by Chuck Sullivan
The craziest ending to a football game I’ve ever seen came nearly 20 years ago at Nickerson Field in Boston, when North Quincy beat Arlington in a Massachusetts high school Super Bowl matchup in 1992.
This particular game was actually on the undercard. It was the Division 1B matchup that was played before a Xaverian team led by future NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck faced Brockton, which at the time, had a pipeline to major college programs.
But at the end of the day, all anyone could talk about was the North Quincy-Arlington game.
To be honest, I remember little about the game except for the final play and that I was working in the press box during my senior year at Boston University. And even as I think about the particular play, I wonder if it possibly occurred the way I think it did.
The short version of the story has the game beginning on a clear, but chilly, late-fall afternoon in New England. But because it was December in Boston, a few snowflakes began to fall midway through the game, and by the time the fourth quarter started, it was snowing heavily.
North Quincy had built a 14-9 lead and Arlington had one last chance in the final minutes. The Spy Ponders – one of the better nicknames in sports, by the way – advanced to the North Quincy 39 and had one last shot at a Hail Mary to win the game.
The final pass was a typical heave toward the end zone – a crowd of players went up and somehow, through the snowflakes and raised arms of the North Quincy defense, an Arlington receiver came down with the ball. The exact words of the reporter next to me in the press box were, “Holy <expletive>! He caught it!”
Indeed, he did catch it. One official immediately signaled touchdown – a Hail Mary pass to win the state title. Arlington players stormed the field in celebration.
The side judge, however, came in to mark the spot. And once he did so, he needed to literally brush the snow off the Astroturf to see if the ball had actually crossed the goal line. Only then did the referee signal that the receiver came up inches short. North Quincy would win, creating the unusual circumstance – at least for a few seconds – of two teams’ celebrating a championship at the same time.
The point to the story, other than to revisit an incredible finish, is to illustrate the impact weather can have on the game of football. Teams across the Northeast –and for that matter, the BIG EAST – are dealing with that this week in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Varying weather conditions have always been part of the fabric of football on every level. Just this year, Louisville picked up a win at Southern Miss in a steady downpour in a game that created standing water on the field. The field more resembled a slip-and-slide than a gridiron, but the game was played as scheduled.
USF picked up a season-opening win at Notre Dame last year in a game that took six hours and included two weather delays due to frequent lightning. Connecticut’s season-opener last season was postponed when Rentschler Field was earmarked as a distribution center for commodities after Hurricane Irene hit New England.
The mindset of the football coach and player is to adjust to the weather and play on. But even veteran coaches had to concede that, when it came to this year’s hurricane, safety had to come first.
“The weather is unpredictable,” said Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni Monday, before the storm hit its peak in the Northeast. “We can’t practice. The facility is actually closed, so there are no meetings, no film. We’ve got to hang in there, hope this thing comes through and lets us get going again.”
Temple, which like Connecticut, is playing on the road this week, took precautionary measures against the storm in the way of preparation. The Owls practiced Sunday night, anticipating that a Monday workout would not be possible.
“We got them in on Sunday, went through the tape from the prior game, got out on the field, did a few things and gave them (Monday) off. That was a good decision. It worked out well for us.”
The Owls normally conduct morning practices, but had to wait for conditions to improve before they could get back on the field Tuesday evening.
“We’re used to adapting around here,” Addazio said Tuesday. “We’re just going to adapt to it and get ourselves back on schedule Wednesday afternoon.”
No state was impacted by the storm more than New Jersey, but the state’s flagship football team caught something of a break with its schedule. Rutgers is idle this weekend, which left the Scarlet Knights with two weeks to prepare for a Nov. 10 date against Army. But more importantly, it gave the overwhelmingly New Jersey-based roster a chance to tend to personal needs during the storm.
“I think the last time we had a hurricane, two years ago, it took me about two-and-a-half hours to get here and I only live six miles away,” said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. “I actually can see it first-hand and that’s why we made the decision we made (letting his players stay home rather than attend Monday’s film study). I think it’s in the best interest of everybody to make sure they’re safe first.
“We have a bye week, so we don’t have a game to necessarily plan for, so we’ll be able to get done all of the things we had planned as we go through the rest of the week and make sure everyone is safe in the meantime.”
It turns out that, even though they’re preparing for games against the likes of Louisville, USF and Notre Dame, Mother Nature can be just as formidable an opponent.
Just ask the Arlington High Spy Ponders.
Chuck Sullivan is the Director of Communications for the BIG EAST Conference