The Centurians

Massillon—McKinley is always Ohio's game of the year. This one was the game of the century
November 14, 1994

The presses of The Independent could be seen through windows at the far end of the newspaper's building. A line of at least 200 people stretched down the street from The Independent's front door on this warm November night in Massillon, Ohio, and maybe 20 more people had gathered in front of the pressroom windows. Inside, a half dozen men in dirty blue uniforms could be seen getting ready to print the paper.

"See, they're pouring in some ink," a father told his grammar-school-age daughter. "Pretty soon now."

The time was a few minutes past nine, and automobile horns could be heard in the distance. What were those crazy kids doing now? From time to time carloads of them would drive past on North Avenue, the honking getting closer, the kids yelling the "T-I-G" cheer, waiting for people on the street to yell "E-R-S" in return. Sometimes a car would slow down or even stop, and the kids inside would ask what all these people were doing standing in line.

"Waiting for the paper," someone would say.

Waiting for the paper. Sacco and Vanzetti had been found guilty. The Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped. Japan had surrendered, and the war was finished. A special edition of The Independent was being prepared, 24 pages, to announce important news. Read all about it. That afternoon the Massillon High School Tigers had defeated the McKinley High School Bulldogs of Canton in overtime 42-41.




The 100th game. The 100th game. The 100th game.

Where had anything happened that was any bigger?

Where had anything happened that was any better?

An 18-year-old kid named Nick Pribich had kicked the winning extra point for Massillon. The biography on page 29 of the 128-page Tiger football media guide, a publication as fat and glossy as any Big Ten school's guide, described Pribich as a senior, a member of the National Honor Society, 6'2", 160 pounds, a kid whose favorite college team is Ohio State, whose favorite pro team is the Dallas Cowboys.

During a kicking camp last summer, Pribich had imagined the situation. He and another kid, Josh McDaniels, had gone to one end of empty Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon, the very place where last Saturday's game would be played, and had imagined this scenario: final moments, the 100th game; win or lose; one kick to decide the game. McDaniels, also a senior, also 18 years old, would be the McKinley quarterback and kicker this season. That day McDaniels had booted the ball straight and true. Pribich had missed.

On Saturday, with 19,125 people in the stands, the ghosts and living saints of all those previous games in attendance, the announcers from WTIG radio and WOAC-TV describing the action, the fate of free nations everywhere hanging in the balance, McDaniels directed McKinley on a touchdown drive to open the overtime (in which each team is given a chance to score from the opponent's 20), hurried to the sidelines, changed his right shoe, hurried back and...missed the extra-point try. Wide right. Shortly afterward, Pribich came onto the field after the Tigers had scored a touchdown of their own when senior Victor Redrick ("Favorite Pro Team: None") took an option pitch from quarterback Willie Spencer and rambled 20 yards. This time Pribich nailed that sucker.

The 100th game.

There had been events all week at the Massillon Eagles and the Elks and the Moose and American Legion Post No. 221 and Frank's Family Restaurant, Home of the Tiger Burger, A Meal in Itself. There had been the dedication of the Massillon Hall of Champions at the high school, 23 portraits unveiled of local legends stretching from Paul Brown (the founder and coach of the Cincinnati Bengals and coach of the Cleveland Browns) and Harry Stuhldreher (quarterback of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame) to Don James, who coached the University of Washington to a national college co-championship in 1991, and current All-Pro inside linebacker Chris Spielman of the Detroit Lions. Massillon men, all of them. There had been a pep rally and a parade down Lincoln Way, with many of the Hall enshrinees riding in Corvettes, the head of the booster club riding in a pink Cadillac convertible. At the end of the parade there had been a bonfire at Agathon Park.

The 100th game.

"It's the biggest game of your high school career," said Spielman last week, not just of number 100 but of any Massillon-McKinley game. "Just to be part of it is a privilege. As time goes on, you play in so many games. I mean, I have no idea how many football games I've played in, but certain games stick out, and the three I played against McKinley are right up there. This is the heartland. You get people involved, and this game is one of the things they live for."

Spielman had a bet with McKinley grad Wayne Fontes, the Lions' coach. Everyone seemed to have a bet. The mayors of the cities had a bet. The cities' Kiwanis clubs had a bet: The losing club's president would have to eat baked beans at the winner's next meeting.

"I moved to Canton from Massachusetts when I was a junior," said Fontes, a running back at McKinley High in the 1950s. "I had never seen anything like this. I remember the week of the game the coach put us up in a hotel, feeding us breakfast, lunch and dinner. He wanted to keep the press away from us, to make sure we got to bed on time. I was just in awe."

The 100th game.

The schedule for Spirit Week, posted in a hallway at McKinley, said that Monday was Costume Day, Tuesday was Hat Day, Wednesday was Mix and Match Day, Thursday was Dress-Up Day, and Friday was Red and Black Day. There were awards for the best signs, the best classroom door decorations, the best car decorations. Faces were painted red and black at a row of tables in the cafeteria, hair was spray-painted red. The McKinley school newspaper, The Saxton, made local scholastic First Amendment history. It printed the word ass.

It was right there on page 11. Senior wide receiver Jaiyvonne Richards answered the question, "How does it feel to participate in the 100th meeting of the teams?" with "It's that time of year again to kick Massillon's ass again."

