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You Can't Call Them Losers

Oct. 21, 2002
Oct. 21, 2002

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Oct. 21, 2002

You Can't Call Them Losers

It's been seven years since Savanna (Ill.) High won a football
game, yet every day starting linebacker Mike McIntyre lies on his
bed and plans the victory party.

This is an article from the Oct. 21, 2002 issue Original Layout

"First, we'll take the goalposts down," says McIntyre, a junior.
"Then we'll drag 'em to Manny's, and he'll give us free pizza and
pop until we puke. And we'll party nonstop until Monday--clothing
optional. Then we'll get ready to do it again!"

Sixty straight losses for Savanna High, yet after every one the
Indians' grinning, happily bald coach, Dave Baisden, finds each
smelly, sweaty and muddy kid and hugs him as if he's just
returned from a NASA mission to Saturn.

"I've coached at other schools where we won all the time," says
Baisden, 40, in his fourth season at Savanna. "Yet I had kids
quit every year. I've never had a regular quit on me here. They
keep coming to practice every day, and I love them for that."

It was October 1995 the last time Savanna beat anybody--the
longest high school football losing streak in America--yet on this
Friday night, as the Indians prepare to go up against Aquin, the
fourth-ranked team in Illinois's 1A division, every one of
Savanna's 16 players thinks the Streak is about to end. "Nothing
wrong with right now!" Baisden bellows on the sideline.

"This is where it starts!" the players yell. "No prisoners!"
And after Aquin goes 75 yards in the first 73 seconds to score,
the Indians holler, "O.K.! Our turn!"

And after Aquin takes a 20-0 lead in the first seven minutes, the
cheerleaders still chant, "We'll beat you! Defeat you! Knock you
all around!"

And after Aquin takes a 46-14 lead at the half, the Indians are
in each other's faces. "That's the way to go!" says freshman
linebacker Adam Francke. "Fourteen points! And it's only
halftime!"

See, 14 points is more than Savanna has scored all season. In 24
of the 60 losses the Indians have not scored a single point, and
in 48 they have not made it to double digits. You don't even want
to know how many times they've been the homecoming opponent.

Nobody's quite sure how all this happened. Maybe it was the Army
depot's leaving town a few years ago. Or the railroad closing
down. Maybe it's because a lot of the school's 120 boys don't
even go out for football. "Huge guys too," says tight end Justin
Bull. "Guys like, 6'7", 250!" Instead, they hang out at what the
players call Dirtball Wall downtown after school, laughing at the
Streak. "They say we suck, but it's a lot more chicken to not
try," says lineman Rich Lawfer. "It takes guts to come out and
try to end it."

Lord, do they try. Most play offense, defense and special teams.
Some even play in the jayvee game that ends 20 minutes before the
varsity kickoff. Yet when linebacker Rhett Buchholz gets taken
out for one play, he growls, "Why'd you take me out, Coach?"

It's 54-14 in the middle of the third quarter, and Aquin has
stopped returning Savanna's punts. Three of the Bulldogs' running
backs already have more than 100 yards each. Because Aquin is
ahead by 40, the clock keeps running, even on out-of-bounds.
"This just isn't right, ref!" Baisden pleads. "My kids don't care
if they're down by 80! They want to play football!"

Loss number 61 is the 25th by 40 or more points.

Yet, at Manny's afterward, you would swear you were at the Aquin
team party. There's laughing, grab-assing and Pepsi coming out of
noses. "It's never been about winning or losing for us," says
McIntyre. "That's stuff the adults worry about. For us, it's
always been about being with our friends and playing football."

Too bad the adults don't get it. At the end of this season
Savanna's 84-year-old football program will be combined with
archrival Mount Carroll-Thomson's, playing in new colors under a
new name. "That's going to suck," says quarterback Phil Worden.

Would the district have merged Savanna if it had won more?
"Probably not," admits Baisden.

That leaves Savanna two more chances to win, or the streak lives
on for eternity. Pressure, right? "Nah," says Buchholz, "because
when we break it, we'll be famous forever!"

Meanwhile, 1,750 miles away, in Berkeley, Calif., De La Salle
High wins its 130th straight game, this one in front of 14,000
people and a TV audience. The tension there builds. "The team
that loses is going to feel terrible," De La Salle coach Bob
Ladouceur has said. "Those kids will feel they've let someone
down."

Anyway, don't you feel a little sorry for them?

De La Salle, I mean.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
"My kids don't care if they're down by 80!" the Savanna High
coach says. "They want to play football!"