Monday, December 04, 2006

The Cardinals Come Up Big in the Big Game

As you read last time out, the Greenwich Cardinals won the 2006 Class LL Championship with an impressive 28-7 victory over the Southington Blue Knights. For those not familiar with Connecticut football, that means the Cardinals are the state champions for their class. Does that mean that they are the overall state champions? Not exactly. Connecticut has six classes (LL, L, MM, M, SS, S). Then there are two polls of interest – the New Haven Registers’ media poll (no, I’m not part of that), and The Day of New London’s coach’s poll. More often than not, the same team gets the nod in both of those polls, and for pride purposes, they can claim the title of the state’s best. It seems quite likely that there could be a split poll this year, and the Cardinals should be one of them, if not the only one.

Apparently, those who think they ARE high school football in Connecticut have deemed Ansonia the number one team. I, and a few other media types that I spoke with, think that is nuts. Look, Ansonia had a great year, and won the Class S title in impressive fashion. That being said, I give Ansonia a little more than a half before the Cardinals pull away in any hypothetical game. That is not to demean what Ansonia did – they were truly incredible and deserve that piece of the state championship pie. I just think too many people are looking at what happened on Thanksgiving Day too strongly. Again – the Cardinals did not need to beat Staples that morning. Staples, on the other hand, HAD to beat the Cardinals. Greenwich played with a lot of injuries, and so on.

Here’s the deal – if you saw what I saw in New Haven on Saturday night, then you know just how awesome the Cardinals were. In fact, the 28-7 score doesn’t even indicate how much of a blowout it could have been. If the Cardinals don’t make what I considered to be a risky, even foolish decision before halftime, then it’s possibly 31-7. If Paul Clements doesn’t make a wonderfully athletic play to get the ball to Garry Coles, Southington might not even get on the scoreboard.

As always, these are just “ifs.”

Let’s get to the final Super Six/FCIAC Five vote. No surprises here:

1) Greenwich (12-1, Last Week – 1) – We all know how much I agonized over picking the Cardinals to be my top team last time out. Now, with a state title, and the notion that no opponent would have beaten Big Red on Saturday, I feel comfortable handing the number one seed to coach Rich Albonizio and company. More about them in a bit.
2) Staples (10-2, 2) – So you might be saying, “now hold on. Staples lost to Bunnell for the state championship (in Class L) and lost to New Canaan in the regular season.” You, dear reader, would be correct. But just like those who will vote in the state polls, this is about opinion and gut feeling. My opinion is that, when all is said and done, Staples was better. An extra point was the difference between Staples and New Canaan, and a two-point conversion was the difference between the Wreckers and Bunnell. Congratulations to everyone in Westport for a great year.
3) New Canaan (11-2, 3) – Let’s welcome the Rams back to the state championship table for the first time since 2002. A tremendous year, with a visit to the FCIAC Championship, capped off by a whacking of Maloney (a feel-good story) in the Class MM championship. Some in the media whined that Lou Marinelli and company ran it up on Maloney. They beat them big, no doubt about it, but Coach M was one of the proponents of the still-idiotic 20-point rule. I don’t think Marinelli was running up the score, so stop with the talk of the Rams being “classless.”

From here, nothing will change (and why should it?):
4) Bridgeport Central
5) Trinity Catholic
6) Wilton

Let’s get back to the Cardinals. I’m going to be selfish for a minute. My first contact with the Greenwich football program came in 1999, when I was asked to be the sideline reporter for WGCH in the Cardinals semi-final game against Fairfield Prep. With frozen cheeks on a bitter night at Boyle Stadium, I kept track of a tremendous performance by Jimmy Henry. I missed out on the Cardinals championship win over Southington that year due to a prior commitment (I think I was invited to provide analysis).

