Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Coach Jim Martin and the St. Mary Special
If you were a student who came across Coach Martin early in the school year, you were probably rather intimidated by him at first. He was a solid man even if middle aged. It wasn't hard to see the athlete in him of his days when he attended and played football at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio. His eyes were close together behind his spectacles and his jaw was always tight—sometimes giving one the impression that he had a few marbles or chew in his mouth. Nevertheless, when he spoke, he was quite clear and articulate. He could pitch a softball underhanded like it was nobody's business and I always found it extremely uncomfortable when he was on the opposing team during a gym class dodge ball session.
Coach Martin was a good football coach because every kid that played for him liked him—whether they were a starter or a bench warmer. He could be tough, but probably wasn’t as tough as other coaches in his day. I always wondered if he thought we were too young to be pushed to the limit or did he recognize the talent in our team and therefore, didn’t feel the need to be as demanding. Regardless, he was certainly serious about fielding a quality team, but above everything else, he liked to make it fun for everyone involved. One of his sources of fun was the reliable trick play. By the end of our 9th grade season, we had at least three razzle-dazzle plays in our game book that were used for any given opponent.
The St. Mary Special (SMS) was our most successful trick play and was developed specifically for the Irish of St. Vincent/St. Mary High School (yes, the same school basketball pneom LeBron James attended some twenty years later). St. V/St. Mary was considered our most formidable opponent that year and Coach Martin knew we’d need a little something extra if we were to run with the Irish. Thanks to the SMS, we ended up tying them with one of our touchdowns coming from the play named for our esteemed opponent. In the games that followed the remainder of the season, the SMS was good for at least one touchdown per game.
Here’s how it worked: Setting up in our normal offense, the quarterback would take the snap and handoff to the fullback who appeared to be running an off-tackle dive. As he approached the line of scrimmage, the tightend or slot back on that side of the line would turn to face him to receive the ball as the fullback blasted by. The end/back would then pitch the ball back to the apparently idle quarterback. While all of these shenanigans were unfolding near the line of scrimmage and giving the appearance of some kind of running play, a wide receiver would be streaking downfield—and usually wide open. Once the quarterback received the ball again, all he had to do was get it downfield in the vicinity of the receiver. Touchdown, guaranteed.
And no one on the bus or in the locker room afterwards found more delight in those magical touchdowns than Coach Martin himself.