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A first-person account of Sacramento’s inaugural Holy Bowl football game
in 1969 between Christian Brothers and Jesuit High School

Holy Bowl I

Rick Cabral
  CB Class 1970  

This is the untold story about the first meeting between Christian Brothers High School and Jesuit in the “Holy Bowl” from the unique perspective of one player. Although 7,000 people were in attendance that Friday, November 21, 1969, only a handful know this story. Most recall that CB won the game 20-13 and that Brothers’ two halfbacks gained nearly two hundred yards between them. As the Falcons’ starting quarterback, however, my memory of this event focuses on premonition, betrayal and a mysterious, fog-shrouded oak tree.
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As Sacramento’s oldest educational institution, Christian Brothers enjoys a rich tradition. During the ‘60s when I played there, we all had fathers and uncles who’d played in classic matches against Sacramento High and McClatchy High. Coming into this initial “Holy Bowl,” Christian Brothers had earned a respect that Jesuit could only hope to foster in the future (Since then they have earned it in spades).

Both schools staged a great hoopla during gala week, including rallies and speeches before the inaugural Holy Bowl. The thing I remember most about that week was a phone call from my girlfriend, Barbara, a cheerleader from St. Francis High. She’d come down with a serious virus that kept her out of school and wasn’t sure she could attend the game. Barbara asked me to come over to her house on Thursday to wish me luck.

“Luck has little to do with winning,” I replied with the bravado of a young man on his journey to becoming a gridiron warrior.

“No, really, you need to be careful,” she insisted in a concerned voice. Barbara explained that she had heard through the grapevine that Marshall Alameida, the stud defensive tackle for the Jesuit Marauders, had guaranteed he would “knock Cabral out of the game.”

“Ahh, guys say that stuff all the time. It’s bull. They never back it up,” I consoled her.” Don’t worry about me. You take care and get better.” I promised to visit her the next night.

The next afternoon would be our final practice of the year. For me, it would be the last time I stepped on the CB field in a football uniform. Four years of training, pain, sweat and anguish were about to conclude what had been up to that point the most important period of my life.

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When I enrolled at the school in 1966 it was called Bishop Armstrong. Unlike my uncles and cousins, I never enjoyed the privilege of attending the “old” Christian Brothers, located at 21st Street and Broadway. Around the mid-50s, the Catholic diocese opened Bishop Armstrong as a two-year co-ed school for upper division students and Christian Brothers became an all-boys school for freshmen and sophomores. But by the time I entered high school, Christian Brothers had closed and Bishop Armstrong had become a four-year, all-male institution.

Nonetheless, I was excited about playing football. Our freshman coach was Mac Fukishima, a fireplug of controlled fury. Mac (along with Harry Bertacchi) had co-coached our eighth-grade St. Roberts grammar school team the previous year to the Parochial Athletic League championship. This one hot August afternoon, while Mac was working the freshman squad into shape, he stopped practice to talk with a black man who had been jogging around the field at Sac City College. The man was dressed in white sweats, but underneath you could detect biceps and thighs that indicated he lifted weights. He was also wearing a Miami Dolphins baseball cap; strange here on the West Coast in the mid-60s. He walked with a cane, but had a swagger of a Marine drill sergeant. After their brief meeting, the black man strolled off. Mac called together his team of pimply fourteen year olds to announce that Gene Browning would be assisting him as the backs coach beginning tomorrow.

He could tell by the look on our faces that we weren’t pleased that an interloper would be joining the team.

“He just got cut by the Miami Dolphins, fellas. Looks like a pretty tough character. He’s gonna help me make you tough, too.” Fukishima couldn’t have understood how profound his statement would turn out to be. Browning returned the next evening to begin the most grueling training session I ever experienced in football, which extended to my second year in college. It was as close to Marine boot camp as I could imagine.

 

Making my life more miserable was the fact Browning labeled me the “dumb-ass quattaback!” because of my inability to perform agility drills to his satisfaction. I had to admit I wasn’t very coordinated in this area, especially for a “skill player.” After three days, I hated this man, as I endured sweat, dirt and insults with the hope this taskmaster would eventually start teaching us some football plays.

