EDITOR’S NOTE: This was a story that I initially compiled in 2014, just months before the Golden Eagles won the program’s tenth District championship with some very talented players, many of whom did not make the first draft. However, in the time since, I’ve been able to include a few recent players, like Aleic Hunter and Drew Hunter, who left an indelible mark on the program. What appears here is the instruction and justification for the project, and over the next several days and week I will release a revised an updated all-time grouping for each position, starting with quarterback. Please feel free to respond in the comments with your opinions on Tyrone’s all-time players.
The writer Peter De Vries once said, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”
Much of De Vries work was satirical in nature, so there’s more than a hint of irony there, but there is also a hint of truth. As much as time can provide perspective, it can also shade that which once was into what we want it to be, morphing what was true into what is ideal.
That’s one of the challenges you face when trying to revisit history. No matter what you may know of the facts, the actors involved at the time may remember things differently, and the main difference is often that what they remember is better than what actually happened.
This was an issue I considered often as I conducted research to create a sequel to an article I wrote almost years ago for the Daily Herald’s preseason football tab, which then was called the Prep Pigskin Preview. One of the trendy things to do as the Twentieth Century wound to a conclusion was to compile all-century lists, so in 1999 I set out to produce an All-Century Tyrone Football Team. After months of research, the team was announced in the football tab, and little has been said of it since. More on that a little later.
It may be more apt to call this newer piece an amendment rather than a sequel because I had no intention of totally revising or rewriting my original All-Century team. On the other hand, I did want to take a slightly different approach and utilize social media to gain some insight from people who have been around the game in the borough.
However, one thing became clear the further I went into this project. Numbers and accolades alone would not be enough because once you open up a story like this for public input you’re dealing with much more than statistics and awards – you’re dealing with hundreds of eye-tests from people who can genuinely say, “I don’t know what his statistics were, but I know what I saw.”
The challenge becomes sorting through the nostalgia to find what’s right. A further challenge is accepting that no matter how much you research, it’s impossible to create a definitive list of the greatest players over nearly a century of football. The task is by nature impossible, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.
But before disclosing the newer, remodeled All-Time Tyrone football team, it’s worth mentioning precisely where this idea originated. As I mentioned earlier, it stemmed from the media trends of 1999, but there’s a little more to it than that.
When you think back to 1999, the world was a much different, and in many ways simpler, place. There was no discussion of international terrorism or Homeland Security. No debate on national healthcare. Heck, the Internet was a relatively new tool then, so even things like eBay, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon were either in their infancy or non-existent. Nobody Googled anything in 1999. Certainly, most average citizens weren’t envisioning a time in the near future when all of their technology would be accessible in the palm of their hand using a phone, right?
So, yeah, those things have made the world a bit more complicated – and in some cases better – in the years that have elapsed since that last year of the Twentieth Century, that year any child of the 80s had been waiting on for so long just to own that Prince song in a personal way and party like it’s 1999.
But from a Tyrone sportswriter’s perspective, the summer of 1999 was much simpler because the answers to many questions were easier, at least where Tyrone football is concerned.
If you wanted to know the best teams, you started in the 1940s with legendary coach Steve Jacobs, who earned a piece of a state championship in 1940 and won 100 games over 10 seasons, producing some of the greatest football units ever to don the orange and black. Then you worked your way back to John Franco –at the time preparing for his fifth season in the borough – whose meteoric success in the early years of his career, along with his dramatic revitalization of the program – had many people feeling that if he stayed the course and remained at Tyrone, maybe his name, too, could be whispered in the same sacred tones as that of Jacobs.
If you wanted to know the best players, you had three options. One was looking at an All-State list. In 1999, there wasn’t one single, definitive list of All-Staters from Tyrone, so it would take some digging. You’d want to develop a close personal relationship with microfilm. But obviously, All-State players would be a good place to start because if a player was the best in the state in a particular year, then it stands to reason that they were also among the best of their particular era. And if you are the best at your position during a particular era, then shouldn’t you at least be in the conversation of the best of all time?
You could also try comparing records and statistics, but this would have been even murkier than searching for All-Staters. Most people have warmed to the idea that now we live in a data-driven world, and why wouldn’t we? The technology is there to gather, organize and share numbers like never before. And through comparisons of numbers we find trends. In sports, those trends translate into projections on production and value. (Which brings up several more concepts that have made the world of sports better or more complicated since 1999, depending on your point of view – sports metrics and constant overshifting in baseball, for example; in other words, using numbers and trends to form projections that influence behavior and decisions.)
