I've been preparing to write this football column for nearly three weeks and the only thing that has become clear is that I could legitimately write a column about football every single day for the next 25 years without having to repeat myself.
Pro, college, high school, Pop Warner, Acorn League, a game in the park – all football is awesome in my eyes. Asking questions about who’s the greatest player in town history or the greatest team has led me to one conclusion: there is no answer. It's like trying to pick the best Beatles song or potato chip. It's all subjective dependent upon what era you grew up in – and what “greatest” means to you.
It's easy to point out the ones that ascended to the pro ranks, players such as Don Morgan and Armando Avina in my era. The old timers will throw out names like Lou Bronzan or Paul Wiggins. There are players of lesser talent that put up ridiculous stats for a season, or teams without any star players that came together as a team to win a Valley Oak League title. So trying to pick who is the “greatest” is a bit futile. But guess what, it's a whole lot of fun to try. Talking football or sports in general for those who love and played the game is a wonderful release. It connects generations. I know I know, “What a bunch of Al Bundy's, living in the past and talking about the glory days.” Hogwash! Football cuts through all dividing lines. To quote Lloyd Barbasol: “A bad night spent watching and talking football, is better than the best night arguing politics and religion.” I've never once walked away from a heated argument about the Raiders versus the Niners and thought to myself, “I will never let my nieces and nephews play with his kids!”
Football is something that we can argue until we are blue in the face and, at the end of the day, part as friends – though a few of my Raider brethren have been known to need a “timeout.”
In the early days there was only Manteca High. The big rivalry was with hated Tracy High; an actual entire town to root against. That was before my time. Just thinking about rolling into another town to face your hated rival must have been epic. The stories of bricks being tossed through bus windows and sophomore teams having to be sequestered in a visiting field house in order to avoid a full on riot are lore. Then along came the “Other School (East Union),” which is going to lead me on a quick tangent.
I recently received an email from someone in town regarding my whole “Other School” shtick: “You need to grow up, calling East Union the ‘Other School’ is hurtful...and shows your immaturity, we aren't in high school anymore, Let It Go.” I responded with one word: Why? Beyond the fact that it is meant in good fun. Let it go??? You, my good sir or ma'am, obviously weren't part of “The Rivalry” that I was because there is one steadfast and true Manteca rule: It doesn't end after high school! Your green and white blood – or dare I say, red and blue – is in your veins for life. It teaches tradition, honor, and above all respect. That's right, respect. The guys that I wanted to pound into the ground back then are my peers, friends, and fellow Mantecans. The East Union Lancers (there, I wrote it) that I grew up with expect me to call them the “Other School.” The day I receive an email from Alex Landeros or Jason Stock telling me to drop the “Other School” bit, I will. But that will never happen and why? Because they get the healthy rivalry. It's part of Manteca and cannot be escaped.
Now where was I?
Oh yeah, in 1967 the “Other School” came along, changing the rivalry landscape for 30 years. This was different than Tracy. This was in-house; kids that went to grade school since kindergarten separated and pitted against one another. So much better! If you lost to Tracy High from 1929-1967, chances are you'd never have to see someone from that game again. Not now. Now there is a good chance that the guy that pancake blocked you for four years will be working next to you at Eckert's Cold Storage for the next 30 years. So you better not lose.
The schools were even forced to use the same field for years. Let me just let you Lancers know, Gus Schmeidt Field is ours – and always was. Playing that game from the visitor’s sideline – after practicing all week on it – was sacrilege. So nobody was happier than us Buffs when you finally got your own stadium. Congratulations, now get on your side of town. The MHS-EU games as a kid were like watching the Super Bowl, only better because it was ours. Remember the chain link fence at the concession stand, separating the two schools’ supporters like a makeshift Berlin Wall that arose once a year. Or twice a year, if you were lucky enough to play during the years we had VOL doubleheaders. The memories are wonderful and etched into our minds.
It was the best of times and then they showed up – Sierra. The new kid on the block took players and coaches from other schools. (See, even MHS can be called the “other school.”) I remember the first time I saw coach Jack Thomson, in my opinion the greatest coach in town history, wearing Sierra blue. Pardon me, I need a moment. The town was now a three-headed monster. I remember thinking “he should have been wearing green” any time I'd read about a Sierra player doing well. And just like a little brother, it took a few years for me to take them seriously. But here they are, winning and starting their own traditions. Little brother is grown up now.
It makes for great times, great rivalries, and great history. There is an 8-year-old kid that will be attending his first high school football in a few weeks. He will pick out his favorite player, and maybe emulate him at recess. I wore the No. 33 my seventh and eighth grade years at Nile Garden to emulate my all-time favorite Buffalo Tim Beattie. That 8-year-old kid may go on to be a football star or not. The point is there is nothing more family, friend-, and town-oriented than attending a high school football game on a Friday night. It's a Manteca tradition. See you at the games.
When I am mayor
The winning players in the annual series between MHS, EU, and Sierra are granted lifetime car washes by players from the opposing squads. Each player is only allowed one per year. You can show up to their house at any time and they will be required by law to wash your car – in front of their kids preferably – because the shame of the loss should always sting.
It's not Where ya do, It's What ya do”
Please send stories of your football glory days to firstname.lastname@example.org.