About a week later, back on campus as the varsity and sophomore teams advanced through the playbook, the frosh continued these ridiculously painful conditioning drills. Then the coaches instituted hitting drills that were designed to toughen players for the oncoming physical realities of smash-mouth football. They divided us into two lines, spaced about 30 yards apart. Players at the front of each line ran helmet down and arms behind their back, colliding like rams in mating season. The player left standing was the tough guy; the winner. This wasn’t football, I whined through my face mask. After three rounds of this tortuous process, I was ready to resign. Only I couldn’t do it right there. Browning would surely strip me of any remaining dignity.

The next afternoon, however, during stretching exercises, I questioned why I didn’t have the guts to quit? Because I knew it would mark the end of any hope of ever playing football again. I needed to be absolutely sure it was the right decision. Finally, I decided to end the madness after practice. Then a strange thing happened.

As I was stretching, with my helmet between my legs, I found myself staring at the sophomore squad, and their head coach, Doug Stone, who appeared cool and temperate—just the opposite of this African-American wild man. Silently, I sent up a prayer asking for a miracle: I’d give anything to join the sophomore club. Otherwise, by end of practice, my high school career would be over.

Literally, seconds after the prayer, I watched Stone suddenly take off on a jog toward our team. To my amazement he ran directly to me. “Hey there, son,"   he whispered. "How much do you weigh?”

Curious question, I thought. “One seventy-five,” I replied. He jogged toward our coaches and I watched them huddle intently. Fukishima looked my way and nodded. Then Doug Stone wheeled and ran back to me.

“How’d you like to join the sophomore squad?”  he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

And the lord sent an angel...

“You bet,” I answered.

“C’mon,” he said and off we jogged toward the land of milk and honey where a cool breeze filtered through my helmet. What didn’t make sense at the time was the sophs already had three quarterbacks on their roster. Which meant I was fourth-string. But it didn’t matter: the agony was over for me, but not my frosh teammates. Due to Browning’s insufferable tactics the squad eventually dwindled down to 12 players by the final freshman game. And at each practice, while I was privileged to play “real” football, I found myself respecting each one of them even more for having the guts to tough it out; more guts than I had, certainly.

To my good fortune, the soph squad was a good bunch of guys. I climbed the depth chart and ended up starting at quarterback the last seven games. As a consequence, the Falcons claimed the Metropolitan League sophomore championship.

Thinking about this during Holy Bowl week, I realized I wouldn’t have made it through four years of Christian Brothers football if not for my timely promotion to the sophomore squad.

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The following summer, varsity head coach Dick Sperbeck invited me to join the team’s summer practices after promoting me to the varsity to be the second string quarterback. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was the best move for me. I was one of only three sophomores on the varsity team and once again, I would not be playing with the guys from my class. Later, this had a detrimental effect in building camaraderie between myself and the team.

Also, at that point in my athletic career, however, baseball was my first love. That summer, I excelled for the Land Park Colt League All-Stars as a pitcher and outfielder, having the best three weeks as a hitter in my life (mostly due to the book I had just read by Hall of Famer, Ted Williams. His book The Science of Hitting focused on one central tenet: Hit your pitch. It stuck with me that entire summer and paid off). As most of that Colt League All-Star team attended McClatchy High, a couple guys lobbied for me to transfer there. McClatchy was the public high school in my area. When I broached the subject with my mother, to my surprise, she consented (probably because she was among the first students at McClatchy to attend all three years and graduate).

At the next football workout, I informed Sperbeck I planned to transfer to McClatchy. He appeared shocked and lobbied back hard. He asked me to reconsider by noting that he had just installed a passing offense on the varsity with myself and first-string QB Tom Parillo in mind. But the clincher came when the coach appealed to my future. “You are going to be much better prepared for college with a private-school education taught by the Christian Brothers.” Convinced, I decided not to leave.

Sperbeck, it should be noted, was a super athlete as a young man. He lettered in the three major sports at Marysville High and Yuba College, and went on to play basketball and baseball for the St. Mary’s Gaels.