The problem with using statistics in 1999 was more often than not they didn’t exist, at least not in any organized form that made comparisons over generations easy. Looking through old newspapers you would find that some season’s numbers were highly tabulated, providing everything from rushing and receiving yards to tackles and sacks. For many seasons there was nothing but team statistics, so if you wanted to find out total team first downs from 1935, you probably could. In still others, there was virtually nothing, not even individual box scores to go along with game stories. In some cases, numbers could be gathered, if you had the time and patience. A common practice in the 1930s and 1940s was to write a game story not as a narrative of the game, with key players serving as characters and in-game or off-the-field issues providing the conflict, but instead to simply write exactly what happened, play-by-play. That doesn’t necessarily make for Sports Illustrated-type reading, but it does provide a reader with yards-per-player for every play of a given game. So, if you could spare the time, you could conceivably read all of those stories and count up numbers.
Finally, in search of the best players ever at Tyrone you could also just ask someone. Then, as now, there was no shortage of memories. The word “status” had an entirely different connotation in 1999, so opinions weren’t advertised and “liked” or “favorited” on social networking sites, but people knew what they saw, and if you really wanted to feel the pulse of the football community all you had to do was sit down with an old-timer and ask.
That was my three-tiered approach in the summer of 1999 when I set out to compile a Tyrone football All-Century Team. It wasn’t easy, but it was fun. At that time, I was embarking on my second full season as the beat writer for the Tyrone football team. Then, as now, my nine-to-five career was as a school teacher, so I had the time from June until September to devote to conducting research, and I spent the majority of my free time at the Daily Herald office, with then sports editor John Harlow, scanning miles of microfilm and rummaging through the stacks of football stories and photographs left behind by long-time sports editor Len Slother. The year before I had done a piece on the Tyrone football team of 1948, a squad that went 11-0 on the heels of another 11-0 season in 1947, so I knew a bit of the black-and-white history of the program.
Along the way to compiling an All-Century team I was also able to compile a fairly lengthy list of all-time records in a number of categories, a list that has grown substantially in the 19 years since. I felt that if we were going to publish a list of the greatest Tyrone players of the Twentieth Century it was important to have some data-driven justifications for our selections. I also organized a list of the Golden Eagles who had been selected to All-State teams. All of these figures are available now in the weekly stadium publication I produce for home football games, Orange and Black, as well as on the team’s website, but in 1999 it felt like I was unravelling mysteries buried somewhere in time.
In creating an All-Century team I had one major ground rule. It was a vital piece to the list at the time, but over the two decades since it became the list’s biggest weakness. The rule was that no current players were eligible for selection. Remember that in 1998 John Franco and the Golden Eagles had taken a junior and sophomore led team and developed into one of the heavy favorites for the District 6-AA championship. It would have been four straight for Tyrone, but somewhere along the way the team stopped thinking about the game at hand and started looking ahead, and that was when United came to town and punched Tyrone square in the mouth. The Lions dominated the Golden Eagles at Gray Memorial Field 20-0 in the District 6 semifinals.
Everyone left the stadium that night wondering what the heck just happened because it wasn’t supposed to end like that. But that loss set in motion the wheels of a state championship in 1999. Everyone vowed to never look past an opponent again, and I guess I made that promise, too. So rather than create a gigantic distraction by naming high school kids to an all-time team, I left off players who would become some of the best at their position.
As the 1999 season wore on, records were being set on a weekly basis and championships were coming in left and right. But none of those record-holders had a part of the All-Century team. In retrospect, it’s almost comical to look at the names that are missing. For example, Jesse Jones – arguably the best offensive weapon Blair County has seen, let alone Tyrone – is not on the list.
Several years later, around 2002 and 2003, the Tyrone football machine was fully operational. Franco had created a system where all of the pieces were dependent on one another, but none was irreplaceable. League opponents often knew what was coming and were helpless to stop it. At one point, from 2003 through 2008, the Golden Eagles won 35 consecutive regular season games. When a key player went down, another stepped in to exceed the expectations of a garden-variety back-up, like in 2008, when offensive lineman Larry Glace moved to tailback and ran for more than 1,300 yards.
