Fall evokes memories of gridiron glory

October 26, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

AH, AUTUMN in Baltimore! Sometimes there are warm, sunny, Indian summer days. Others are overcast and chilly. But whatever the weather, there's always ...

High school football!

And in every high school football season, there's at least one game that's the nonpareil, that stands out above all the others. This year's game pitted undefeated Gilman, ranked No. 1 in the Baltimore area and the state (and No. 16 nationally by USA Today) against undefeated Calvert Hall, ranked No. 3 in these parts.

The game promised to be a classic clash of titans, which Calvert Hall (nicknamed simply "The Hall" to true Baltimoreans) should be used to by now. Wasn't it a Calvert Hall team involved in the 1981 duel of basketball giants that saw the Cardinals beat Dunbar by three points in triple overtime?

Wasn't it 36 years ago that the football clash of titans pitted The Hall against Baltimore City College, then the perennial Monsters of The Alameda on area high school gridirons?

On Nov. 12, 1966, 10,000 fans jammed into The Hall's stadium to watch a City team that hadn't lost since late 1964 test the Cardinals, who went into the game with a 6-1 record. With only one game left for each team to play, the winner would clinch the A Conference championship of the now-defunct but sorely missed Maryland Scholastic Association.

City still had several players left from its 1965 squad, which had more of a reign of terror than a football season. Washington-area powerhouses Dematha and St. John's fell 27-12 and 32-7, respectively. Good Calvert Hall and Poly teams fared worse. The Hall took it on the chin 50-12. Poly got its drubbing Thanksgiving Day, 52-6. Those were heady days to be a City Knight.

Current City coach George Petrides was on that 1966 squad, as was a fellow member of my sophomore class, halfback/safety Greg Wright. Oh yeah, and some guy by the name of Kurt Schmoke was the quarterback.

Last Saturday's game brought back memories for us old-timer high school football fans. Gilman's squad took the place of City, with quarterback Ambrose Wooden reminding many of a young Schmoke dashing about the football field.

Calvert Hall took the place of, well, Calvert Hall, of course, since big games like this seem to be The Hall's forte.

In the 1966 game, The Hall scored first. City came back for two touchdowns to take the lead. Calvert Hall scored again to tie the score and was driving for another deep in City territory when Wright intercepted a pass and scooted 78 yards in the opposite direction for a touchdown.

With City leading 20-14, The Hall blocked a City punt and Rick Sterba, the Cardinals quarterback, hit Jim Fallon with a 38-yard touchdown pass. If Calvert Hall kicker Phil Tagliaferri hadn't missed the extra point attempt, City's unbeaten string would have ended right there.

Thus one of the best high school football games ever played in these parts ended in a 20-20 tie. City and The Hall shared the MSA A Conference title that year. Thirty-six years later, Calvert Hall was trying to upend Gilman in a race for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championship.

As in 1966, the Calvert Hall field, now named Paul Angelo Russo Stadium, was jammed to capacity. Gilman took the field in their dark blue jerseys, much as City's Knights had donned their black jerseys all those years ago. The Cardinals wore white jerseys with gold helmets and pants.

At exactly 1:03 p.m., Gilman kicked off to Calvert Hall. Would fans see a repeat of City-Calvert Hall, 1966? Mr. Wooden and Co. made it clear early they had no such plans. Within minutes after Gilman got the ball, Wooden ripped off a 43-yard run to the Calvert Hall two-yard line. It wasn't the first time this season that Gilman's opponents had to wave bye-bye to a streaking Wooden.

Gilman scored the first two touchdowns and led 21-6 at the half. Calvert Hall made it close by scoring a touchdown in the last seconds, but by then the game had been decided. It was a good contest, but not on a par with the 1966 one that pitted the best public school football team against the best private one.

We'll never see another game like the one in 1966. By discouraging public-private school contests, Baltimore's public schools have shot themselves in the foot, destroying any opportunity for really competitive play. The best football in the area these days is played at either private schools or the surrounding counties' public schools.

The academic gap between most city public schools and private ones is already apparent. Will there be an athletic one as well?

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