It seemed like a good idea at the time. One day last May, Dennis Barrett, football coach of Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island in New York, discovered he had room for another game on his schedule. Farrell had won the state title two years in a row, was ranked 18th in the nation in the preseason polls and, in 11 seasons under Barrett, had a record of 74-9-4. So the 34-year-old coach, a feisty little guy, decided to shoot for the moon. He phoned Gerry Faust of Moeller High School in Cincinnati, the same Moeller that was No. 1 in the country last year. "How about a game?" asked Barrett. "You're on," answered Faust.
What Barrett should have done was call Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Surely Farrell wouldn't have been much worse off. Playing at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium on Friday night before a crowd of 24,000—more people than the Reds drew the same night or the Bearcats would the next night—Moeller gave the boys from the Big City a big working over, scoring in every period, never allowing Farrell remotely near the goal line and winning 30-0.
The results did not shock Barrett. He once played a little quarterback at the University of Cincinnati and was well aware of the caliber of Ohio high school football. "Look, even if we lose, the trip will have been an experience," he said the evening before the game. "Good for the program, good for the kids. Heck, a lot of them have never been on a plane."
Moeller and Farrell are much the same in a number of ways. Both are Catholic schools for boys only. Moeller was founded in 1960 and has 1,030 students, Farrell in 1962 with an enrollment of 1,200. Both stress their high academic standards and discipline. Before addressing his players at a training meal, Barrett ordered them to "sit up straight" and they moved as one. As similar as they might be, the schools are located 659 miles apart, and Barrett discovered that there is a bit more to scheduling Moeller than a phone call. To start, a New York State rule prohibits travel beyond a 300-mile radius of a team's home, but Barrett was able to negotiate a waiver. He also decided that if the team were to go at all, it would be by plane, spending the night before the game in a motel. No 17-hour bus rides for Farrell. The cost of such an undertaking was put at $15,000, a sum Farrell raised with remarkable speed by selling raffle tickets at $10 apiece, the prize being $5,000.
October 9, 1977
Farrell won its first two games this season, the second, an 18-12 defeat of New Dorp, with two Moeller assistant coaches in attendance. In turn, Farrell scouted Moeller, Barrett himself watching a 35-7 rout of Princeton (Ohio) High. The two schools also exchanged films. Then last Thursday morning, cheered on by the school band and the entire student body, 54 Farrell players, six assistant coaches and Barrett boarded two buses for Newark Airport. When their chartered plane landed in Cincinnati at noon, Faust and other members of Moeller's administration were there to greet them. So were reporters from two local television stations. The New Yorkers excitedly watched themselves on TV a few hours later.
That night Farrell worked out at Nippert Stadium; their only previous experience under lights and on artificial surface was a night practice Barrett had arranged at Brooklyn College. Barrett also spent a lot of time showing his players the proper way to enter the field. "I don't want them looking sloppy," he said. Riding back to the motel on the bus, he was worried. "Moeller's receivers are bigger than our cornerbacks," he said. He admitted he hadn't been sleeping well.
Moeller, too, was keyed up for the game, but then Moeller is always keyed up, which in part accounts for its record—132-16-2, all under Gerry Faust. Faust, who is 42, is about as intense as a man can get, speaking with machine-gun rapidity and almost trotting down the hallways of the school, the upper half of his body well ahead of the lower.
The Moeller locker room would make Vince Lombardi proud. Inspirational signs are hung everywhere. Some stay up all season, others refer to the upcoming game. Some examples: YOU CARRY WITH YOU MORE THAN THE PRIDE OF A FOOTBALL TEAM, YOU CARRY THE PRIDE OF A STATE; BLACK OUT NEW YORK; A POWERFUL OFFENSE IS A BEAUTIFUL CREATION.
There is also a bulletin board that carries photos and press clippings of upcoming opponents—Farrell's splendid receiver, Frank Marone, was prominent last week—and a Moeller Hall of Champions, which lists past heroes, many of whom have gone on to the pros, most prominently Steve Niehaus. Last year 20 Moeller graduates went to college on football scholarships, 16 went the year before, 21 the year before that. Moeller's 150-page game program lists 14 assistant coaches. There are 200 players in the program on three teams. The varsity is virtually restricted to seniors and juniors; sophomores and freshmen play on their own teams. While the varsity has not lost a regular-season game since 1972—46 straight—the other two teams were a comparatively lackluster 13-3-1 last season.
Curiously, Moeller does not have its own field. It plays at a nearby public high school, the University of Cincinnati or Riverfront Stadium. For "the super bowl of high school football," as the game with Farrell was being billed around town, the two schools rented Nippert Stadium for $2,500 and divided an estimated $35,000 in gate receipts.
Just before game time, Faust asked both teams to line up facing each other along the length of the field and then each Moeller player presented the opponent facing him with a banner in maroon and gold, Farrell's colors, with the names of both schools and the date on it. It was almost the only thing Moeller gave Farrell all night.
Moeller kicked off, held, forced a punt and came blasting into Farrell territory. But when Quarterback Mark Schweitzer threw a long pass, Farrell Defensive Back Bob Volpe intercepted at the 25 and returned the ball to the Moeller 35. That was as close as Farrell was to get to the Moeller goal.
When Moeller got the ball again, it went 79 yards in 10 plays, Tom Schroeder scoring from four yards out. Late in the half Tailback Eric Ellington swept 21 yards around end for a touchdown and it was 14-0.
Midway in the third quarter, Farrell's defense shone again. Moeller took over on the Farrell 16, thanks to a 43-yard punt return by Kirby Clark, and was ready to apply the crusher. First down, one yard. Second, four. Third, nothing. Fourth, a five-yard loss. But moments later the crusher came anyway when Farrell's Tom Murray, trying to punt, dropped the snap from center, Moeller recovering on the 10; three plays later it was 20-0. Less than a minute later, after Moeller's fourth interception of the night, Schroeder went 37 yards untouched for another touchdown. Harry Oliver's 35-yard field goal completed the scoring.
When the game was over, Moeller whooped it up briefly, then boarded buses, uniforms still on, for the 15-mile ride back to school. Business as usual, although 30 points was its lowest total of the season. Farrell took the loss hard with tears and vast silence. Dennis Barrett had wanted to find out how his boys would do against the best, and he did. Heck, it was an experience.