City, Poly fans may catch another great play

November 07, 2001|By Gregory Kane

THE Play, they're calling it.

That's how New York Yankees fans are referring to shortstop Derek Jeter's relay of an errant incoming throw to catcher Jorge Posada that prevented the Oakland Athletics from tying the Yanks in Game 3 of their American League playoff series. The Bronx Bombers, who trailed 2-0, won that game and the last two to take the series.

Then they dispatched the Seattle Mariners in the American League Championship Series and took the Arizona Diamondbacks to seven games before losing one of the best World Series to be played in some time.

Granted, Jeter's feat was, well, cute. He ran from his shortstop position to the first base foul line, caught the ball and then flipped it while still on the run to Posada. Not a bad display of athletic prowess. But The Play? Oh, puh-leese.

But that's a New Yorker for you. Those folks feel they invented everything good. But Baltimoreans had The Play long before the 2001 World Series. It didn't even happen in pro sports, but in the now all but neglected City-Poly football classic, which gets under way for the 113th time Saturday at what the media, with either cruel sarcasm or a pathetic stab at dark humor, continue to refer to as PSINet Stadium.

Alumni at City College and Polytechnic Institute - they would be the "City" and "Poly" in question - hope to get at least 10,000 fans in the seats this year. Only 5,200 showed up for last year's game. Attendance of 5,000 to 6,000 fans has been the rule for a while.

It wasn't always that way. Back in the glory days, City and Poly played Thanksgiving Day in Memorial Stadium and routinely drew crowds of more than 30,000. That was at a time when folks around here still loved high school football and before professional football became America's state religion.

Baltimoreans who want to see some good football - and your Ravens haven't been giving you that lately - should be in the stadium Saturday. If you go only because you own the joint, that's reason enough. Your tax dollars paid for it. Tickets for the City-Poly game are $10 a pop. Try getting into your stadium at that price to see the Ravens.

And these young men of City and Poly - who sweated the summer tryouts, who put themselves through grueling after-school practices and then go home and study - will give you bang for your buck. They'll deliver. You might not see anything like The Play, but it might be close. Consider what's happened in recent City-Poly games:

In 1998, Poly's Timmy Frazier fired a 54-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Henry with 35 seconds remaining in the game to beat City, 13-12. But that wasn't The Play.

In 1996, City's Warren Smith grabbed a 28-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left to beat Poly, 26-20. But that wasn't The Play either.

In 1994, Martin Prosper out-leaped City's Warren Smith at the goal line and snared the 12-yard touchdown pass that gave Poly a 7-6 victory. Nope. That wasn't The Play.

In 1993, before 10,000 crazed fans at Morgan State University's Hughes Stadium, Poly's Greg Kyler made an acrobatic, diving, back-of-the-end-zone catch that gave his team a 21-20 victory. But the heart-stopping exquisiteness of Kyler's heroics doesn't qualify as The Play.

No, for The Play - the real one, not what New Yorkers think it is - we have to go back 14 years, to 1987. City had lost 16 straight varsity games to Poly, dating to 1970. Augie Waibel's squad was on such a roll that we poor City alumni were wondering when officials would simply change the name of the annual Turkey Day contest to the Poly-Poly game.

City had gone through some difficult years, losing its status as an elite, citywide school and being reclassified as a zoned school. Academics and athletics suffered, until the school was revamped in 1979 with a focus on college preparation and a new coed student body.

By 1987, City's coach George Petrides and his players felt they could once again compete with Poly. City led 26-22 late in the fourth quarter and faced a third-down situation. If they turned the ball over to Poly, Waibel's offense - which specialized in a thing foreign to the Ravens' offense called "scoring" - might give Poly the lead.

City quarterback Chris Smith handed off to running back Paul Williams who ran back, and back and back, with Poly defenders in pursuit. Facing a huge loss in yards, Williams heaved the ball toward the line of scrimmage, into the waiting arms of Smith.

The quarterback dashed toward Poly's goal line and dived the final three or four yards into the end zone and ended years of frustration for City alums. The final score was City 34, Poly 22.

That, friends, was The Play, the only one worthy of the name. You may or may not see another one just like it Saturday. But you'll never know unless you show up.

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