I've been observing high school football in Illinois for more than 50 years and I must confess that the St. Rita team that humbled Mount Carmel 35-21 last Friday was, for one game at least, as good as any team I can remember.
For me, the gold standard is Bloom's 1957 team that featured Leroy Jackson, the three-time state sprint champion who later played for the Washington Redskins, and also included several other outstanding athletes, including Homer Thurman, Chuck Green and Roger Elliott.
Two other pre-playoff teams were exceptional. In 1971, St. Rita coach Pat Cronin produced a two-time Prep Bowl champion with Billy Marek and Dennis Lick and Evanston's Murney Lazier fielded his best team that didn't include injured three-time state sprint champion Howard Jones.
There were other unforgettable teams--Joliet Catholic's 1975, Gordie Gillespie's best team; East St. Louis 1985, Bob Shannon's best team; and Wheaton Warrenville South 1998, the Jon Beutjer/Jon Schweighardt passing circus that was the most exciting show of all.
Last Friday, before a crowd of 12,000 and a local television audience, St. Rita displayed all of the magic and talent and skills that those great teams of yesteryear did. If you saw it, I think you know what I mean. You may not be able to define it but you know it when you see it.
In overwhelming a Mount Carmel team that was everyone's choice as the No. 1 team in the Chicago area in the preseason, coach Todd Kuska's Mustangs were superior in so many ways. They were quick, aggressive, relentless and determined.
The offense is balanced and unpredictable with quarterback Larry Garrett running and throwing to Dan O'Neill and Kyle Jachim and Dan Dispensa, Dave Marciano and Johwon Akui running behind a big and well-schooled offensive line headed by 305-pound Mike Martin.
The defense is quick and physical and swarms to the ball. Marciano and linebacker Marty Hopkins are the ringleaders.
Can they play at last Friday's level for a 14-game season? Will they experience an emotional letdown next week? Are they a super team, one that can be compared to St. Rita's great teams of the past, the 1963 national champions, the 1971 powerhouse or the 1978 state champions?
Only time will tell.
But for one game, for one night, last Friday, St. Rita's 2008 squad was in a class by itself.