That summer Sperbeck implemented a complicated offensive scheme based on either the Dallas Cowboys or Kansas City Chiefs, two of most innovative teams of the mid-60s. We started with eight different base formations, and then he piled on any number of variables, including man-in-motion, double shifts and others, including tackle eligible. I struggled to get the system down. After factoring in motion, shifts and other subtleties, we had the potential of 64 different formations, I told him. I lobbied the coach to send me down to the sophomore team, as I simply couldn’t grasp this complicated system. Sperbeck grinned. Rather than persuading him I couldn’t comprehend the complexity, he was impressed that I had calculated the 64 permutations. This only further entrenched me on his team.

Sperbeck’s innovative strategies clearly put the Falcons at an offensive advantage. Unfortunately, opponents often outscored us, and the Falcons of 1967 were not much better than previous years. For some odd reason, the head coach started me (the backup QB) at tailback, planning to use the halfback-option pass a bit more than we did, I imagine. But I managed to generate some rushing yards.

Then against top-ranked Luther Burbank Sperbeck sent me in at QB to replace Parillo late in the 3rd Quarter. The Titans had taken a 28-7 lead after halftime and dominated the Falcons in all three phases. Burbank had already subbed some guys on defense, and since all I did was drop back and pass. By game’s end I had compiled 175 yards passing and two TDs in one-plus quarters. A nice highlight for the scrapbook.

The other moment that stands out for me that season was a botched running play against Sacramento High. The Dragons were led by two future collegiate stars: Lou Harris (USC) a real tailback, and receiver Leland Glass (Oregon). Harris was a miniature O.J. Simpson, the great USC tailback, and like the Juice, he wore number 32. The play was a counter to the right, and when I faked left, my plant foot slipped, causing me to be a second late for the handoff. When I reached the line, I shot through a hole wider than a Mack truck I sprinted down the right sideline.

Nearing the goal line there was no one in my path. I was about to score my first varsity touchdown when out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a blur cutting diagonally across the field toward me. Just before the player caught up and cut my legs out from under me, I saw the number 32 on his right sleeve. Lou Harris had made a TD-saving tackle at the 4-yard line.

Later, Sperbeck put me in at quarterback, and on an option play I broke my left ankle, ending my season.

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During the summer of 1968 the school regained its once-proud tradition with the announcement that it would revert from Bishop Armstrong to its original name.  I fondly recall that warm summer evening when I drove home from my girlfriend’s and cruised by the campus. When I read the new letters CHRISTIAN BROTHERS on the front of the building, I was thrilled. It instilled a sense of pride but also a century of tradition that must be carried over to the playing field. Perhaps this spurred on the needed inspiration. For the first time in years, the Falcons were not pushovers, as we beat such powers as El Camino, Burbank and Sacramento High en route to a 7-2 record with me as starting quarterback.

That fall I learned Coach Sperbeck was more than a football innovator. He struck me as the campus moralist among the liberal Brothers fraternity. He stood taller than any other faculty member, and with his close-cropped, wheat-colored hair, Pacific blue eyes and chiseled chin, he reveled in a classic Aryan look. Whereas the Brothers meted out tough love, Sperbeck seldom tolerated our frequent transgressions. Once, he overheard me in the locker room cussing up a storm while chatting with a younger player. After the other boy left, Dick took me aside and chastised me for using profanities. “You’re supposed to be the team leader. Using vulgarities doesn’t make you more of a man. It makes you less of one,” he said sternly. From then on I tried to modify my behavior and fit the image he projected for his starting QB.

I started my senior year as a highly touted quarterback and a sure-shot college prospect. Like many other high school quarterbacks, I admired and emulated Joe Namath, who was the reigning king of football after the Jets had defeated the Colts in Super Bowl III. During that summer of ‘69, I planned to further emulate him by buying white cleats (football shoes). Then I heard that rival quarterback Fred Arroyo of Burbank had already bought himself a pair just like Joe Willie’s. Others were doing the same I learned. I wasn’t about to copy everyone else. So, I came up with a creative strategy that would set me apart from the other quarterbacks while showing off the Falcons’ team colors.

