Monday, December 9, 2013
By DAVID MCNABB Special to the Press Herald
David McNabb, a member of the 1962 state championship team at Thornton Academy, is a copy editor at the Portland Press Herald and has also served as sports editor, city editor and many other positions.
David McNabb in the 1963 Thornton Academy yearbook.
We're streaming two high school football games this week:
• Biddeford at Deering at 7 p.m. Friday
• Scarborough at Thornton Academy at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at pressherald.com/sports
FOOTBALL PICKS CONTEST
• You can win a $50 gift card if you have the best weekly record in our high school picks contest.
It's hard to believe that a half-century has passed since the fall of 1962, when some 45 high school boys committed themselves to carrying on an often-glorious football tradition at Thornton Academy in Saco.
For the team's 16 seniors, it was a final chance to put a shine on a legacy that included a painful 1-8 season in 1960 and a mediocre 4-5 record in 1961.
This Saturday, some of the 45 will return to celebrate the magical last act that the '62 season proved to be. The team will be inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame for going undefeated and winning the Class A state championship.
The season had many memorable moments, but the one that gave it a remarkably long shelf life -- especially in the Biddeford-Saco area -- occurred on the final day of the season when archrival and perennial power St. Louis High crossed the Saco River bridge for the one game the communities used to measure success, regardless of win-loss records.
The 1962 meeting, however, would be much more than the Battle for the Bridge and a year of bragging rights. Both teams were undefeated and, in an age before playoffs watered down the meaning of all that happened before, the game meant everything. The Class A state championship was at stake.
The game was played on a Monday, Veterans Day, after a fierce tropical storm on Saturday forced officials to postpone. The anger and disappointment that rose up as coaches announced the decision was palpable. The letdown after an intense week of practice and mental preparation left us spent.
But we were young and resilient. Monday dawned with a brilliant low sun that cast long shadows over a still wet field. Thousands of fans crammed into the bleachers or stood five and six deep on the sidelines and end zones. We were ready.
THE PATH TO THE GAME
St. Louis, the defending state champ, was just as ready. The defenses dominated, and with a few minutes left the game seemed destined to end in a 7-7 tie -- years before overtime was instituted. Then our offense started to click. We broke a few long runs and drove the length of the field, scoring from 1 yard out on a leaping dive by fullback Bob Kimball.
Thornton 13, St. Louis 7.
My identical twin brother, Dennis, and I were co-captains and, I suspect, the only residents of Saco who went into that season fully expecting to win every game. Of course, that didn't mean a whole lot. We never went into a game of any kind expecting to lose -- even during that 5-13 run as sophomores and juniors.
But 1962 was different. The seniors had matured mentally and physically. We had some gifted athletes, for sure, but we also had begun to understand the synergy that comes from working hard and pulling together. It was a message the coaches preached every day.
We had a work ethic that characterizes all champions -- individuals as well as teams. And it wasn't a chance occurrence. It had been instilled in us by parents and the wider community long before any coach thought to harness it.
And harness it they did. That team had the good fortune of playing for two very fine coaches -- David Kerry and Brad Leach.
Kerry, an assistant, gets first mention because he suffered through the previous two seasons without ever losing his enthusiasm for the game or dedication to the players. He pushed, prodded, planned and strategized. And he did it with an intensity that's impossible to describe. Passionate and demanding come close. All I know is we loved him. And hated him. And would do anything for him.
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