BACK IN THE BAD days - when the Baltimore Ravens were on that five-game, touchdownless skid where they lost three straight games, and few of us, no matter what we claim now, figured they'd make the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl - I mused to myself:
"Why don't the Ravens make Augie Waibel their offensive coordinator?"
I was joking, of course. A little. Today, Baltimoreans will watch the Ravens either beat the New York Giants to become Super Bowl champs or lose and be mere runners-up. Nearly every television in the city will be tuned to the game. But will we remember who, for years, was really Mr. Football in this town?
Waibel was a true Baltimore sports legend. He was the second such to pass from our midst in less than two weeks. Waibel died of a heart attack on Jan. 6, five days after Sun sports columnist John Steadman died of cancer.
Tributes to both men were warm and glowing. Steadman's funeral brought out many mourners and quite a few celebrities. Waibel's had fewer celebrities, but the turnout? Let's just say that St. Ursula's Roman Catholic Church in Parkville, no small edifice, was filled to capacity, as was its parking lot, which is also quite large.
For 31 glorious high school football seasons, Waibel coached Polytechnic Institute's teams to victory. By the time he retired in 1997, his total wins came to 279, second in the state. Bucky Kimmett, who was an assistant to Waibel at Poly, estimated that Waibel coached some 1,600 boys in his career.
Kimmett read through Waibel's resume at the funeral: 31 seasons at Poly, four at Edmondson, the victory total, etc. But saying that Waibel coached four seasons at Edmondson is akin to saying that Michael Jordan played basketball for a while.
Few of the tributes to Waibel mentioned his record at Edmondson: 32 wins, four losses, and a 27-game winning streak that, the record might show, no Baltimore high school coach has equaled. His Edmondson teams went undefeated and untied from 1963 through 1965. The 1965 team was one of the best ever to play in this town. That was the year City College had an undefeated team that beat at least one nationally ranked team, Washington's St. John's. The best high school football game never played in Baltimore is the one not played between the '65 Edmondson and City squads.
That was because at the time City played in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference and Edmondson played in the supposedly weaker B Conference. In 1966, Edmondson moved to the A Conference. City's team, still powerful with several returnees from the '65 squad - including a quarterback named Kurt Schmoke - was heavily favored when it played Edmondson. Waibel's team, with a squad depleted by graduation, held City's high-scoring offense to one touchdown but lost, 8-0.
Waibel had Edmondson prepared for that game. Preparation was his passion. His Edmondson teams didn't beat opponents. They steamrolled over them. The trend continued after he arrived at Poly for the 1967 season. Other MSA coaches got a glimpse of what was in store for them that year.
City and Edmondson, not City and Poly, engaged in a head-to-head race for the A Conference title that year. Edmondson beat City. Poly had lost to Calvert Hall and Patterson and was out of the championship running when Waibel's new team met his old one. They beat Edmondson, 22-20, to give City a shot at a co-championship with Edmondson. All City had to do was beat Poly in the annual game on Thanksgiving Day. We City boys figured that was a given. Poly had lost to Calvert Hall and Patterson, teams we had beaten by 30 and 28 points, respectively. Poly's victory over Edmondson? Luck, we figured, forgetting how well Waibel prepared his teams.
With our guys carrying a 20-0 lead into the fourth quarter, we City fans figured our guys were on easy street. Then Poly scored a touchdown on a reverse, followed by a two-point conversion. It was 20-8. Then Poly scored on a punt return and another two-point conversion. They got the ball back when they recovered an onside kick.
"We had time for about two plays," Waibel remembered nearly 30 years later. "A pass to Gary Jenkins went just off his fingertips."
City escaped with a 20-16 victory in what might have been the greatest football game - that includes pro and college - ever played in Baltimore. A classmate of mine, Constantine Demos, said it seemed like Poly wanted to win more than our guys did. I said it wasn't that. It was that Waibel had his guys so, well, prepared.
And as a man so committed to preparation, he'd found the right school. That's why he lasted so long at Poly, a school with a long and cherished history of preparing its students academically and physically.
"He loved Poly and what it stood for," Kimmett, a City College graduate, said of Waibel. Perhaps Baltimoreans, in their day of passion for football, will take a few moments to remember him.