Once foggy notion, City's glory breaks through clouds

JOHN EISENBERG

November 02, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

The extra point went up into the fog that cool November night, carrying the season for two teams. City College and Calvert Hall were unbeaten and tied atop the MSA standings, and tied at 20 with a minute to play. The newspapers said 10,000 people were there.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," George Petrides was saying as dusk settled on the football field at City yesterday. "We couldn't see the kick. Not a lick. We didn't know if it was good or not."

Petrides was in uniform for City that night when a soccer player from Calvert Hall named Phil Tagliaferri put the extra point up into the fog -- and watched it come bouncing back off the right upright. The teams finished tied for the MSA title.

You can say you don't believe in divine intervention, but exactly 25 years later -- almost to the day, mind you -- the same teams brought the same, unbeaten records to their game at City yesterday. The only thing missing was the fog.

This time Calvert Hall was ranked No. 1 and City was ranked No. 2, and the crowd filled the bleachers and spilled down the sidelines, ringing one end zone on a cool, overcast day. Petrides still was on the sidelines, in his 17th year as City's coach.

If the game had come down to an extra point, well, I would have gone back to believing in the Tooth Fairy. Anyway, it didn't. Calvert Hall was no match for City this time. The Knights' quickness was the difference in a 20-3 win that put them at 7-0 and established them as the team to beat in town in 1991.

That's the way it always used to be, of course. The way it was 50 years ago. The way it was 25 years ago. City is the one school in town with a long-standing football tradition that truly sings. There was the famous trip to Miami in 1941. There were the George Young years in the '60s, with Kurt Schmoke quarterbacking.

City was part and parcel of this town's football on that night in 1966 when the extra point hit the upright. And while it isn't right to say the Knights are all the way back to that -- not with suburban schools winning state titles, and with Poly always tough -- it is impossible not to see the Knights' upward mobility.

It all started in the breakthrough year that was 1987, when they went 11-0 and finally beat Poly after 17 straight Thanksgiving losses, when you could finally see the school coming out of the all-encompassing disaster that was the previous decade.

Now they're unbeaten and No. 1 again with three games to go, and the thing is, Petrides didn't really expect all this until next year. Only 13 of the 35 players who suited up yesterday were seniors. His splendid quarterback, Terrence Suber, is a junior. Nine of the 11 offensive starters are juniors or sophomores.

"We're definitely getting some good players here," Petrides was saying on the field after the game yesterday, as the crowd moved toward the parking lot behind the old brick castle of a building on Loch Raven. "We have some real nice young players."

It's been a long time coming. The truth is City fell off the football map not long after that night in the fog, shortly after George Young left in 1969 and the enrollment was bushwhacked to try to maintain the school's academic standing.

It had long been a fine, notable school for the liberal arts, but then everything fell apart in the '70s and suddenly enrollment was collapsing and parents were afraid to send their kids there. The place even shut down for two years while the building was fixed up.

The collapse of the football team was a comparative footnote, but it certainly was symbolic. And now the school has come so far back, bustling and thriving again, a place where people are trying hard to do the right thing. And look, here comes the football team, too.

"All I really wanted to do was get City back into the [MSA] A Conference [it had been dropped to B] and get them back to playing City football," Petrides was saying. "I'm not going to stand here and take the credit. There's been a lot of people helping and supporting."

The game is totally different now from when he played, naturally. Back then teams had August training camps in the country, and many coaches were disciplinarians. It's a lot looser now. Yesterday, Petrides wore shorts and his players had nicknames on the back of their black uniforms. Cool Chuck. Chewbacca. A-Train. Snake. Fridge.

It's the same game, though, and the Knights play it well. Any well-informed prediction had them beating Calvert Hall. Too fast to the corner. Too strong in the lines. Too much talent, period. "We knew they were good like this," Calvert Hall coach Bill Mackley said.

So after the final whistle, with City's fans chanting "You're No. 2" to Calvert Hall's rooters, Petrides stood on the field talking about things coming together so well, such a fine season unfolding. The team to beat, again. After all these years, again.

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