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

The Centurians

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

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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."

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