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CHRIS FOSTER

Cypress' Suffering Continues

November 14, 1995|CHRIS FOSTER

Steve Martin was about to pass through the locker room door Thursday, then paused. He looked at a Cypress teammate and said, "Too bad Robbie can't be here to see this."

The Centurions had a 17-0 halftime lead against Century. Two more quarters and they would be in the Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 1980. Martin was right. Robbie Jin, Centurion linebacker, would have liked the view.

It has been a month since Jin was murdered, shot in his car in the parking lot of his family's apartment complex. The team's scar was still visible. His number, 56, and initials are displayed on every helmet.

Maybe that's where the focus should be today.

Maybe that's where we should go with this.

There was a melancholy feel to the Centurions' celebration after they held on for a 17-6 victory that apparently clinched the Empire League's final playoff spot. There were standard rituals--Coach Ted Hovorka was doused by a bucketful of that sticky, almost drinkable liquid--but the mood was a depressed elation. Martin seemed to have the reason.

"This is the first thing that has felt really good all season," Martin said.

That warm, fuzzy sensation didn't last long. What seemed to be a golden moment turned out to be pyrite. The Centurions' season came full circle because of an ineligible player.

Hovorka had been suspended during the summer because he used a player in spring practice even though the kid hadn't yet enrolled at Cypress. Then the Empire League denied the playoff berth when it was discovered that one Centurion was too old to be a high school football player.

First came a player who hadn't enrolled in school. Then came one who stayed in school too long. Nowhere, it seemed, was that happy medium. It has been that kind of free fall.

The season was one week old when a few players decided--in the name of school spirit--to lay waste to Western's campus. The team wasn't allowed to practice until the vandals 'fessed up.

Then came Jin's death.

Who would want to play football? Cypress went winless in nonleague play and scored 19 points in five games.

Things finally looked all right Thursday. Mike Jin, Robbie's older brother, scored the first touchdown. Bobby Brito, who was asked to fill Jin's spot on defense, intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown. It all seemed scripted. But it was uneasy, more Tarantino than Capra.

The tension was thick. Coaches screamed at players in what seemed more an irrational frenzy than a motivational ploy. One grabbed a player's face mask, spun him around to emphasize a mistake, even though the game was in hand.

At one point, a Cypress coach shouted at an official, "Why isn't the clock running?"

The official looked at the scoreboard, saw the seconds ticking off, and answered: "It is."

There were three minutes left and Cypress had an 11-point lead. The springs were that taut.

So maybe a playoff game would have been nice. Maybe the Centurions could have won and gone on.

Maybe there's some philosophical injustice. Maybe you don't punish an entire team for this mistake. Maybe there's an urge to take action.

But maybe it's best to let it end. Maybe these kids need a break. From the first ineligible player to the last, it has been a tough year.

Still, you have to feel:

Too bad Robbie can't be here to see this.

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