I've been reading a great little book, "The Glory Game" by Frank Gifford, that I received as a Christmas present. It's about the 1958 NFL championship game, one of the greatest ever played. The game was decided in overtime, the first in NFL championship history. In what many agree was the greatest game ever played, the Colts eventually drove almost the entire length of the field against the Giants behind the passing combination of Johnny Unitas to Raymond Berry. Fullback Alan Ameche scored the winning touchdown on an off-tackle run to win the championship for Baltimore.
It was a good read and brought back lots of memories. The book explores the character of the game back then and the "characters" who played it. Even though I was in the seventh grade in 1958 I was lucky enough to eventually play alongside, against, or be coached by many of the guys who were on the field for that championship game.
When I played, the relationship between players, team and community was strong. Individual potential, supported by the fans cheering us on, transformed into total team effort that many times would triumph over pure skill on the field. During my years as a Saint, we were able to defeat many teams who were more individually talented than us because we played them at home in New Orleans in front of 88,000 fanatic Cajuns screaming their heads off for us.
A game we played in 1971 against the Los Angeles Rams comes to mind. They were awesome. Roman Gabriel led a high-scoring offense and the "Fearsome Foursome" anchored a powerful defense. The stadium was full; it was our new quarterback Archie Manning's first professional game. It also was 115 degrees with over 95 percent humidity on the field.
What a battle. The Rams weren't used to the southern heat and humidity that we had been training in for two months. Their sideline looked more like a M.A.S.H. unit as the game progressed. Players were collapsing from heat exhaustion and getting hooked up to I.V. saline solutions right on the team benches. We drove the length of the field at the end of the fourth quarter with Archie pounding the ball over the goal line as time expired for the win.
It wasn't until that moment that the fans recognized our victory. The players had known that we would win at the start of the final drive back on our own 20-yard line. There was an energy in the huddle that I can't put words to. We could viscerally feel the raw strength present in the crowd being transferred into each of us. With that power combined with Archie's leadership and confidence, we couldn't be stopped.
I'll never forget that drive. I can remember every play, down to the look in defensive tackle Merlin Olsen's eyes when I caught him jumping up to try and swat down a pass and speared him just under his rib cage with my helmet and shoulder pads. His feet came out from under him and he landed on his back. We made eye contact. I didn't have to say a word. We both knew. It was an absolutely great feeling, made even sweeter by the respect we held for each other as players. That block, that game, remain a wonderful memory of what is possible when we all work together.
As we move into 2009 I'm finding that same feeling more and more. As sheriff, I can't block or make eye contact with defensive tackles anymore. I can, however, with criminals, people who would threaten our public safety. There's nothing better than being at the scene of a PACNET narcotic search warrant and sharing that same experience with our officers. Know that when I look into the eyes of a just-arrested suspected drug dealer at one of our warrant services I don't say anything. I don't have to. The message I send, for all of you, is this - You're caught! Our entire community will not tolerate your activities any longer. If you're convicted, when you get out of prison, change your ways or don't come back to our communities. We're going to win this one!