I went down to the corner cobbler’s shop and came home with a can of royal blue shoe dye. I spray-painted the leather of my practice cleats. The next day, I showed up with royal blue shoes. Coach Sperbeck stared as if he was looking at a rare macaw, then offered aloud it might be a good idea for the whole team to paint their shoes blue. He saw I wasn’t pleased. I told him I had done this to stand out from the rest of the quarterback clan. “You will. The whole team will stand out,” he said, compromising my idea. Then the coach wondered aloud if red shoes wouldn’t have more impact (reverting to CB’s alternate color). He tried it on a few of the coaches and players nearby and got a mixed response. Colored shoes had become a hip distraction like a new character on the TV series,, "Laugh-In."

Sperbeck announced he would put the final decision to a team vote. That afternoon he directed me to go back to the cobbler’s and buy the red shoe dye and give it Joe Gutierrez, our star receiver, to paint his practice cleats red. The next day before practice Joe and I posed beside Sperbeck in front of the team. He pointed to me and asked how many wanted “blue” shoes, and then pointed to Joe and asked for red shoe votes. By a show of hands, it appeared to me that more had clearly voted for blue. But when the head coach announced the “red shoes” vote had won out, I fumed after a “stolen election.”

After practice in the coach’s office I tried one last time and lobbied coach Sperbeck to let me at least keep my cleats blue, since that was the original idea. To my surprise, he agreed but with one caveat: both varsity quarterbacks would wear blue as well, while the rest of the team would wear red. Concluding these negotiations, I felt prepared to join the State Department. In hindsight, the coach may have shielded me from appearing like a shameless egotist. In the end, Brothers became the first team—high school, college or pro—to wear color-coordinated cleats. You can look it up.

Christian Brothers shot out of the gates that year brimming with confidence. We perfected Sperbeck’s pro passing scheme and went on to a 5-0 start, earning the Bee's number-two ranking in the greater Sacramento area. The newspaper credited our creative apparel choice with the headline “Falcons Put Boots—Both Red and Blue—To Elk Grove in 35-21 ‘Shoe-In’ Victory.”

Continuing our good fortune, against Hiram Johnson—which the Falcons’ varsity had never beaten—wide receiver Bill Wallace caught a pass, fell to his knees and fumbled the ball. It  was recovered by CB’ defender John Hennessey and returned to the Warriors’ 12-yard line. Brothers punched it over for a quick six and never looked back. The Sacramento Union reporter noted that Wallace actually dropped the pass, but the referee’s vision had been obscured and he ruled fumble, Falcons’ ball.

 

Another anecdote from this game bears on Sperbeck’s play-calling ability. With CB back on its goal line and facing a third-and-long situation, Sperbeck sent John “Doc” Blanchard in with a play. Blanchard, a junior tight end and one of the most soft-spoken players of that era, announced the play to me with this lip-curled cynicism: “You’re not gonna believe this,” rolling his eyes inside his helmet for affect. “… extra dive left,” he said. I responded with an eye-roll of my own. But fullback Bertacchi romped nearly seventy yards on the play, proving Sperbeck’s prescience.

At that time, things appeared rosy on campus. After practice, Sperbeck and I frequently challenged each other in a game of accuracy, tossing the rubber footballs through the open doorway of the equipment room, backing up until we were 50 yards away. He usually outperformed me in these contests, which proved how great of an athlete he still was as he neared 40.

Soon after, however, losses to Burbank (38-8) and Sacramento High (40-20) sunk our hopes of winning the Metro League title. In the loss to the Dragons, I went 2-for-12 for 33 yards and had the worst game of my varsity career, thanks to the influx of blitzes by Sac High. This tactic, (which had also been used effectively against us by Burbank and Woodland before them), baffled our offensive line and demoralized me, so badly it turned out the coach substituted second string QB Dan Carmazzi. While our head coach was an offensive guru he didn’t have an answer for the Dragons’ blitzes. Ironic, since Namath and the Jets destroyed the Colts’ vaunted defense in Super Bowl III by employing short outlet passes to their backs on simple “hot” reads defeating the Colts' blitzes.

