There is more pride than sorrow in Coach George Machado's voice when he describes the hurt the Hueneme High football team felt after losing, 29-24, to Ventura last Friday night.
Perhaps that's because the loss did, indeed, cause the players distress.
"Last year," Machado said, "our kids would have said, 'What the hell. It was a close game,' and they'd still have gone to the dance and gotten a hickey."
In past years, a five-point loss--particularly to a team as strong as third-ranked Ventura--would have been considered a moral victory for Hueneme and a reason for the players to party heartily.
Friday night there were tears. Hueneme had led, 24-6, at the half.
"It tore us up," Machado said. "The toughest thing for us to do will put it behind us."
How soon he forgets. The toughest part is over.
When Machado was hired as Hueneme coach before last season, the program was in dire straits.
"It was as bad as it could get," he said. "There was a losing attitude with the kids and there were no coaches here to speak of. The biggest kid on campus played tuba in the band. The kids didn't even want to wear anything that said 'Hueneme football.' They were embarrassed."
The Vikings, 3-2 and ranked 10th in the Coastal Conference this season, were 0-9-1 in 1985 and 1-9 last year. "Everyone thought of us as losers," said Gabe Diaz, a wide receiver and defensive back.
"The football players always took the attitude, 'Don't worry, we'll do better,' " said cheerleader Sandra Campos. "But I'm not sure anyone believed them."
Should they have? Last season's varsity supplemented its losses to graduation with players from a winless sophomore team.
The players, however, believed in Machado, who had winning records at high schools in Illinois, Wisconsin and Oklahoma before coming to Hueneme.
His brother, Pat, led Rio Mesa to three Southern Section baseball championships and is now the football coach at Morro Bay. Machado's father, John, coached football at Santa Clara in the early 1960s. His brother, Bryon, teaches and coaches in Davenport, Okla. His sister, Anne, coaches basketball in Strother, Okla.
A short man with sandy brown hair, a square chin and an angular nose, Machado, 38, is a self-described "screamer and a ranter and a raver."
"I'm the motivator in this program," he said. "The snake-oil salesman."
And, as his varsity coaching record of 78-22-2 would suggest, he's a winner.
Less than a minute remains until halftime. Hueneme has the ball and a surprising 17-6 lead over an obviously bigger and more physically talented Ventura team.
Hueneme fans are besides themselves. Near the bench, players are congratulating each other with high-fives. On the sideline, Machado is ticked off.
When the game started he was smartly attired in dress shoes, shirt, tie and slacks. Now the shoes are soiled, the tie is crooked, the shirt and pants disheveled and the voice hoarse.
The target of his present vocal attack is the offensive line, which was just hit with a holding penalty. After a few choice invectives, it's time for another play.
Quarterback Joel Gaxiola, a right-hander, takes the snap, rolls left, and lofts a pass that seems to rise above the lights of Hueneme's stadium before it drops softly into the hands of running back David Nunnery sprinting down the sideline. Touchdown.
Machado, who wears a constant snarl during a game, breaks down.
For a moment, the bear becomes a playful cub.
He turns his back to the field, points up to his brother, Keron, the team's offensive coordinator who is sitting above the press box, and let's out a holler. "That," he screams in the direction of heaven, "was a helluva call."
The extra point gives the Vikings an 18-point lead. Can the impossible be happening?
Cedrick Hackett, a running back who is injured and not suited up, is sure it will. "Look at those guys," he yells, pointing across the field at Ventura. "They've quit."
Less than two minutes later, Machado is making his way back to the locker room for halftime. As players pass, he tells each one, 'Hey, those guys are not going to quit."
Lessons come hard for a team not used to winning and Hueneme learned one in the second half against Ventura, a team with coaching and an abundance of talent.
"Our kids," Machado said, "just went in the tank.
"We were playing for the Channel League championship and were up, 24-6, against, honestly, a better football team. But we were in the driver's seat and we blew it. All we needed to do was drive the ball a couple of times--take some time off the clock."
Hueneme had two first downs in the second half. The Vikings, undersized and outnumbered, simply wore out. "I felt like we were on a railroad track, the train was coming, and we couldn't get off," Machado said.
The Vikings have only 28 players and only 23 suited up against Ventura.
"You look across the sideline and it looks like the Esplanade on a Sunday afternoon," Machado said. "Ours looks like 7-Eleven at 2 in the morning."