The 100th game.

"I did two things when my two sons were born," Tom Bittner, 32, an insurance claims adjuster raised in Massillon, said. "I checked first to see if they were healthy. Then, I checked to see if the football was in the bassinet with them. When I saw it, I cried."

Yes, that tradition continues. The president of the Massillon booster club still gives the hospital white miniature footballs to place next to every baby boy born in the town that calls itself the City of Champions. Yes, that is the tradition that Massillon's 21 Ohio championships, though none since 1970, has wrought.

"I still have my own football," Bittner said. "I keep it next to my sons' footballs. I already have told my wife that when I die, I want the football next to me in the coffin. You come into this world with a football. You go out with a football. That's Massillon."

The 100th game.

There had been speculation about Tiger coach Jack Rose. Would he survive? He is a pleasant man, fairly successful in his two seasons at Massillon, but not successful enough. He had not beaten McKinley. A year ago, when the Tigers were 9-0 heading into the game against the Bulldogs and lost 21-13, a booster told him, "You just don't get it. You have to decide if you want to be 9-1 and lose to McKinley or 1-9 and beat McKinley. What is important here is beating McKinley." Rose said he got it now.

The coach at McKinley, Thom McDaniels, faced a different sort of pressure with his son Josh at quarterback. For them the stakes seemed almost doubled. "I'm watching a kid fulfill his dream," Thom said. "He's been coming to practice with me since he was five years old."

Both teams were 8-1; both were heading toward the state playoffs. Massillon, with 677 wins alltime, was the second-most successful football school in the nation. McKinley, with 637, was fifth. The Bulldogs were a slight favorite.

The 100th game.

From the moment NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr—Bart Starr!—flipped the coin at midfield, the game was an up-and-down offensive ramble. Spencer directed Massillon to one touchdown after another, and McKinley's McDaniels answered in kind. McDaniels worked a tidy game, alternating between running his big backs, Adrian Brown and Kinta Mitchell, and hitting 14 of 20 passes for 148 yards. Spencer was a roll-out wonder, rushing for 94 yards.

The overtime—after the Bulldogs had tied the score at 35-35 with 1:18 left in the fourth period—was almost too much for the crowd to bear. Massillon won the toss and forced McKinley to try to score first. On a fourth-and-goal at the one, the Bulldogs went for the touchdown instead of the field goal, and Mitchell pounded into the end zone. Then McDaniels missed the extra point.

"The snap was good, the hold was good, the kick was not good," his father said, emotion in his voice. "It's something you have to live with."

The Tigers then scored. Pribich kicked the extra point. The sadness of McKinley—kids in tears, Thorn standing with his hand on Josh's head—was matched by the happiness of Massillon. Spencer ran to ring the Victory Bell, the game trophy that had resided for two years in Canton. Rose looked as if a cast-iron overcoat had been removed from his shoulders. One day. One point. Part now of the continuum.

The 100th game.

"We were going to print 7,500 copies of the paper," The Independent's managing editor, Kevin D. Coffey, said, "but after Massillon won, we kicked it up to 10,000. In this town, if it has to do with the Tigers, people will buy it."

The papers began to roll off the presses just before 9:30. Most of the staff headed to the front office to handle the crowd. People came to the desk to buy four or five papers at a time, 50 cents apiece, to take home to friends. To save.

The car horns still could be heard. A three-block section of Lincoln Way had been blocked off, and people were walking between the Alibi Lounge and Coppers and Benders, carrying bottled beers and wearing orange and black and still hollering. At one end of the street a woman played a calliope in the back of a truck, the special calliope purchased by the Massillon boosters club. The song was Tiger Rag.

Massillon 42, McKinley 41. In front of the newspaper office, people stood under streetlights and squinted at the freshly printed pages and read the news.

THREE PHOTOSLYNN JOHNSONThe words on the street (top left) and in the Massillon locker room were the same: Beat McKinley. That didn't faze the Bulldogs' Adrian Brown (bottom left), whose 138 yards led all rushers. PHOTODAVID LIAM KYLE[See caption above.] ILLUSTRATION TWO PHOTOSLYNN JOHNSONIn the end the McDaniels clan, including Josh (12, top) and his father (in jacket), watched helplessly as Pribich made the winning kick in OT, which made the Tigers exultant and left the Bulldogs' quarterback and coach crestfallen. TWO PHOTOSDAVID LIAM KYLE[See caption above.] THREE PHOTOSLYNN JOHNSONAt McKinley, classroom doorways became canvases for aggressive expression, as did the heads of players and teachers, while at Massillon, it wasn't at all difficult to flush out the sentiments of the student body. PHOTODAVID LIAM KYLE[See caption above.] TWO PHOTOSLYNN JOHNSONIn halls and at pep rallies during Spirit Week, grave and graphic exhortations abounded at McKinley (top and bottom), but moments before the game, Massillon's Donnie Young opted for the contemplative approach. PHOTODAVID LIAM KYLE[See caption above.] THREE PHOTOSDAVID LIAM KYLEEven a toddler like 2½-year-old Brooke Berbari can turn into a Tiger when Massillon and McKinley begin banging bodies on the field, which was where the McKinley band was while its jackets stood lonely watch in the stands.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)