Production was at an all-time high, and names were constantly being added to the record book. And it made me realize that the time was coming much sooner than later when Tyrone’s all-time team would have to be reexamined. When I finally committed to creating the new team, I wanted to do it in Twenty-First Century fashion, so I went to social media. Facebook was the primary tool.
Throughout the summer of 2014 and beyond I created posts asking the public their opinion on the best players they had seen at Tyrone at given positions. I’m fortunate enough to have a significant number of former players in my Friends list, so I tagged them, and as social media goes this opened the door for others who may not be a part of my personal network to join in the conversation.
The feedback I received exceeded my expectations and helped me a great deal in compiling a new list. Several things stood out. Above all, veteran players and fans in general are not always as enamored with numbers as sports writers might be. There were countless comments suggesting players I had never dreamed of being on an all-time team, and the justification was often the eye-test. Teammates know what they saw on a daily basis. There was also the recognition that comparing players over generations isn’t always completely fair. Without question John Franco introduced a new brand of offensive football in the borough, and it produced results. And there are unquestionably players from more conservative football eras who could have produced numbers like those seen in the Franco-era but never had the opportunity. Most exciting was the comradery displayed by the panel of nightly commenters, who often left replies that basically went, “I know this person may not be who you are looking for, but they were a great teammate, and I would pick them today if I was going to play a game.”
Nostalgia can be blinding sometimes. But that’s not always a bad thing.
So here is the original list – the first attempt at compiling an all-time team, dubbed the All-Century team in 1999. The initial list gave starters at each position and then listed several players who could come off the bench. I’ll list only the starters.
RUNNING BACKS: Marcus Owens, Kenny Noel, Wib Ammerman, and Mark Wyland.
QUARTERBACK: Jarrod Anderson.
RECEIVERS: Jeremy LaRosa, Steve Lusardi, and Bill Kimberling.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Slug Drake, Nick Kobak, Tom Templeton, Jim Funk, and Max Schnellbaugh.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Joe Steinbugl, Matt Sharer, and George Tate.
LINEBACKERS: Slug Drake, Brian Bonsell, and Jim McCahan.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Tom Templeton, Merle Stonebraker, Carl Getz, Doug Shoenwolf, and G.C. Wilson.
KICKER: John Supina.
KICK RETURNER: Scott Hoover.
Give me those guys in their primes and I’ll take on any team in Pennsylvania. And that’s one of the things that is exciting about creating a new list: to get on there, you’ve got to knock off some outstanding players – legends whose names are still remembered in the borough. As I sifted through Facebook responses to All-Time Team posts, it was a common occurrence to read something like, “Wow, that’s a great list. Not sure you can pick just one.” That kind of reply emphasized something many Tyrone football fans take for granted – the fact that in 94 years of football we’ve seen some incredible talent march onto Gray-Veterans Memorial Field on Friday nights.
But how do you pick the cream of the crop? It’s tough. If it was just a numbers game, the statistics are in place now to make that possible, but there’s so much more to it than that. Tyler Gillmen, an outstanding player who wore the orange and black from 2004-2006, said he thought of it like this: if other schools were going to create a similar all-time time, and you could take those players in their primes and play a game, who would you want? In that case you would have to consider more than numbers and instead take into account things like size, speed and durability.
So here is what I have done. I’ve tried to compile a team that pays tribute to all of the factors that could influence a vote: statistics, accolades, support from teammates and the public, legend, size and speed, and that all-important eye-test. I’ve expanded the list to include a broader spectrum of positions (instead of just running backs, for example, I’ve added fullbacks), and I’ve also included X-factor type positions for both offense and defense.
I don’t make any claims that this is in any way a definitive list. I don’t mean to slight anyone who is not on here. I’m just saying, like the first list compiled in 1999, give me these guys and I can beat just about any team.
So here is the plan. Over the next several weeks, I will be unveiling the players selected for each position on my blog Orange and Black. Please fell free to share and comment, and please consider giving the blog a follow. The blog is completely free, and designed with Tyrone football fans near and far in mind.
We’ll start in tomorrow’s edition with the position of quarterbacks. Each position will include a starter, along with several other players who would have to be a part of the competition for the position if it was truly possible to have an All-Time Team with an All-Time Training Camp. So keep checking up with the blog, and feel free to provice comments and feedback, either on the site, or through social media, like Facebook, where I post links to the stories, or by following me on Twitter to leave a comment (@KerrytheProphet).