Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010
By Joe Collins
This is a guarantee: dreams will come true for hundreds of football players this weekend.
Its high school football championship time in Illinois once again. Teams from all sorts of backgrounds from the corn belt to Chicagos city streets will fight for the right to hoist a state trophy in Champaign. The 1A-4A games are on Friday, while 5A, 6A, 7A and 8A teams get their crack on Saturday. Some games will be remebered for the hard tackles. Others will be remembered for the last-minute touchdowns and clutch kicks.
And if any game can produce a fraction of the bizarre heroics seen in the Good Gosh Almighty game, consider it a success.
This Friday marks the 16th anniversary of one of the wildest, heart-stopping games (or heartbreaking, depending how you look at it) in high school football history: the 1994 Texas Class 5A Region II semifinal game between Plano East and John Tyler. Over 30,000 fans packed Texas Stadium the former home of the Dallas Cowboys and witnessed an absolute Tilt-O-Whirl of a battle with a remarkable finish. It led to national attention, which included The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and, in a roundabout way, the 1999 movie Varsity Blues.
Plano East came into the game ranked 2 in the state, with John Tyler right behind at 3. The two undefeated teams traded scores and hits over the first three quarters before John Tyler blew the game wide open in the fourth. A 35-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown put the Lions from J-T ahead 41-17 with 3:03 to go.
And then this happened.
(Spoiler Alert: Please make sure you watch that clip until the very last second!)
It was arguably one of the best (well, at least the most breathless) finishes to a football game in history. Try finding another game that featured...
Five touchdowns in three minutes
Three consecutive onside kick recoveries by the kicking team
A 97-yard kickoff return for touchdown that served as equal parts winning the lottery and a steel-toed kick to the gutdepending on what team colors were in your corner.
A jubilant team of (ahem) unbiased TV announcers becoming overnight stars.
Denny Garver, a local coach, was one of those announcers in the booth that night. He made phrases like Break out the Oreos baby!, Good gosh almighty! and They did it! They did it! They did it! momentary household terms. Garver was teamed with fellow announcers Eddy Clinton and longtime Texas high school football coach Mike Zoffuto on Plano's TeleCable Game of the Week.
I had never called a game before, Garver said in a telephone interview from last week. We werent making any money, we were volunteers. We figured if the viewers thought we were having a good time, they will as well. The game was unbelievable. People still talk about it, and I really can't believe that people do.
John Tyler won 48-44 and it made front page news in Texas the next morning. But that was only the beginning for Garver and company.
"I get a phone call from David Letterman and he wants me to be on the show," Garver said. "I said if he wanted me, he would also need to have Eddy. David only wanted me. Then Leno calls. They wanted both of us. I told them we would be there if there was some Lone Star Beer waiting for us. Sure enough, we get there, and there's a tub of Lone Star Beer. It was really special. We ended up being on about a hundred radio shows when it was all said and done."
A few years later, production on the movie "Varsity Blues" began in Georgetown, about three hours south of Plano. When the production staff needed a couple of announcers, Garver --and broadcast partner Clinton-- had their phones ring again.
"They told us just to be natural and be yourselves," Garver said. "We had no lines. We just started doing stuff off the cuff. They just told us to react to the plays. That was pretty cool. We shot from six in the evening to six in the morning. They were very professional."
Garver and Clinton became overnight sensations, going from broadcast volunteers at a high school playoff game to appearances on The Tonight Show and landing announcer roles in the movie "Varsity Blues" with James Van Der Beek and Jon Voight. But in my interview with Garver, he frequently mentioned that he never wanted to be bigger than the kids on the field. He even called himself "the biggest idiot" out there in Texas Stadium. I wouldn't say idiotic. Down home, maybe. Whatever the case, the game continues to be a conversation point at this time of year. The YouTube clip alone (shown above) has close to 1.5 million hits.
Denny Garver is now a baseball coach at Plano West High School. He helped coach the 2008 team to a Texas state title. Ironically, one of the players on that team, pitcher Robert Huber--who now attends Duke University, is the nephew of Jeff Whitley...the quarterback of Plano East from that classic 1994 contest. Garver has been giving DVDs from the broadcast of that game to kids and adults alike, presented as a sort of motivational tool.
"It wasn't so much about our call...but what people can learn from this. I always show this to people as reason to why they should never quit. You always have to play to the final whistle, the final buzzer or to the final out. This is why you never give up."