They probably would have torn down a goalpost and marched it right up Lake Street had the 19 student fans who stormed the football field at Oak Park Stadium on Saturday not been thin in numbers. I know there were only 19 because it was easy to count the small vivacious throng as they bounded down the stadium stairs in single file and made their way out onto the field in the closing seconds of the game. Nineteen students couldn't reserve their excitement for their football team making the IHSA State playoffs for the first time since 1998. Those 19 and the team itself, fresh from a fourth-quarter filibuster that resulted in a glorious 16-14 victory, knew the significance of what had been achieved on that cold and soggy afternoon: OPRF football was back among the winners.
It may be brief, or it may not be. But what hasn't been brief is OPRF's time in the 3-6 gutter. The program hasn't bettered such an overall record since '98. The Huskies have endured two 2-7 seasons, including last year's, and four straight 3-6 seasons.
This game had playoff implications and the crowd wasn't exactly robust. This game also had something much more than a trip into the postseason. Victory meant a winning regular season (5-4), a winning team, a return trip to the land of glory. If it meant staving off a lowly Glenbard West team by just a couple of points, then so be it. The Huskies are winners again. There was reason to celebrate. But really the entire student body should have stormed the field on Saturday, hefted guys like Brett Schiffman, Rick Foytik, Josh Bixler, De'Angelo Wisdom and Jon Meacham on its shoulders, paraded around campus, swung like monkeys from the goalposts, screamed with delight, and who knows what else.
I would have expected Jim Nudera to be doing cartwheels at midfield after the win, but the embattled head coach took the proud moment in stride.
"We didn't hype this game up to the players. We went over what we needed to do during practice all week and we came out and tried to execute it," he said matter-of-factly, while drops of Gatorade still tinkled off his brow from his team's celebratory postgame drenching. When prodded a bit to comment on what the victory and the long awaited winning record and the overdo trip to the playoffs meant for his football program and the school, Nudera blenched.
"It's been a long time coming," he finally muttered, "so it's definitely a step in the right direction."
Earlier in the season the Huskies hung tough against Hinsdale Central long enough to capture a 10-7 upset. It's difficult to direct an offense when you're starting quarterback breaks his collarbone and your backup has lingering leg problems. But Nudera and his staff kept the Huskies plugging along even through the most miserable of losses?#34;42-0 to Downers North and 43-6 to York.
So maybe it's about time we wipe the 3-6 records from our memories, and start dreaming big, start feeling the sensation of success.
Win or lose this Friday night against Stevenson, the OPRF football team may be on the rise again. Although, it was former OPRF star quarterback Talmadge Hill who said in '98 after the Huskies first-round playoff loss to Proviso East, "We brought the program up and got the community excited. Hopefully we started something."
It's been started again, but now can it be sustained?