Gerald Carbone: The Glow of the Friday Night Lights
Saturday, November 02, 2013
Breath visibly puffed as the band members withdrew instruments from their lips and sang: “Hey-aaaaay baby! I wanna know! Will you be my girl.”
In the glow of the Friday night lights two of the best high school football teams in Rhode Island smacked heads to determine gridiron superiority: unbeaten Bishop Hendricken, wearing Kelly green, vs. the once-defeated Portsmouth Patriots in red-and-white-and-blue. I had seen an online listing for this game and, seeing how Bishop Hendricken High is two miles from my house, determined to head out for a night’s cheap entertainment.
Bishop Hendricken’s built at the edge of a cornfield, and the stadium looks like the football equivalent of Field of Dreams. Bright lights flooded the field, but the edges were so dark that I could barely see the woman who sold me a ticket for $5.
I chose a spot near the 50-yardline and plunked down on a long metal bench. Cold shocked my backside. So that’s why the veteran spectators perched on cushions or woolen blankets.
Beside me sat a woman introduced by her daughter-in-law as an 81-year-old former high school cheerleader for the Westerly Bulldogs. She must have been a senior in the late 1940s. As I recalled, Westerly fielded some great post-war teams.
“Oh yes,” she said. “Did you know Coach Mudge?”
I had not, but have since Googled him and learned that he was one tough man. He lost a lung to childhood illness but that did not stop him from being a two-way player for Rhode Island State. He played all 60 minutes the first time State, now URI, beat Brown, a national powerhouse in days of leather helmets.
“Is she talking about the Westerly Bulldogs again?” he daughter-in-law teased.
The sound system at this field of dreams was broken. Every time a penalty flag flew the referee, the one in the officiating crew wearing a white hat, engaged in a game of charades to indicate the offense.
Holding, he gestured, clasping palm round wrist, an easy one. He waved like a baseball umpire making a safe call: Penalty declined. Then he made a chopping motion with both hands: Intentional grounding. Portsmouth accepted that penalty, backing Hendricken deep near the glow of an end zone scoreboard.
But Portsmouth could not hold back the Hendricken Hawks. Almost every-other time he touched the ball Hendricken’s No. 22, Remington Blue, ran for a touchdown. I had never seen anything like this. Blue possessed a rabbit’s quickness but looked too short to be so good. A scouting report listed him as 5-foot-9, but on a field of 6-footers he looked little.
No one said so but we were all wondering whether we were watching a talent who will become a household name, or whether the brutes of Division 1 college football would eat this kid up.
Blue ripped off a long, loping touchdown run to make the score 34-14 and his coach took him out. Without the anticipation of watching Blue run I lost interest. I stood to say bye to my new friend who had cheered Coach Mudge’s teams in the 1940s. My legs felt so heavy from cold I almost toppled over.
Where the lights faded at the margins of the field a steady stream of exiting teenagers lightly passed me by, kicking dry leaves as they pressed on into the night.
Gerald M. Carbone is the author of Nathanael Greene, and was a journalist for twenty-five years, mostly for the Providence Journal. He holds a Master's in Public Humanities from Brown University and has won two of American journalism's most prestigious prizes--the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award and a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University. He lives in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Related Slideshow: Ten Greatest Days in New England Sports History
February 1, 2004
Patriots 2004 Super Bowl
In 2004, the Patriots captured their third Super Bowl in four years. The win put New England in the group of the small number of dynasty teams in the NFL, joining the Packers, Steelers and 49ers.
Super Bowl XXXVIII finished with the Patriots holding on to a 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers.
The game was also famous for the infamous wardrobe malfunction involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
December 21, 2010
Longest Winning Streak
The UConn women broke UCLA men's streak of the most consecutive wins in a season.
They dominated their sport like no other and on December 21, 2010, UConn's 93-62 win over Florida State put UConn women in the #1 position.
Later, Sports Illustrated named UConn women as the #3 greatest dynasty in sports in the decade behind only the Lakers and Patriots.
June 12, 1984
Celtics v. Lakers
The 1980's were the glory days of the NBA and the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers were the two teams that elevated the play and excitement of the era.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were the superstars and were the feature players. Their rivalry started in the NCAA finals when Magic dazzled and Bird fizzled.
On June 12, 1984, the Celtics won game seven, 111-102 with Cedric Maxwell leading the Celts in scoring with 24 points and a team leading 8 assists. Bird was MVP of the series.
October 27, 2004
Curse of the Bambino
In 2004, after the dramatic historic come from behind win against the Yankees, the Red Sox went on to the World Series and swept the Cardinals 4-0, to win the first title since 1918.
The World Series win broke the proverbial "Curse of the Bambino" which had been in place since the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
November 23, 1984
BC v. Miami
There could not have been a more unlikely superstar and there could not have been a bigger stage to pull off the most dramatic win when BC beat the defending National Champions. Quarterback Doug Flutie put on the best show - maybe ever -- in college football.
Flutie threw for 474 yards and 4 touchdowns and the last TD was to Gerard Phelan on the final play - maybe the most exciting play ever in sports.
Final score: BC 47, University of Miami 45.
October 13, 2013
Patriots Beat New Orleans on Last Second TD; Red Sox Comeback from 5 Runs Down v. Tigers
New England sports fans enjoyed the most improbable double header comeback wins.
First, the Patriots upset the undefeated New Orleans Saints with a 70 yard last minute drive that saw the Patriots score with just 5 seconds to steal a 30-27 win. The Saints had numerous opportunities to put the game away.
Then, the Boston Red Sox in Game Two of the ALCS at home rallied from a 5 run deficit in the 6th inning and came back on a David Ortiz grand slam to tie and a 9th inning hit to win. The Red Sox had lost Game One of the series 1-0 and were on the verge in Game Two of losing any chance of winning the series.
May 10, 1970
Bruins Beat Blues 4-3 in OT to Win Stanley Cup
The Boston Bruins took New England by storm behind the play of Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr.
In the final game and the score tied 3-3, Orr scored the winning and iconic goal to launch the Bruins into the hearts of New Englanders and to create one of sports most memorable photos.
April 28, 1966
Celtics Win 8th Straight, Red's Last Game, Russell First African American Head Coach
The win by the Boston Celtics over the Los Angeles Lakers in 1966 was a triple header for sports.
First, the 1966 Championship was the 8th straight and set a record never to be matched.
Second, it was the last game that Red Auerbach would ever coach.
Third, as Red stepped down, the enigmatic Bill Russell was named player coach - he was the first African American pro coach of the modern sports era. (Brown alum, Fritz Pollard coached pro football).
February 3, 2002
Patriots Upset Rams to Win 1st Super Bowl
The New England Patriots were 14 point underdogs to the Rams and this was expected to be one of the biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history.
Instead, the Patriots played physical defense and although outgained 427-267 in yards, went on to best the Rams.
The Patriots won on a last second field goal to win their 1st Super Bowl by a score of 20-17.
October 20, 2004
Red Sox Come Back from Down 0-3, to Beat Yankees in ACLS
The Red Sox were looking at another sad loss to the New York Yankees three games to zero and down to 3-4 in the ninth inning and down to their last three outs. The Sox scratched a run off a stolen base by Dave Roberts and a clutch hit by Bill Mueller to tie the game 4-4 and send it into extra innings.
In the 12th inning, the Red Sox scored two runs off a walk off homer by David Ortiz.
The Red Sox went on to make history winning three more games.
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