If one flashes back . . . waaaay back . . . through the history of football at San Diego High School, the glory days were unexcelled hereabouts.
It was, after all, the only game in town.
From 1911 until 1935, in fact, San Diego did not lose a game to an opponent from San Diego County. In a more recent era, from late 1952 until 1960, teams from what was known as the Old Gray Castle were 45-1-1 against county opponents.
That was dominance.
And now let's wash away the ghostly flickerings of the past and flash forward to 1987, seemingly a century removed from the days when this school was the imperious and imperial ruler of everything at its feet . . . and that included everything within the county's borders.
It was last Friday night, and the San Diego High School field goal team was rushing onto the field for a 32-yard field goal attempt with less than a minute to play.
"Oh, oh," the kicker recalled thinking, "I have to go out there. I was scared and my legs were tight, but I'd practiced making the kick and I knew I had to make it. I had a headache, but I had to put it aside."
The snap was good, the ball was down, the kick was up . . .
"It felt real good," the kicker said. "I tried to make myself not look, but I couldn't help it. My eyes looked up and the ball was going right through the heart of the goal posts."
San Diego's players leaped and soared from the bench, racing onto the field in a moment of exhilaration.
"It was like we'd won the Super Bowl," said Bill Williams, the coach.
It was a dramatic moment, an exciting moment, a historical moment.
And San Diego High School, thus, was behind, 42-3, in the fourth period against University of San Diego High School.
Dramatic? Exciting? Historical?
Was this time to ring down the rafters . . . or are we talking someone with bats in the belfry?
It was, indeed, a very nice moment for San Diego High School football, San Diego County football and for Mia Labovitz. Mia? That's an unusual name for a guy, isn't it? It would be a funny name for a guy, but Mia is a girl. She is a junior, 16 going on 17, bright-eyed and bright, and diplomatic enough to spend as much time talking about her five interior linemen as she spends talking about the five toes on her talented left foot.
Is this what it has come to for San Diego High School football? Does it have to get its thrills . . . and kicks . . . from a girl? What would all the heroes from the past think of all this?
They would be proud.
"Mia is such a neat human being," he said. "She exemplifies what we're trying to get going here. She is the kind of student and the kind of athlete we want in our program."
The football team is winless in five games going into Friday's game against Clairemont, but Labovitz has created a positive focus of attention. She kicked two extra points in the season opener, and thus became the first girl to score points in a varsity football game in county history. She followed that last Friday with the first field goal by a girl in county history.
This may have seemed a gratuitous gesture on Williams' part, calling for this field goal, but he knew going for the touchdown was not going to change the outcome of the game.
"We were playing a real good defensive team," he said, "so I said, 'Heck, let's just try to score a field goal.' We take pride in our special teams, and we were thinking it would give us a chance to practice it in a game situation. Maybe we'll need to be able to do it later."
Special teams do seem to be particularly special to Williams, whose career includes seven years, from 1976 through 1982, as head coach of the University of San Diego team. When he arrived at San Diego High School this fall, he was told that the 1986 junior varsity had a girl who had successfully kicked 8 of 12 extra points.
"I've always been very big on special teams," he said. "I've always said I didn't care if a person was black, white, purple, green, male or female. If you can help us on special teams, I'll find a place for you."
Little did he know that someday a female, and an honor student at that, would come in and say: 'Hi, Coach, I'm ready to kick for you."
And so she has. But she has done more than that. Mia does not have to be prompted to stress the importance of academics, underscoring Williams' insistence that "practice" begins with a study hall each day. She personifies the well-rounded program and balanced attitude upon which Williams hopes to build a future to match that misty past.
The Old Gray Castle is gone, and so, too, is the football power it housed. SDHS football has not had a winning season since 1969 and has not won a league game since 1983. Mia, with two extra points and the field goal, has scored 5 of her team's 17 points this year.
It has been a year that would figure to cause many a headache for the head coach. However, Mia had the headache last week. It was aggravated by the celebratory pounding she took after her successful kick, and she was taken to a hospital for examination.
"The doctor said it was probably caused by tension," she said. "He wanted to know if it was a close game, and I said, 'No.' He wanted to know if any of the games had been close, and I said, 'Well, no.' "
Not yet. Maybe not even this year. But Mia Labovitz will tell you that San Diego High School football is on an upswing. She won't concede that her left foot has anything to do with it, but it does. There's nothing like a bright kicker to brighten a program.