In his new column “Neat Sports Things,” Halftime Sports Co-Editor Jay Benjamin shares some of his favorite, well, neat things from the history of sports, many of which have not received the attention they deserve.
This column is dedicated to exploring some of the greatest stories the sports world has to offer. So, naturally, the series begins with the story of a high school football game, namely the 1994 Texas Class 5A Division II Regional Semifinal, featuring the Plano East Senior High School Panthers and the John Tyler High School Lions. What transpired was both likely the best ending of a football game in recorded history, as well as a case study in the range of human emotions.
This is the part where I recommend in the strongest possible terms that you watch all 4 minutes and 37 seconds of this video. I promise it is worth it. My musings on it pale in comparison to the emotional rollercoaster the video provides, even for the most casual of football fans.
The Lions seemed to have put the game out of reach when a fumble returned for a touchdown gave them a 41-17 lead with a mere 3:03 to play. When the Panthers quickly scored a garbage-time touchdown and recovered an onside kick, color commentator and likely King of the Hill supporting character Denny Garver optimistically added “This ballgame ain’t over, baby!” Little did Garver know how prescient he really was.
The game was so surely in the bag for John Tyler that all of the major networks had stopped airing it, leaving the only record of it commentated by Garver, Eddy Clinton and guest commentator Mike Zoffuto, who covered the game for a Plano public access station, so their analysis was both delightfully folksy and highly partisan.
Thus, the furious comeback led by quarterback Jeff Whitley and receiver- turned-onside kick guru Terence Green was met with equally furious joy. The impressive array of “dadgummits,” and “good gosh a’mightys” alone color this broadcast in a very unique way.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the overflowing Texasness of the broadcast team and ignore the fact that the comeback was incredibly improbable. Statistically speaking, recovering three onside kicks in a row, and subsequently marching down the field to score each time is unprecedented. Doing it all in under three minutes is all but impossible.
Thus, our lovable announcers are simply icing on the cake, or, more germanely, the cream filling of an Oreo cookie. This reference to Earl “The Cookie Man” Miller awaking from his slumber and Garvey’s subsequent call for celebratory Oreos were particularly interesting to me. I like to imagine Earl, despondent with his team’s struggles, falling asleep on the bench, only to be jarred into a Rip Van Winkle-like state of wonder upon seeing the score, then strapping his helmet on to go out and try to score the go-ahead touchdown.
When that go-ahead touchdown finally arrives, the reaction is as expected. On first and ten from the 22 yard line with 30 seconds left, the Panthers lined up in a three tight end set, with no wide receivers lined up on the left side. It seemed pretty clear that the ball was going to running back Robert Woods out of the backfield, that is, to everyone except the Lions’ defense. When Woods catches the ball on a wheel route with no man to beat, the commentators are reduced to giggling disbelief, culminating with Garver’s declaration that he, much like his fellow announcers and likely many in the Greater Plano area, has “done wet my britches!”
When, at the 3:00 mark of the video, Garver confidently declares “He’s gonna score! He’s going all the way!” when receiver Terence Green is 30 yards away from the endzone with at least three defenders to beat, and thus, assuredly not going all the way, he is no longer a color commentator. He is a simply a man who wants the Plano East Panthers to beat the John Tyler Lions more than anything else in the world. In this sense, the game is soundtracked only by human emotion, unadulterated and stripped of any artifice. Even Zoffuto, who was the head coach of Lake Highlands High, whom the winner would go on to play and was thus a dispassionate observer initially, cannot contain his emotion, referring to the resolute Panthers on multiple occasions as “our” team and giggling with joy when Robert Woods takes in the go-ahead touchdown.
Oh, but when “it” happens.
With 24 seconds left to play, Green, who had time and time again played the role of miracle-worker, boomed a kickoff all the way to the opposing three yard line. The kick was fielded by John Tyler’s Roderick Dunn, who proceeded to dart 97 yards straight through the Lions’ kick coverage team and straight through the hearts of the Panthers’ players and fans. The video concludes with newly-minted Panther Mike Zoffuto declaring “God bless those kids. I am sick. I want to throw up.” Me too, Mike. Me too.