It was laughable, is what Lenny Wagner remembered. Laughable in the scary sense. Laughable at what could come next. Laughable in feeling pity for De La Salle, the best high school football program in the country.
Then the linebackers coach for Sonoma State, Wagner was at the Oakland Coliseum to see De La Salle of Concord play Pittsburg for the 1992 NCS 3A title. Now the head football coach and interim athletic director at Santa Rosa JC, Wagner was struck by the apparent mismatch about to be played out in front of him.
"In the pre-game," Wagner said, "the Pittsburg players were introduced. They were hootin' and hollerin.' Really strutting."
They had good reason. Fifteen Pittsburg players would go on to play Division I college football.
"The De La Salle players were introduced," Wagner said. "They were small. They stood at attention. They all got crew cuts. There's &‘John Smith, right guard. Billy Jones the quarterback.' Kids you never heard of."
Faceless, in other words. Nothing to look at. Not one ounce of bravado, not one hint of confidence.
"Looking at De La Salle in the pre-game," Wagner said, "you knew they were in trouble. Pittsburg was big and they were confident."
Then the game started.
"Pittsburg got killed," Wagner said.
The final score was 41-6. Another brick was added to the legend and legacy Bob Ladouceur was building. Ladouceur retired last week after coaching De La Salle for 34 years and he took with him that 399-25-3 record, those 28 NCS championships, those five state titles, that U.S. prep record of 151 consecutive victories and seven mythical national championships.
"That's a freakish, you-scratch-your-head kind of record," said Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin, who was Piner's quarterback when De La Salle beat the Prospectors, 49-24, in 1990.
"Staggering, absolutely staggering, you could win that many games," said Pete Dardis, who helped officiate seven De La Salle games over his career, including the 2011 CIF Open Championship game.
"That's mind-boggling. Unreal," said Casa Grande coach Trent Herzog.
"That's unheard of, impossible," said Jason Franci, the recently retired Montgomery coach, who faced De La Salle four times and lost all four by a combined score of 185-30.
De La Salle played Empire teams nine times during Ladouceur's reign, won all nine by a combined 367-94 score. One doesn't have to be here, there or anywhere to gaze upon those 34 years in wonder, amazement and curiosity. Ladouceur spanned five decades, the birth of distracting technology, the always-present and ever-emerging testosterone defiance. He found and captured the magic necessary to speak to and sway the adolescent male mind.
Ladouceur did it, as he said in his farewell news conference last week, to create "the authentic team experience."
Huh? Authentic team experience? What's that?
"They (kids) played for each other," Franci said. "He made them care for each other."
Ladouceur was famous for not giving pre-game speeches.
It's up to you, he would say to his team. You're the ones on the field. Take responsibility. Don't point fingers. Be held accountable. He was asking teenagers to mature, grow up in a way that would prepare them for adulthood. In the real world, pointing fingers is the first step to losing a job, not keeping one.