Move ahead to 2000 – my first year as the play-by-play announcer for Cardinals football on WGCH. The Cardinals go all the way to a state championship appearance and lose to now-Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky and Shelton. Part of me, always somewhat superstitious, thinks I brought a jinx with me – one that would last through championship losses in 2001, 2002 (the one that got away), and 2004. Part of me assumed that I would never get to call a state championship for any of the Greenwich teams. Finally, on December 2, 2006, I was at the microphone for Greenwich’s big night. I’m very proud to be the smallest part of this team, along with Ricky, Nick, Zach, and Sean. We never played a down, or went through a practice, or cooked the meals, or washed the uniforms, and so on, but we were there for every play.

I went down to the field after the game to grab a few interviews. I wanted to talk to Nick Edwards, Jake Clarke and Sean Bannon –three former GYFL players who I interviewed after they won the senior championship in 2002. I wanted to interview them in this spot also. I also talked, briefly, with coach Rich Albonizio, before handing the microphone off to Nick, his former player, who had done all of the interviews all year. It was his moment to share with his former coach and teammates. Off the air, I told Coach Al how proud I was to be the announcer for a state champion. I have called others – Harrison’s win in 2002, and of course, Brunswick’s NEPSAC title in 2005, but I’ve long-been associated with the Cardinals. That’s what made this so special, and I mean that with no offense to anybody else.

The atmosphere was fun among the state champs. Players kept falling to the turf, doing snow angles, and having their pictures taken. Coach Wayne Gioffre was so emotional that he wouldn’t do an interview with Nick, but just wanted to hug his players. I chatted with several of the coaches, besides Coach Al and Gioffre. Most of all, while Nick did the talking, I watched and enjoyed the looks on their faces.

Oh, one more thing – you can rip Rich Albonizio all you want for play calling. Heck, I was very skeptical after the Cardinals ran the ball just before halftime with no time outs, and barely got a last play off at the gun, only to have Joe Poletsky run into the line. Part of me wondered if the Cards had squandered a chance there, and if the first half was their chance to make a statement. Had the blown the state championship?. Part of me wondered if the Blue Knights trotted off at 7-7, thinking they were really leading the game. But Coach Al’s play calling, and the execution by the offense to start the second half, gave the Cardinals the lead that they would not squander. Ever. So with all of that said, Coach Albonizio now has three state titles – one at Trinity Catholic, and two with the Cardinals. I know that makes him 2-4 in the championship game, but it’s still two championships in one of the state’s toughest jobs. He’s done a heck of a job with that team. The coach who couldn’t win the big game became the first coach to win the FCIAC and CIAC since 1994. That’s a winner, folks. Enough said.

By the way, and unfortunately, it didn’t’ get mentioned during our call, but what a nice move by the Cards to NOT throw the Gatorade bucket on Coach Al. This tired tradition once in a while gets a fresh taste, and it got one here. They dunked Brian Kennedy, THE man of Cardinal Stadium and Greenwich Athletics. To me, that was a classy show of respect for the leader of the behind-the scenes people.

Personally, a tip of the hat to Greenwich Athletic Director Gus Lindine for handing two sideline passes to me. As always, the CIAC wasn’t exactly running at top speed. For one, it was hard to find media credentials. For another, the gate people supposedly didn’t have us on their list. When I said that the CIAC (pronounced “Sea-Yack”) had spoken to WGCH and authorized us to be there, the man at the gate said, “this isn’t being run by the ‘Sea-Yack.’ This is the C-I-A-C.” Can’t make this stuff up.

Lastly, and most importantly, there are the players. The coach’s, fans, parents, teachers, media, and support staffs are all tremendous, but there’s only one team. And it’s the players that make it happen. Led by captains Sean Bannon, Dan Bodson, Charles Williams, and TJ Cameron, this group now has a bond that they will share forever. They also share history – as the first team to win both the FCIAC and CIAC titles since Connecticut began the semifinal system. They are a group the personified heart and character. When they lost Cameron to an injury, they regrouped with Nick Edwards and Jim Dunster as their halfbacks. When Edwards, Bannon, and Dunster all went down, they stumbled, but came back strong. With Bannon and Dunster back for the championship game, they were crowned winners.

They – and I – will never forget it.


frank said...

Rob: you are top shelf. we are lucky to have doing cardinal football broadcasts.

Rob Adams said...

Frank - thanks a lot. Hey - I still have some CD's for you.