As a consequence of being shell-shocked, when danger seemed close I had developed the bad habit of falling back while passing off my back foot, a tactic I had learned from Namath. The difference was he had a golden arm and the street sense of a prowling panther who knew when to use this technique. Being a QB technician, Sperbeck was apoplectic at the site of me dropping back in the pocket, sensing danger (whether it was there or not) then retreating further outside the pocket protection and heaving the ball off my back foot, instead of stepping up and firing the throw to maximize velocity and accuracy. Unfortunately, I was unaware of adopting this tendency.

Anothor factor I later surmised was that Sperbeck taught his QBs to drop back an unheard of 10 yards before setting up to throw. Even the pros didn't drop back that far. In theory, it gave our wide receivers more time to complete their long pass routes, but it also set up a simple geometry that made it easier for defensive ends to avert the pocket and sack the Brothers' QB. Never so obvious as in the Sac High game.

Suddenly, Brothers had fallen from 5-0 to 6-2 and the season’s arc mirrored my own personal dashed dreams of making “All-City” teams and luring big college scholarships. By the second-to-last game against Kennedy High, I had gone from a confident quarterback to a back-tracking passer. During a live scrimmage before the Kennedy game, after Sperbeck scolded me once again for failing to drive forward in the passing position, the coach’s frustration reached a boiling point. He ordered me to take off my red jersey in a loud voice in front of the entire team (Quarterbacks wore a pullover red vest to alert defensive players not to harm them during practice). Now, with the removal of the scarlet garment, the point was clear: “It’s open season on our QB here, fellas!” And my teammates on defense relished the opportunity to dish out the punishment. I only wish this move had come years earlier, because it certainly would have better prepared me for the fierce slugging we endured on game night.

More importantly, the head coach recognized my major weakness: I had never enjoyed the physical contact football demanded and avoided it whenever possible. The red jersey treatment only reinforced this weakness.  And by my senior year, when I should have been rock hard and tough, I had developed into a prima donna passer. It wasn’t until the night of the Holy Bowl, when I fully realized just how much the head coach had regretted his earlier decision.

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Entering “Holy Bowl” week, CB was heavily favored, although Jesuit also had a very successful year (7-1-1). The clash of Sacramento’s two Catholic boys schools created a new rivalry and generated interest city-wide. Despite finishing third in the Metro League, a victory in the first Holy Bowl would give us an 8-2 record, and the added bonus of claiming the Catholic school crown.

Thursday evening, I gobbled my dinner and rushed over to my girlfriend Barbara’s house. Because she was sick in bed, her mother allowed me to enter her bedroom; the first time I’d ever stepped foot in the “inner sanctum” during the three years we’d gone out. She was dressed in a flannel nightgown and still radiating heat from fever. We talked a few minutes. Then she swung the discussion to the Holy Bowl.

Barbara warned me again of Marshall Alameida’s threat to put me out of the game. I reminded her that was all part of the game and not to worry.

Then she related a disturbing dream she’d had the previous night. “It was the night of the Holy Bowl game, and since I wasn’t able to go, I turned on the radio. You were leading CB toward a score, when all of a sudden the announcer said, ‘Cabral appears to be hurt; he’s lying on the ground.’ Then you got up, but they had to help you off the field. The announcer said you had broken your left arm and you were being taken to the hospital.”

 

She continued.  “I quickly got dressed and snuck out of the house. I didn’t care if I was sick, I was going to be with you at the hospital. When I got there, your left arm was in a cast.” She looked at me with those warm brown eyes and said once again with that mixture of sweet compassion and command, “Now you be careful.” I kissed her forehead and told her to lie down and rest. Everything would be fine.

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That Friday evening at American River College the grandstands quickly began to fill up, especially on the home side where CB boosters had posted banners and flags. Game organizers were expecting up to 10,000 attendance including the bishop of the Sacramento diocese. Excitement rippled through the stadium.

