By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SEBASTOPOL — The principal wants to see you. A high school kid doesn’t want to hear that, anymore more than hearing your mother wants to give you a big hug in front of the entire student body.
That message went out Monday morning at Analy High School. Principal Chris Heller sent out call slips to every player on the football team. Be at the gym at 11 a.m. Attendance is mandatory. No reason was given.
“I know they were thinking they did something wrong,” Heller said. “When I got to the gym, before I said anything, they started clapping. I’m guessing they were trying to soften me a little, butter me up.”
Heller didn’t even tell Analy coach Dan Bourdon why he should be there. Be there, Dan. We’re going to talk about logistics for the next game (the NCS semifinal Friday against El Cerrito).
“How long is the meeting?” Bourdon asked.
“About an hour,” Heller said.
An hour? Bourdon thought. For logistics? Logistics for what? To launch an invasion? Of El Cerrito? I’m not an infantry officer.
“Relax, you did nothing wrong,” Heller told he kids. “But there will be a very special person talking about motivation and inspiration and preparedness.”
And with that, Joe Montana walked into the gym. To silence.
“They didn’t clap,” Heller said. “They were stunned.”
Montana walked in, head down, not with the air of entitlement that you’d think would come from being the greatest quarterback who ever lived. Montana is rather shy with strangers, even the adoring ones. As he approached the podium, many of the Analy players still sat in silence.
“I don’t think it registered for a lot of them that this was Montana,” Heller said.
A former Analy coach, maybe a dude who pulled someone from a burning car or rescued a baby from a house fire, this probably what they were thinking, Heller said.
“And then Joe started talking about his Super Bowls,” Heller said, “and you could see their eyes widen.”
The light went on. Holy macaroni, this is Joe Freaking Montana! Four-time Super Bowl champion.
“It took my breath away,” said wide receiver and linebacker Dylan Mathias.
How Montana made it to Analy was a story in itself. His sister-in-law, Audrey Leach, teaches English at Analy. About a month ago, one of her students, wide receiver Stefan Carrasco, approached Leach after class.
“Mrs. Leach,” Carrasco said, “if we go undefeated during league, would it be possible for your brother-in-law to talk to the team?”
The idea to ask Montana to campus was actually Mathias’. But Mathias thought the idea would be rejected immediately, maybe with an “Are you kidding me?” reaction.
“So I asked him (Carrasco) to do it,” said Mathias, the team leader.
Leach didn’t shoot down the idea but she didn’t rubber-stamp it, either.
“I said I’d think about it,” Leach said, and for a while there didn’t seem much to think about. For starters, the season was far from over. Secondly, Leach is very respectful of Montana’s privacy and the demands on his time. So assiduous is she in this regard, Leach has avoided using her sister-pull with Jennifer Montana to approach Joe. In fact, she had asked Jennifer only once before, in 1995, and Montana did come to her Analy class to speak on what it’s like to be a celebrity.
Last Thursday, Leach asked Jennifer if Joe could come up to Analy the next Monday, providing of course the Tigers beat Campolindo on Friday. Nothing is quite as ill-fitting as an inspirational speech to a team that just had its season end.
Montana drove up Monday from his home in San Francisco, his estate in Knight’s Valley still on the market.
Montana told a lot of stories, the one about Jerry Rice gathering a lot of response. As a rookie in practice, Rice would catch a 9-yard pass and run 80 yards to the end zone. Jerry was preparing for success, Montana said. He then described how he almost lost the fourth of his four Super Bowl victories.
“On the play before he threw the winning pass to John Taylor,” Heller said, “Joe said he threw a ball right into the hands of a Cincinnati defender. The player dropped the ball.
“Now, I could have been scared,” Heller remembered Montana saying, “but I was prepared. Players make mistakes. We all do. You make a mistake and then you move on. Instead of getting down on yourself, think about what you do next.”
Montana spoke for about 30 minutes, answered questions for another 10-15 minutes. Walking away, Montana was stopped by Analy quarterback Darin Newman, a big fan of Montana’s. He wasn’t going to let this rare opportunity get away. One question was important to him.
“When he spoke about that last-minute touchdown drive against Cincinnati,” Newman said, “I asked him that, as a quarterback, how do your refrain from going for it all at once? How do you stop yourself from going for the big play? He said that at the end of the game with the game on the line, defenses will either do two things to stop you. Either they will bring everyone at you and force you to make a quick, bad pass or they will go into a prevent defense.
“I wanted to know when to make the big (long-gain) play. He said the big play will present itself.”
Newman’s question was universal to anyone who ever played the position — how to go a long way in a short period of time? Such as going 80 yards with only 1:45 left.
“And that 1:45 feels longer than my biology class,” Newman joked.
Yes, the players agreed later, Montana’s appearance was like the perfect jump start to the week. Analy football has never lasted this long, this feeling of freshness like straight shots of pure oxygen and then Joe Freaking Montana walked on campus to give Analy a speech.
“At the quad today,” Heller said, “I had girls come up to me and say, ‘That’s pretty cool that Joe Montana was on campus.’They would pause for a second and say, ‘Who’s Joe Montana?’”
The word spread and eventually even the uneducated were educated. Heller saw the reaction, saw how it uplifted the team, buzzed the campus.
What if Analy beat El Cerrito on Friday, which would place the Tigers in the NCS Division 3 finals.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have Survivor here?” Heller thought.
Survivor is the rock group that recorded “Eye of the Tiger,” possibly the most played up-tempo theme song in the history of sports.
“Wouldn’t it be great if they were in Northern California next week and they could swing by?” Heller thought.
He checked Survivor’s website.
“They’re on tour in Florida,” Heller said with a sigh.
Of course, one could always look at it another way. Analy’s football players are on tour of the North Coast Section. Don’t laugh. Really. That’s big news, big enough that Joe Montana drove up from San Francisco to talk to them.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.