When he came off the field last Saturday night, Andrew Woolsey had tears streaming down his face, the twin contrails of a hurt too big to keep inside any longer. So they rolled, along the smooth contours of his 16-year-old cheeks and off his chin, landing across the numeral on his game jersey. Woolsey, a 5'9", 155-pound wide receiver for Bishop Amat High, in La Puente, Calif., had been the littlest starter on the field at Anaheim Stadium, yet he had borne on his back the weight of his team's aspirations. Woolsey was, quite literally, number 1. Now he was the only Bishop Amat player who was.
Amat had come into California's Southern Section Division I championship game against Mater Dei High (from Santa Ana) as the top-ranked team in the nation—unbeaten, untied and unseen by the person who had made Amat No. 1 for most of the season in USA Today's Super 25 national high school football rankings. After being beaten 28-21 by Mater Dei, whose offensive linemen average 257 pounds, the Lancers fell from 1 to 7. Here USA Today, gone tomorrow.
The players and most of the 26,295 fans at Anaheim Stadium would have been surprised to learn that Amat's fate in the rankings rested in the doughty hands of a 55-year-old guy in Indiana making telephone calls in his pajamas. Dave Krider has been rising before dawn every Saturday and Sunday during football season for 12 years, working the phones from 6 a.m. to reach the more than 50 high school coaches, college coaches and recruiting gurus he consults each week before determining the rankings.
"The key is that you get the coaches before they leave their house," he says. "I know when these people eat breakfast. I know when they get out of bed. Some Saturdays I don't even get dressed until it's time to go to church at night."
Mater Dei had not been ranked in Krider's one-man poll until Dec. 6, following the Monarchs' 28-24 victory over the No. 8 team, Los Alamitos, which was riding a 26-game winning streak. Hut Krider would not insert Mater Dei higher than 15th, or permit the Monarchs to ascend to No. 1 in the space of a fortnight. "I jumped Mater Dei to Number 2," he said, noting that the current No. 2 team, Miami Southridge, would take over the top spot. "That would be the best finish Mater Dei could get [unless Southridge loses in the Florida playoffs], which would be a shame, but I can only move this thing so fast. Going from nowhere to Number 2 in two weeks is pretty quick."
Bishop Amat started the season No. 2 in USA Today and moved up when then No. 1 Bradenton ( Fla.) Southeast lost on Sept. 16. Like Amat, Eisenhower High in Rialto, Calif., was No. 1 in USA Today for much of a season, 1991, and its coach, Tom Hoak, is of two minds about national rankings. He says that after all the excitement of being top-ranked for 13 weeks three years ago, finishing second last season was a bore. "Last year it caused absolutely no interest," Hoak says, "in high school sports, you really haven't accomplished anything unless you're the best."
After Saturday's game, Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson was ready to claim the national title, but he also maintains some perspective on the entertainment value of the rankings. "I've stepped back and tried to see what these kids are seeing through their eyes," said Rollinson last week. "On Tuesday we had an Eyewitness News truck parked on the track next to our field. A little excitement, and nobody got hurt. Sometimes as an adult you find yourself thinking that as long as you don't end up in the Metro section with your house burned down, you're happy."
Tom Salter, in his first season as Bishop Amat's coach after 10 years as an assistant, was more inclined to fret about the distractions and pressures involved in being the country's No. 1 team. He was sufficiently unnerved by the approach of this adolescent Armageddon to insist that a reporter produce documentation proving he was not a spy from the opposition camp. "We don't ever talk about it," Salter says of being No. 1. "I don't even mention it to the kids."
No, never? Well, hardly ever. "Sometimes after practice he'll say, "We have a chance to be the Number 1 team in the nation if we win this game,' " said Amat center Jason Miranda. "But the coaches do try to downplay it."
So for a poll that isn't really a poll at all, as much as the definition of a democracy—one man, one vote, one set of furry slippers—Super Dave's Top 25 certainly seems to get to the heads of a lot of people, many of them well beyond their Clearasil years. "Some coaches like to pump their team up more than others, and usually it's the ones that haven't been there," says Hoak. "I don't even bother with it anymore because it's such a burden. Being Number 1 is difficult. You've got all the distractions and the pressure."