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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Miracle Men

Alemany Working on Sequel to Magical '82 Season

October 13, 1999|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Seventeen years ago, a high school football team inspired underdogs everywhere.

The players weren't particularly big, fast or strong. The coach made them listen to country music, filling their minds with "Okie From Muskogee" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."

It was the Miracle on Rinaldi Street, that magical 1982 season in which Alemany High went from 3-5-2 the previous year to Division I semifinalist and almost conqueror of top-seeded Anaheim Servite and Steve Beuerlein, a future NFL quarterback.

The team fascinated an entire community and proved what can happen when a group of teenagers steadfastly believes in itself.

"It was the one year in your life everything went so well," recalled Paul Oates, Alemany's quarterback that season. "Everything was so positive. The camaraderie was so amazing. I've never felt anything like it, college or professionally."

As Alemany (5-0) prepares to play Servite (3-2) Friday night at Cal State Fullerton in a nonleague game, it's the perfect time to examine the lessons learned from '82 while exploring the possibility that a sequel to the Miracle on Rinaldi Street is under way.

Gene Zeller, a former Long Beach State assistant, was in his rookie season as Alemany coach. He believed in keeping things simple. The team ran the same eight to 12 plays 80% of the time. Receivers rarely went into motion. Illegal procedure penalties were almost nonexistent because of remarkable team discipline. The best play was 35 Blunt, a handoff to fullback John Mattson out of a pro set.

Alemany's opponents didn't realize what they were getting into. The Indians were scheduled as a homecoming opponent at least five times.

"Other teams probably looked at us and asked, 'How are these guys beating us?' " said Lane McCarthy, the team's tailback and star defensive back.

Building team unity was crucial to the Indians' success. Players became best friends, but it didn't start out that way.

In the summer of '82, Alemany players were in the school parking lot preparing to leave for a passing tournament.

Sophomore defensive back Mike Schaffel needed a ride, but he knew no one and everybody's car was full.

Finally, he approached McCarthy, a senior, and pleaded for a ride.

McCarthy paused, then said, "Do you have some gas money?"

So began a friendship that culminated years later with Schaffel serving as best man at McCarthy's wedding.

There are countless stories from Alemany players about the family atmosphere that year.

"I've never had a team that came together as close as that team was," Schaffel said.

Added Zeller: "The players fed off one another. Things kept snowballing. It was incredible. That team wasn't as good as they played."

The Indians opened with a 3-0 victory over St. Genevieve, one of five shutouts that year, and finished the regular season with an 8-1-1 record.

They won their playoff opener over Fontana, 7-6, on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass by Oates. They won their quarterfinal game over Lakewood, 20-10.

Up next was Servite, which had won every game since losing to national power Cincinnati Moeller. The semifinal game was played at the Santa Ana Bowl.

"I remember the bus ride, how silent it was and how bad we wanted that game," Oates said.

There were more than 6,500 spectators, including Coach Gerry Faust of Notre Dame, who recruited Beuerlein to South Bend.

The crowd was loud, animated and shocked by the halftime score: Alemany 10, Servite 0. The Indians' defensive backs were calling audibles in the secondary to confuse Beuerlein. Servite lost four fumbles in the first half.

But Beuerlein rallied the Friars. The crowd noise became deafening when Servite took a 19-17 lead. Alemany wasn't finished. Oates drove the team into position for a possible game-winning field goal. But his pass was intercepted with 1:30 left on the Servite 32.

"It kills me," Oates said.

The next week, Servite routed Long Beach Poly, 31-7, to win the Big Five Conference championship, the top division at the time.

Oates holds no ill feelings toward Beuerlein.

"I just picked him on my rotisserie team," he said.

Oates could throw a football 85 yards. He was Alemany's best athlete. He chose to pursue baseball after high school, signing a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent three years pitching in the minors and used part of his bonus to buy a 1965 Corvette. He returned to football and became a quarterback at Long Beach State from 1986-90.

Now 34, he lives in Cypress with his wife and three children. He owns two Aamco stores and lets his two young sons ride motorcycles and ski. They're daredevils in the making, just like their father.

McCarthy started four years at Long Beach. He lives in Agoura with his wife and two children and is chief operations officer for American Recovery Services Inc., a commercial collection company.

Schaffel started for four years at Fullerton. He lives in Seal Beach and is a salesman for Arbo Box Inc.

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