People always talk about where they were when they heard Elvis had died or Kennedy was shot or more recently when the Twin Towers were attacked. I could easily answer those questions, but being a coach, I remember where I was during significant sporting events just as clearly.
My father was a postmaster of a very small town. Postal regulations only were in effect when the postal inspector came once a year. I was behind the mailboxes listening to a very scratchy radio on October 13, 1960 when Bill Mazeroski hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Yankees. Did you know that was the first World Series that ended in game seven with a walk-off home run? Here’s a good trivia question – How many World Series came and went without a seventh game walk-off home run? The answer is 103.
I was a freshman in college in October of 1968, skipping a class, when Bob Gibson struck out a record 17 Detroit Tigers in game one of the World Series. It didn’t take a World Series game for me to skip a class my freshman year at Kearney State College. Northwest’s new president, Dr. John Jasinski, wasn’t close to being as happy on that day as his beloved Tigers were shut out. However, the Tigers became the first major league baseball team to come back from a 3 – 1 game deficit and beat Gibson and the Cardinals in game seven. This is good baseball trivia.
One of my favorite sports memories came in the basement of my uncle’s Lincoln, Neb., home on Thanksgiving Day in 1971. We listened to Lyle Bremser describe Johnny Rogers’ punt return that led my home state Huskers to a win over Oklahoma in the “Game of the Century.” Bremser’s call went like this, “Holy, moly! Man, woman, and child! Did that just put them in the aisle! Johnny “The Jet” Rogers just tore them loose from their shoes!”
I say all this as Northwest nears a fifth straight appearance in the NCAA II National Title Game in Florence, Alabama. I remember exactly what I was doing during each of the past four national title games.
December 10, 2005: I watched with much sadness when Josh Lamberson’s final completion of his career came up four yards short of a national championship. My basketball team didn’t play until that night, so I watched the game at home. I especially was rooting for Josh. He grew up four miles outside of my hometown of Clatonia, Neb. I remember him as a little kid mowing down hitters in Little League baseball games. His dad, Wes, later would become my student coach at Doane College. I hurt with him and his family on those final four yards.
December 16, 2006: My basketball team didn’t play that day, but like any good coach with an open Saturday, I was recruiting at the Omaha Benson High School gym. It was a game between Omaha Westside and Millard North High Schools. Shelly Martin scored 11 points to lead Westside over Millard North. Shelly is now a Bearcat and Millard North is Gentry’s high school. I kept calling my wife, Michele, and my son, Sam, to get score updates. Sadly, Grand Valley held us out of the end zone by 22 yards on our final drive to win their second straight national championship.
December 15, 2007: This is one I will never forget. Northwest faced a new opponent in Valdosta State for the national championship. My team and I were in the Kansas City International Airport as the game began. The Bearcats took a commanding 14-3 halftime lead as we boarded the plane. Of course, we had to shut off our cell phones. Everyone was sure that when we landed in Honolulu nine hours later, we would be celebrating a national championship. This time, the final agonizing 30 seconds cost Northwest a 25 – 20 loss.
December 13, 2008: The conference schedule began early in 2008. As we boarded a Bearcat bus for a trip to UNO, the football team was locked in a scoreless tie with Minnesota Duluth. As the bus neared Glenwood, Iowa, Duluth finally broke through after a Bearcat turnover for a 7 – 0 halftime lead. After we ate a pregame meal, the turnovers had piled up for Northwest and it looked hopeless with a 21 – 0 deficit. However, as the Mavericks were beating us, the football team made a furious rally, only to lose 21 – 14.
I just went through all that pain to finish this week’s blog on the most memorable Northwest football game of all-time. When I arrived on the Northwest campus in 1999, the Bearcats were celebrating their first national championship. A second straight national championship didn’t look promising when UNO easily handled the Bearcats in the second game of the season.
However, as we all are accustomed, Northwest rallied and faced Carson Newman in the national title game. My basketball team was playing Briar Cliff in a tournament at Rockhurst University. As we were eating a pregame meal at the Italian Gardens in downtown Kansas City, the football game began. I followed it as long as I could on a television in the Rockhurst student union. Again, it didn’t look good. When I joined my team in the locker room, the Bearcats trailed by 16 points heading into the final quarter.
John Winters, the father of one of my players, Amanda Winters, kept giving us the score while we coached from the bench. First we tied the game, and then the overtimes began. Finally, at halftime of our game, almost five hours since it began, Northwest recovered a fumble to win 58-52 in four overtimes. By the way, we beat Briar Cliff, also.
Last Saturday, we were playing Metro State in Denver, Colorado. I took Sam and my grandson, Jacob, to Colorado with me. As the game was going on, Jacob and Sam were in constant contact with Michele on my cell phone. Sometime in the second half, I see Jacob and Sam go crazy. I thought, “Wow, they’re really into the basketball game.” I should have known. They were celebrating Tyler Roach’s blocked extra point.
Where will you be this Saturday? Or how about next Saturday? I’ll bet Sam’s on my cell phone and he’s not talking about basketball.