Duley says, 30 years after the fact. "Make sure you put that in the story. I was lucky."

He was 15 years old, and he'd gone out for the varsity football team in his first year at City. First team meeting, he remembers a mammoth man walking into the room and declaring:

"If you don't want to sacrifice each and every day between now and Thanksgiving, leave the room."

It was George Young, then City's football coach and now the general manager of the New York Giants.

"I was intimidated," Duley remembers, "but I wanted to do something with my life. I remember Mr. Young said, 'Neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night will keep us from practicing every day.' And we did, except for Sundays. And I gave up my friends and my social life."

By Thanksgiving Day, he'd established himself as the starting halfback. But it was a mediocre City team that took the field that day. They'd won only twice all year, while Poly had lost only twice all season.

"All the reporters," Duley remembers, "were saying City would be killed again."

So were some in his own family. They lived on Strathmore Avenue, in Hamilton, back then. He was one of seven kids in the family, children of a railroad worker and his wife.

When he awoke that morning, an older brother, Richard, who was a senior at Poly, told him, "Now don't go messing with tradition. It's Thanksgiving, so Poly has to beat City."

He remembers walking onto the Memorial Stadium field and feeling a sense of awe. This is where Unitas threw to Berry on Sundays, where Lenny Moore gave a hip and then took it away from linebackers, where Donovan and Marchetti laid waste to quarterbacks.

In the locker room, George Young talked of intensity, of the chance to stage an upset, of the opportunity to make a little history.

Thirty years later, Duley says this: "I will never forget it."

The clock showed Poly ahead by 4 points with 22 seconds left in the first half. The crowd of 18,000 was on its feet. As Duley stood on his 10-yard line to take the Poly kickoff, a referee told him, "Keep your head up, son."

"I will," said Duley.

He can still see it all in front of him. He sits in this restaurant in Harford County now, a successful businessman with a wife and children and a grandchild, and he sees himself as that 15-year-old in that frozen moment three decades ago.

"It wasn't a good kick," he remembers. "The ball bounced twice before I got it. I picked it up at the 15, and I moved to the 25, and then four Poly guys hit me at the same time and knocked me up straight.

"They were all coming from different directions, so there was no place for me to fall. And they bounced off me, and I started running. I'm thinking, 'Don't let anybody catch you.' And nobody touched me the rest of the way.

"I could hear the crowd when I crossed the goal line, and I turned and saw everybody running at me. I didn't know what do. Mr. Young wouldn't allow any hot-dogging. So I dropped the ball and walked back to the bench."

The touchdown was the spark. City held on in the second half and won for the first time in a decade, 30-26.

Thirty years later, he cannot remember how he got home from the stadium that day. A friend drove him, or he might have taken the bus. But he remembers stopping for a final edition of the day's Evening Sun, and there, on the front page, was this headline:

"City Upsets Poly; Duley Electrifies Crowd of 18,000."

"I still have it at home," he says softly. "When I took it home that afternoon, my mom said, 'Look at this. It took my son to knock John Kennedy off the front page.' "

It was more than that. An era of high school football was marked in that moment. The next morning's Sun called Duley "a legendary hero." Thirty years later, City College grads -- and plenty of Poly alums, too -- will tell you simply, "I was in school when Duley ran that kickoff back."

No other explanation is needed. To this day, Duley says shyly, people hear his name and ask, "Are you the one? City College? The kickoff return?"

There were other highlights: The next year, he scored 16 touchdowns, half on runs of 50 yards or more, as City went undefeated. There were letters from about 40 colleges in his senior year, and he went to Clemson and played a couple of seasons there.

Now he's got a photo developing place, The Flash Cube, at Tollgate Mall in Bel Air.

But for Duley, and for a lot of people in high school in that time, the adrenalin of that moment lingers.

"I didn't know what I had done right away," he says now. "I didn't understand the significance, the history of it all. I just knew it had given us some impetus; it lifted us up when nobody gave us a chance.

"But you have to understand something," he says. "It was luck, that's all. There were 21 other guys out there. The four Poly guys bounced off me, and I just kept running. It was just luck."

The coaches call it running to daylight. Others would say Tom Duley ran himself into a legend.

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