Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Patented Wallace Stall

In 1970 Wallace's basketball team was known far and wide as being made up of great football players. We were playing the Coeur d'Alene High School Vikings on their home court. The Vikings had a great basketball team composed of great basketball players. Imagine that. They did have one great football player, Loren Schmidt, who was also a good basketball player. One Viking was 6' 6" tall. Bob Blum and I were a shade over 6 foot and we were the tallest on the Miner team. Bob and Hugh Marconi (Hugh may have actually been a little taller than either Bob or I now that I think about it) were both basketball players, but their abilities were far overshadowed by the rest of the Wallace players who were great, well fair to middling any way, football players.

The game was going about the way one would expect a basketball game between football players and basketball players would go. It certainly was going in the manner that the Vikings planned. They were up about 70 to 28 at the break between the third and fourth quarters. Coach Norm 'Punchy' Walker (his nickname, quietly used so as to not draw attention, is because he was a former national collegiate boxing champion) was discussing the situation with us in the 'huddle'. He was 'politely' explaining to us that we would have Hell to pay if they scored 100 points. (Norm before taking over the reigns of the Wallace High School athletic program had been the highly successful coach of the Mullen High School baseketball team in the 60s...quite literally one of the very best, if not the best, high school basketball team I have ever seen) Thus we implemented the 'Patented Wallace Stall'. I say 'patented' because it was a planned stall, one that Coach Walker had taught us to use when we were far ahead (a rare occurrence), but which we modified extemporaneously that night. 'We' figured that it was a sure fire, can't miss, way to keep them from reaching the century mark.

The players on the court thought things were progressing quite well until, with about 30 seconds left in the game, Coach Walker called a time-out. That seemed to us out on the floor executing the Patented Wallace Stall as being more odd than the usual type of  'strategy'.  When we got over to the huddle, Coach Walker simply said look at the scoreboard. The Vikings had 98 points. Enough said.

Back out on the court we reinitiated the Patented Wallace Stall. The ball whipped around the perimeter and ended up in Hugh's capable hands. When Hugh got the ball, he made several textbook pivots and he was double-teamed, maybe even triple-teamed. He was in the proverbial 'pickle'. At that moment a strange look of calm came across his face. It caused the rest of us on the floor, who had a 'front row seat' to begin to twitch and sweat profusely. We had seen that look before on Hugh and we had no idea what he had cooked up.

With 5 seconds left Hugh pivoted one last time, this time towards the Viking basket at the other end of the floor. None of us dared to breath. Somewhere a baby cried and a woman screamed. The Viking fans were going WILD; they wanted 100 points. Then as if in slow motion, Hugh leaned over and...rolled the basketball ever so tantalizing towards the Viking basket. None of the Wallace players moved, the twitches were by now violent shakes and puddles of sweat were accumulating around each of our feet, but all of the Viking players sprinted towards the basketball as it was rolling towards their basket.

The quickest of the Vikings reached the basketball with just two ticks left on the clock. I know because one of my eyes was firmly locked on the player and the basketball and my other eye was firmly locked on the game clock.  As he grabbed the ball the clock ticked again. He straightened, it seemed extraordinarily fast, to launch a shot from about the free throw line. Just as he prepared to shoot...the buzzer sounded! Game over!

The Wallace team collectively started to breath again and, ever quick thinking, without any sort of signal or gesture, we all simultaneously seized the moment and we proceeded to give each other 'high-fives'. We then marched, casually, off the floor...victorious. Each team member, heads held high and flashing huge smiles, basked in the cries of anguish and nashing of teeeth coming from the Viking fans and team! The scoreboard indicated that the Vikings had won the game but everyone, especially the Wallace players, knew who had really won. Hugh had turned potential agony of the wrath of Coach Walker into a celebration!

Post script: The Wallace football team kicked the Vikings' butts each of the years 1967, 68, and 69. I will concede that each year the score was closer. The last year, 1969 my senior year, the score was 6 to 0. The turning point, the motiviational factor for Wallace, was something that the Vikings would never have guessed at. Their great player, Loren Schmidt, had led the Vikings onto the field for pre-game warm-ups without his helmet. All of the Wallace players took that as an insult of the highest order. The fight was on. The game should have ended in a 0-0 tie, but a miracle that occurred. As I recall Gillis punted from about midfield. The Viking player went to catch the football at about the 5 yard line when he was hit by Gallagher. He fumbled the ball and Hill recovered it. I may have their roles backwards, but that was a few years ago. Anyway we ended up with the ball at the Viking 3 yard line. From there we had a first down and goal. The play called was a dive which calls for the quarterback to pivot to the left and hand the ball off to the running back as the offensive line fired out with their blocks. Gillis handed the ball to Johnson and he 'dove' over me at the tackle position. On paper, and usually, it was a guaranteed 3 to 5 yard gain. There was one 'little' problem this time however. The Viking tackle that was 'head-up' across the line from me was 6'6" tall and 260 pounds. I was a little over 6' and about 215 pounds. The Viking tackle had his head and helmet about 6 inches off the ground in front of me, his long arms were bent at their elbows, his butt was about 5 feet in the air, and his football cleats were tug in behind him.  I will admit I had at the time I had a  serious question about  how I was ever going to be able to 'get under him' so that I could push him back across his goal line. I had never faced such a formable foe in a goal line situation. Usually the defensive player's head would be level with mine a couple feet off the ground and since I was quick (seriously back then I was) I usually was able to get low enough, and under the player's head, and push them back or out of the way. Even with this new development, I knew what had to be done; one way or the other. The first play went about as one would expect. We gained one yard. The second play, same as the first, we gained a shade over one yard. Third down, with just under one yard to go for a touchdown, was pending. Third play, same as the first and second. I fired out, trying my hardest to get lower than him and under him to 'root' him out and back. The next thing I new I was on my back...looking up...(how I got in that position and where the Viking defensive tackle was I have no clue) into the face of Johnson. He was laying on top of me.,..face mask to face mask. We looked to the side, immediately discovered that we were both across the goal line, and smiles immediately broke out on our faces. We scored. There were no celebratory 'high-fives'. We knew how hard it had been to get there and we respected the tackle who had fought so hard to keep us out of the end zone.


Cedar Street Kid said...

Hugh was "special"(:)

Cedar Street Kid said...

Hugh was one of a kind. I ran into him about three years ago in Kellogg. He looked good. and still looked very fit.
Great story, I was not at that game. Sorry I missed it.

myrtle beached whale said...

Good story. I could relate the time in 1968 or 69 that the Mullan Varsity Basketball team beat our JV team 78-18, but it would be too painful. I did score 5 points in that contest and I believe I was high point man. Mullan always played our JV team due to the size of the school but could have easily beaten our varsity that year. I think they were state champs that year.