As the 2007 state football playoff moves into its second weekend, it is apparent that Mount Carmel, Wheaton Warrenville South, Naperville North and Joliet Catholic have separated themselves from the rest of the field.
But how good are they?
Are they in a class with the best teams in playoff history? Or are they better?
Former East Leyden coach Jack Leese, who produced an unbeaten team in 1971 and a state champion i 1977, said Mount Carmel's current squad is one of the best he has ever seen. He is impressed with the Caravan's option offense and its quick, aggressive defense.
But is this the best team coach Frank Lenti has produced at Mount Carmel?
How about his 14-0 powerhouse in 1988, which was led by quarterback Dan Miller, running back Nairobi Allen and defensive lineman Marty Schumacher? In a duel of unbeatens, Mount Carmel beat East St. Louis 21-7 for the state title.
Legendary coach Gordie Gillespie said the best of his five state championship teams was the 1975 squad that was led by linebacker Roger Hewlett and fullback Rick Thayer. In the state finals, the Hilltoppers trounced Springfield Griffin 34-14.
But was the squad better than Dan Sharp's 2000 Joliet Catholic team that beat previously unbeaten Metamora 27-14 in the state final? It was led by 1,000-yard running backs J.R. Zwierzynski and Chris Gruber, quarterback Craig Tomasino, defensive lineman Pat McShane and offensive tackle Mike Kolodziej.
Wheaton Warrenville South's 1998 team was the most entertaining, most explosive team of all. Led by quarterback Jon Beutjer and wide receivers Jon Schweighardt and Eric McGoey, coach John Thorne's Tigers overwhelmed Barrington 42-14 for the state crown. Beutjer set a playoff record by completing 29-or-43 passes for 490 yards and six touchdowns. McGoey set a playoff record by catching 12 passes for 246 yards and four touchdowns.
The following year, Naperville Central gave the DuPage Valley back-to-back state titles as Ryan Clifford set a playoff milestone by rushing for 279 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-31 romp over Schaumburg.
Bob Shannon built a dynasty at East St. Louis and his best team was the 1985 powerhouse that stomped Gordon Tech 46-0 in the state final. The Flyers were led by quarterback Kerwin Price and running back Michael Cox.
Of all of Matt Senffner's 11 championship teams at Providence, the 2001 squad might have been his best. It featured quarterback Mike Budde, running back Mike Mentz and linebacker Rory Steinbach.
Two other teams that deserve mention in this elite company are Richards' 1988 team with John Newton and Efrem Haymore and Wheaton Warrenville South's 2006 team with Dan Dierking.
My sentimental favorite always has been Glenbrook North's 1974 team, which won the first state championship in dramatic fashion by upsetting heavily favored East St. Louis 19-13 in overtime. Coach Harold Samorian's underdog Spartans, led by linebacker Jack Moller, beat a team that featured three future NFL players, including Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow.
So who were your favorites?