Everything about this game had a fresh sparkle to it. It was the first time the Falcons had played on the ARC field. Then during warmups, we saw strange lights in the distance. The lights grew closer and more vibrant, and soon we watched a group of Jesuit’s cheering squad, each boy dressed in khaki pants and long-sleeve, white dress shirts, streaming into the stadium carrying torches. As they raced around the track, I wondered if they planned to light us on fire. Either way, it was one hell of a psych job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later, the head referee called over the game's captains to the middle of the field. Dennis Bertacchi, John Hennessy, Joe Guitierrez and I met the Jesuit captains at mid-field. The referee showed us the commemorative coin he was going to use for the coin toss. He told us the winning team’s captains would each receive a copy of the coin. We returned to the sideline.
 

Just before the kickoff, a thin fog began to enshroud the lone tall oak tree in the south end zone. It all made for a very eery sight and a portent of things to come.

Jesuit won the toss and the game was underway. Pads were popping in this new rivalry game. After stopping Jesuit on its opening drive, Brothers drove 88 yards with Bertacchi scoring from three yards out to make it 7-0 Falcons.

On our second series, the offensive line continued blowing open truck-sized holes. Bertacchi and our other back Danny Galvez, ripped off huge gains: seven, thirteen, eight yards per carry. Then Sperbeck called my number on an option play. I kept the ball and galloped toward the end zone. But a brute of a lineman, number 64, charged up and popped me good. I stayed on my feet and landed near the goal line. On the next play, I scored on a quarterback sneak. Wide receiver Pat McAuliffe reached out to lift me up. I started to raise my left hand, but I couldn’t extend the arm A throbbing, stinging pain emanated from that shoulder. He took my other hand and launched me to my feet.

As the holder for extra points, I found it difficult to reach out and catch the ball for the kicker, yet we made the conversion. Afterward, I jogged over to the sideline and tried to loosen the tightness in my left shoulder. But it was clear that this wasn’t an injury that would get better through stretching.

The defense got the ball back and we returned to the field. Two successful handoffs on the left side of the line put us about midfield. Then they called a play to our right side, which required me to reach across my chest and hand off with my left hand. I found it impossible to make the simple move as the left arm wouldn’t extend that far. I quickly transferred the ball to my right hand and slapped it in the runner’s stomach with an awkward, backhanded motion: the way you slam a door behind you after entering a room. On the next play, the coach again called the quarterback run. As I raced around the end, the defense came up and hit me hard on my left shoulder, forcing the ball loose. Jesuit recovered the fumble. As I jogged off the field dejectedly I realized at this point that I wasn’t going to be able to shake off this injury.

Sperbeck came up to me on the sidelines. “What’s the matter?” he asked, as a perturbed coach will do following a fumble.

“Hurt my shoulder,” I told him.

“How is it?”

“Hurts like hell.”

He grimaced at the news and instructed me to protect the ball better next time.

On the next series, we resumed our running game, ripping off huge gains on the way to Marauder territory. Then came the call for a pass play, the first of the night. Normally, by this point in the game, we would have thrown several passes. As I set up to pass, I saw McAuliffe wide open over the middle. I reared back to throw, but the strain from the left shoulder prevented a normal throwing motion. He caught the ball at his feet and made a 14-yard gain. When he returned to the huddle Pat asked me, “Are you alright?” I told him he wouldn’t be catching many this night and in fact it was my only pass attempt of the game.

We scored again, despite those makeshift, backward handoffs. Sperbeck inquired again about the problem. “Coach, I can’t move my arm,” I complained. “It doesn’t feel right.”

Near the end of the half the Marauders scored, narrowing the gap to 14-7. As we left the field, CB was leading by a mere seven points, but we should have been up by more. Much more. I knew my injury was holding back the team. And yet I realized no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t overcome it. Nor could I extract myself from this nightmarish moment.

