No one permitted to go out on a night before a game.
Mandatory crew cuts.
No eating after school dismissal.
Dating only on Saturday nights or on Sunday afternoons.
These strictures, together with customary warnings against drinking and smoking, provide a built-in code of moral behavior. Talamo tried to interfere with the student code just once—a bed-check rule in 1958. "I called their houses the night before games to check up on 'em. But one of the boys came to me and said, 'Coach, you've gone with us this far. Why do this now?' He was right and I stopped. I was ashamed of myself. Now the boys take an oath among themselves before each game that they'll obey the rules. I threaten 'em with bed check once in a while but it's only a threat."
Since the defeat two years ago, Talamo has had a special phobia against loss of temper. The second-stringers have instructions to punch the regulars now and again during scrimmage, just to test their reactions. Anyone who flares up gets at least a tongue lashing, maybe even dismissal from the squad. "I tell 'em to forget about punching back, to fight back by scoring touchdowns."
Talamo says his coaching is based mostly on psychology. "Everything goes back to character," he says. "If you can build that, you don't need any fancy plays. Of course we coach to win, but we're doing more than winning at football. We're building principles of citizenship." Talamo's psychological treatment includes a hefty serving of sentiment. "I'm a tearjerker from way back," he admits. His gooiest concoction is the senior farewell. One afternoon before the final game of the season the varsity (about 33 boys) gathers in a large circle on the field. One at a time, the seniors shake hands with each member of the squad, then take solo laps around the track as everyone watches. "It's one big bawling session," says Talamo cheerfully. "The seniors are crying by the time they shake the fourth hand. The coaches all cry too. They just can't help it. I never hold back my emotions anyway, not even in front of the kids. I cry when I'm really sad."
Halfway through the Riverdell game this season, Talamo really was sad. Pascack was losing 13-7, and he was fresh out of inspirational words. "Finally I said, 'What do you guys want from me anyhow?" Then I started to cry and walked out. The kids went out and got two touchdowns, and we won the game."
Will Talamo cry when he loses another game? "Nope. When we lose the kids think I'm gonna kill 'em. But I'm not. I'm gonna shake every one of their hands and tell 'em, 'Boys, that's life.' And I'll be smiling, too."