Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
–George Bernard Shaw

“See, the thing about the old days -- they the old days.”
-Slim Charles (from HBO’s The Wire.)

The University of Delaware will try and defend its home field this week when the top ranked team in the country comes to town, The University of New Hampshire Wildcats, and depending on how you look at it, Delaware will try to either reverse history, repeat it, or choose to forget it.

Back in 2000 Delaware was riding high. Ranked 2nd in the country coming into Week 9 of the season, everything had gone perfectly for the Hens as their 8-0 record reflected. They were coming off three impressive yet difficult wins at Richmond who was ranked 16th at the time, at William and Mary, and James Madison who was ranked 15th. The Hens featured one of their most potent offensive squads in years led by Matt Nagy and Jamin Elliot, and a hard-hitting intimidating defense featuring the likes of Brian McKenna, Bashawn Dixon, Mike Cecere, and Los Hermanos Pinckney.

New Hampshire wasn’t really even on their radar that year. Why should they be? The Cats were 5-3 losing three of their last four ballgames two of them to teams, James Madison and Richmond, who Delaware had just defeated. Besides, Delaware had history on its side. Sure New Hampshire had some success against Delaware in the late eighties and early nineties, but the Hens had won four in a row verses New Hampshire by a combined score of 114-49.

The 2000 game started out as expected with Delaware jumping out to an early advantage leading 21-3 at the half. Delaware padded its lead at the start of the second half on a 60-yard scoring strike from Nagy to Craig Cummings and on their next possession added a 40-yard field goal from Scott Collins, which seemingly iced it. The Hens led 31-3 midway through the 3rd Quarter as many fans started heading back out to the lots to celebrate. Those who left early missed a remarkable UNH comeback sparked by Quarterback Ryan Day’s 426 passing yards en route to a stunning 45-44 Overtime victory. The loss, Delaware’s only during the regular season, would cost the Hens a chance to grab the top seed in the I-AA Tourney which would go to Montana, and would force Delaware into the same bracket as defending national champion Georgia Southern who Delaware would have to face in the Semi-Finals where Delaware’s bid for a title that year would end.

“There is no way they are going to lose to NEW HAMPSHIRE,” WRDX play-by-play man Mike Corey told me prior to the start of the 2004 season, “not again”. The Hens were opening up the 2004 campaign as the defending national champs and the top-ranked team in the land, and New Hampshire was, well, New Hampshire. No way, indeed.

Mr. Corey was obviously no student of history because lose Delaware did and once again in stunning fashion.

Before the start of the season opener that year no had ever heard of New Hampshire Quarterback Ricky Santos except maybe Mr. and Mrs. Santos and I am not even so sure about that. Santos was so deep on the UNH depth chart that he practically had to leap frog over Five Guys Named Moe just to get to the number two spot. Mike Granieri, a three-year starter and widely considered to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league, blew out his knee and his career midway through the second quarter of the game. Hasan Noble, the second-stringer, was also injured which left second year head coach Sean McDonnell little choice but to reach down his bench for an untested Santos. I remember the panic in the press box that night at Delaware Stadium as everyone was scrambling to try and figure out who the heck was playing QB for UNH since Santos’ name was no where to be found in any of the game notes or in the UNH Media Guide.

Unfortunately for Delaware fans we learned a lot about Ricky Santos that night as he came in and coolly completed 10 of 11 passes including a 44-yard touchdown dagger to then Sophomore David Ball leading the Wildcats to a fourth quarter come from behind 24-21 win at Delaware Stadium. Proving it was no fluke, Santos, the following week, threw five touchdown passes at Rutgers, and the legend was born.

Which brings us to Week 4 of the 2006 season, and how the tables have turned. It is New Hampshire that is riding high coming into this match-up at Delaware Stadium. It is New Hampshire that is ranked Number One in the polls. It is New Hampshire Quarterback Ricky Santos, now a Junior, that is poised to become one of the great I-AA players of all-time. It is New Hampshire Receiver David Ball, now a Senior, that will this week likely break Jerry Rice’s I-AA record of 50 career touchdown catches.

Yes, the tables have indeed turned because this year it is Delaware that is coming into this game with an unheralded squad which is young, thin at many positions, banged up and un-proven.

Will Delaware learn from the lessons of the recent past and come out ready to play unlike the Albany game two weeks ago? Will history repeat itself and once again let the underdog prevail in this series? The difference of course this year is that the underdog on their own field is Delaware. How will the Hens react under the lights against a veteran team that clearly is ready for primetime?

I can’t wait to find out.

Bill Komissaroff

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