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Inside the locker room, the Falcons were banging helmets on the lockers and cursing in anger. Everyone knew we should have been ahead by at least another touchdown. Coach Sperbeck walked over to me. “Come in here,” he directed me inside the office of the head football coach at ARC. I figured he wanted to go over second half strategy, but thought it weird when backup quarterback Carmazzi didn't join us. The door slammed behind us with a thundering crash that sent shockwaves up my spine. I turned and saw the coach was livid. “You wanna tell me what the fuck is going on out there?” he yelled, slamming his clipboard on the floor.

I was stunned. “What are you talking about?” I asked incredulously. His fury had taken me by surprise. But the foul language really shocked me. In three years of coaching, the worst I’d heard from this man was “damn.” He was a man of letters; an English teacher who used words with precision. Sperbeck the moralist avoided expletives like an Episcopalian preacher. Nothing had prepared me for his outburst. It was completely incongruent, but somehow appropriate for this incredibly weird evening.

“Tell me what the fuck you’re doing out there?” he barked, repeating the expletive again.

“What am I doing out there? Wha…I’m trying to help us win a football game.” I couldn’t comprehend what he was getting at.

He then launched a tirade the likes of which he had never showered on me before. Sperbeck berated my play, then questioned my physical courage.

“My left arm, it’s hurt. I’m telling you.”

“Don’t be a pussy, Cabral,” he scoffed. “You don’t even throw with that arm.”

“It hurts anyway. Hurts like hell.” He didn’t believe me. Which made me madder.

“I’ll tell you about pain, Cabral,” he said. “You take Jessie in there,” he said, pointing to the next room. He was referring to our fullback, Jess Silva, who had broken a bone in his leg a few weeks earlier and was still in a cast. “If Silva had his way, he’d rip that cast off his leg right now, and charge out there on the field. He wouldn’t let some little pain stop him. “And that’s what you have to do. For once, you pussy.”

I was flabbergasted. Calling me a pussy—after playing for him three seasons. I’ll show him, I thought. I tried to lift my left arm, but it wouldn’t cooperate. It was cold and stiff now, and still throbbing around the shoulder. I tried lifting it again, but it wouldn’t budge. I looked at my coach, my football mentor, who was defying me to raise the arm. Do it! he commanded me with his eyes. I forced the elbow up near my ear. The pain was so great tears rolled from my eyes. With that, Sperbeck appeared satisfied his pep talk had worked. And I was starting to believe that perhaps I’d found a way to overcome the pain in this mind over matter exercise.

In his defense, this happened in an era when football coaches refused water breaks for fear players would experience stomach cramping on the field. And when players got their "bell rung,” coaches usually rested them for a play or two, but then checked back later and if the player admitted he "could go," they sent him back on the field. Fact was, in “the good old days” coaches frequently tried to instill “mind over matter” techniques, often with mixed results.

Ironically, after Sperbeck left the coach's office, he was confronted by Mel Fontes, our assistant coach.  Joe Gutierrez watched from his locker as Fontes lobbied Sperbeck to put Joe in at quarterback.  "Look, Cabral is obviously hurt and Danny is still injured," Mel argued. "Put Gutierrez in at QB." As the backup QB the previous season, Joe filled in admirably for me over two games. Although he hadn’t played the position this season, Mel figured Joe could handle the chores. But Fontes’ plea fall on deaf ears. Sperbeck was stubbornly confident his pep talk would lead to a positive reversal.

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We took the second half kickoff and Sperbeck called my number, a QB keeper around left end. A test, I figured. Jesuit smacked me on the shoulder and once again I fumbled to the defense (Note:
the Bee reporter incorrectly attributed the fumble to Bertacchi
). As I trudged off the field. Sperbeck appeared so disgusted he wouldn’t even look at me. Jesuit took the ball and scored, trailing 14-13.

Finally, on the next series the coach replaced me with second-string quarterback Carmazzi (ironically, for many years, he became Jesuit’s head varsity football coach). Dan was recovering from a severely sprained ankle the previous week that forced him to sit out the Kennedy game. Carmazzi hobbled out to midfield. “Finally,” I muttered in relief from the sideline. After two handoffs, on third down Carmazzi went back to pass. But his limp was so pronounced, Jesuit’s ferocious pass rush sacked him, and consequently forced another CB punt.

