In Mason Dixon, local players Bear souls for another NFL shot

August 09, 1991|By Nestor Aparicio | Nestor Aparicio,Evening Sun Staff

The 57 football players that gather at Kenwood High School have at least a thousand good stories among them.

The one each eagerly shares is about a dream to play in the National Football League.

Trouble is, most haven't and most never will.

Instead, they spend their Sunday afternoons in uniform for the Baltimore Bears, one of 10 members of the Mason Dixon League, a semipro conference made famous in this area by the Baltimore Eagles in the mid-1970s.

This volunteer team of bruisers, ages 22 through 33, is carrying on the legacy of the Eagles.

Team owner Ken Coldwell, who also runs a travel agency and a suburban weekly newspaper, pursues this sometimes expensive hobby as diligently as if he were Baltimore's version of Al Davis.

Five years ago he played host to "The Revenge Bowl" at Memorial Stadium, pitting his hungry Bears against a semipro team from Indianapolis. The next year he walked out of a USFL Baltimore Stars auction with two truckloads of pads, equipment and training materials.

Now he wants to put fans in the seats at Patterson High School, where his team hosts this season's first game against the defending national champion Brooklyn Kings Sunday at 1 p.m.

"The best part is that these guys are out here playing the game they love for the fun of it," said Coldwell. "These guys don't get paid, but every one of them shows up for practice three times a week and they come out and play hard on weekends."

For every dozen guys like Danny Chetelat -- a 32-year-old, 6-foot-2, 200-pound linebacker who describes himself as "an old man" -- there is one like 23-year-old punter Ron Essa, who can still smell the grass of a Sunday in the NFL after averaging 43.7 yards per kick last year with the Bears.

"During the offseason I had tryouts with four clubs -- the Dolphins, the Raiders, the Redskins and the Jets," said Essa, who attended Pace University and lives in Vienna, Va., where he works for a television station during the week. "I've been working out with Mark Moseley and I'm hoping to do well here and get a chance when a team gets an opening. In this case, you just want to keep knocking on doors and let the teams know that you're out here."

The one player on the Bears' roster that knows the sweet taste of NFL play is wide receiver Dave Jackson, who played eight games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987. A Perry Hall graduate of 1983, Jackson played Division II ball at Southeast Missouri State and went to the Bucs as a free agent.

"Those games with Tampa Bay were the best memories of my life," said Jackson, 26, who still longs for one more shot but realizes it's a long one. "I got into the games on special teams but I never caught a pass. Vinny [Testaverde] was a rookie that year and he overthrew me a couple of times."

Chetelat's football career has taken the path of most of the guys who will be on the field this weekend.

"I had a shot with the Colts back in 1979 and I got into one preseason game with the Browns in 1980 against the Oilers," he said. "I had just graduated from the University of Akron and that was my best shot. I don't have any regrets. I just love to play. I think they're going to have to drag me off the field to get me to quit."

Another who didn't quite make it is linebacker Carl Charette, 28, who had a chance with Miami and the N.Y. Jets during the 1986 preseason.

"Everybody around here is still hungry and aggressive because in the back of our minds we all still think we could get one more look, one more shot," said Charette, who has been playing semi-pro ball for five years. "I know we play a good brand of football, at least as good as most Division II schools and some Division I schools. The only thing we lack here is the opportunity to come out all day, every day and practice."

The team is filled with local products including former Towson State quarterback Ron Meehan, who played preseason ball with the Colts and Raiders in the early 1980s, and Hall of Famer Jim Parker's two sons, Brent and David.

"We don't get spoiled here," said David, a 6-2, 275-pound offensive lineman who played three seasons at Maryland after graduating from Woodlawn. "In college we had a dozen trainers, new equipment, just about anything you needed. Here, you just come out with what you've got and do the best you can."

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