The city of Bradenton, Florida, once hosted two high school state football championship games on the same night, same time, different venues. How incredible was that? How did you choose? The local team that had to face Pensacola Escambia and a running back named Emmitt Smith that night wound up on the short end, but its crosstown rival managed to pull out a victory, giving the city a 1-1 record in state titles for the evening.
You could say Bradenton has some history when it comes to prep football. They talk a lot about the game in Texas and Ohio and Pennsylvania, and I'm sure it's grand. But prep football in Florida, fellas, it's a cut above the rest. That's why Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas came into Friday night's game at Manatee High in Bradenton ranked No. 1 in the United States of America. Tradition. A bunch of state titles under the belt. A bevy of Division 1 caliber players on the team. A 37-game winning streak.
And the Manatee Hurricanes, with four state banners of their own but none in seemingly forever, took down Aquinas 28-20 last night. Damn. I used to drive by the school and its stadium every day on my way to work. I would watch a game or two every season, occasionally offering pithy comments on the halftime radio show. And one of my favorite columns at the Bradenton Herald was about Coach Joe Kinnan, a legend in these parts, who was stepping down to deal with a bout of cancer.
Well Joe came back, and so did Manatee. It took a few years. But now they are one victory from their fifth state championship. And I couldn't be happier and more proud of the coach, his team, the school and the city of Bradenton.
I'm also very happy for a guy named Lawton Smith, who flips burgers at Council's Tavern while dispensing local wisdom and and Manatee lore. Lawton lives and breathes Canes football. (He also makes the best damn hamburgers in town.) I would give anything to be on a barstool at Council's next week, listening to Lawton's recap of the Aquinas game and his prediction on the final between the Canes and Tampa Plant -- another team with tradition. Lawton wouldn't have to ask what I was ordering: it was always a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard and extra pickles.
What's this got to do with music? Who cares! But if you need a connection, I invoke a Panhandle cheer from yesteryear. (Florida high school cheerleaders are also a cut above.) And it goes like this:
R-A-T, R-A-T, we want a touchdown -- RAT now!!!!!
Go Canes Go.