As I paced the sidelines, trying to desensitize the pain from that area of my body, suddenly, a thought crashed down on me like a boulder. Barbara’s dream: she’d warned me to watch out for Marshall Alameida, number 64, the same guy who smashed my left shoulder. The same arm she reported that I had broken in her dream! I stopped pacing and realized that I was now trapped in a Twilight Zone-moment. I became depressed, realizing I couldn’t escape this nightmarish quagmire.

With each offensive series I ran on and off the field despirited. I was psychically removed from the contest; simply running through the motions. I considered that this may be some strange purgatorial retribution for past sins. Tonight was the moment of reckoning. I took my punishment as best I could. But it was so personally defeating, like receiving a whipping in front of my family, that I felt completely demoralized. If I had Jessie’s courage, maybe I could do it, I thought. Then I’d run right through the Marauders defense. Or, so I imagined.

Fortunately, in the third quarter Bertacchi scored his second touchdown but we missed the extra point. The score stood at 20-13. Finally—what felt like hours—we were running out the clock. The gun signaled it was over. And perhaps the nightmare, too.

I found myself in the middle of the field, alone, watching teammates celebrating by leaping in the air and raising helmets for joy. But I had no joy left in me. Instead, a huge wave crashed over me and I began to cry, right there around the 50-yard line. Sobbing uncontrollably, I didn’t have the dignity to try and conceal it. I felt I had failed my test. And that oak tree, with wisps of fog still clinging to its branches, left a mark of mockery on this mysterious night.

Suddenly, someone rushed over, slapped me on the back and tugged at my left arm. “Congratulations,” said the referee. He held out the four commemorative coins for the captains of the winning team. I took them in my right hand and continued crying like an orphan on Christmas, I felt coach Fontes wrap his arm around my shoulder pads. “C’mon, Rick. It’s over. Let’s go inside.”

As I moved through the locker room my teammates were whooping it up, celebrating the first-ever victory over Jesuit, yelling, screaming, some even smoking cigars. For me, it was a complete opposite reaction, as all the emotion had been drained from my body. I tried to navigate around the swinging arms and pads and cleats on the floor. Finally, I reached my locker. In one last futile act I tried to take off my jersey. Impossible. Fortunately, assistant coach Dave Hoskins (the team trainer as well as our “line” coach) came over and began to help. “Let’s get these pads off. I wanna take a look at that shoulder,” he said somberly.

Once we’d removed the pads and T-shirt he felt around my neck and left shoulder area. Right at that moment, Sperbeck walked over. He asked, “How is it, coach?” 

Hoskins’ solemn expression told the story. “This boy’s got a broken collar bone.”

Sperbeck turned to me, paused briefly and then asked, “Rick… why didn’t you tell us?” He was dead serious, as if this was the first he had heard I had injured my left arm. I couldn’t believe he would pull a CYA move in this the final game. My sole reaction was to close my eyes and hope the nightmare would end there. But when I opened them, both coaches were still waiting for my answer. No one but the head coach and I would ever really know what went on behind the closed doors at half time. In disgust, I turned and took off the rest of my uniform.

Outside, my mother was waiting for me. She tried to console me as we drove to the hospital. The emergency room doctor eventually reported the X-Rays showed my left clavicle was fractured in four places. He placed my arm in a sling. “It’ll heal in about six weeks,” he said before leaving the waiting room. With my right hand, I dialed my girlfriend’s house. Barbara answered.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“The hospital.”

“Oh, my god,” she gasped. I gave her the condensed version of what had happened. “The dream came true, Barbara. You must have tuned in to something powerful the other night.”

With that admission, I began to break down again, but this time the tear ducts were empty. Instead, I pulled from my letterman’s sweater the golden commemorative coin from Holy Bowl I and stared at it while listening to her soothing voice on the phone.

And today, when I look at that coin, and reflect on my final high school football contest, I realize the value of my experience was something ultimately greater than a gridiron victory. It was a lesson in courage and integrity. And an insight into a mystery that has remained unexplained to this day.

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