By Mitch Stephens and Stephen Spiewak
STEPHEN SPIEWAK: Now Mitch, I'm sure most people view Cincinnati as the big underdog here. And I'm OK with that. I love a good dog fight, much like Greater Catholic League and Greater Miami Conference schools love a good battle with countrywide significance (think Elder vs. Independence last year). Think about the recent representation these two super conferences have had recently on the national level.
The St. X Bombers were arguably the nation's best team last year, ripping off their second undefeated, Division I state title in three years, and finishing as the top team in the nation according to some. The 2004 Colerain squad won the DI title by pounding McKinley by 40 points (!), finishing 15-0 and No. 1 in the MaxPreps National Rankings. Many people think that Cardinal squad could be the greatest high school team of all-time. Their defense allowed a paltry 48 rushing yards per game, and most of them came against the second team.
I won't even mention Gerry Faust's old Moeller squads, who won national championships three times in four seasons from 1979-1982.
I must be honest, Mr. Stephens. I think Cincinnati has shed its underdog label. Can SoCal stack up?
MITCH STEPHENS: First off, thanks for not mentioning Moeller's national championships.
Unfortunately for the good kindly folks in Cincy, SoCal prep football history stacks up like the 405 at rush hour. The names, numbers and programs pile as high as Jack's Beanstalk. We won't lob any softball pitches. Let's just begin with the hard stuff.
Southern California products in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: QB John Elway (Granada Hills), WR James Lofton (Washington, Los Angeles), RB Marcus Allen (Lincoln, San Diego), OT Ron Yary (Bellflower), DB Ronnie Lott (Eisenhower, Rialto), OT Anthony Munoz (Chaffey, Ontario), coach Joe Gibbs (Santa Fe Springs), coach Bill Walsh (Washington, Los Angeles), coach John Madden (San Luis Obispo), OL Bruce Matthews (Arcadia), OL Gary Zimmerman (Walnut). Those are just beach bums selected since 1990.
Let's continue with Heisman Trophy winners produced in Southern California: Reggie Bush (Helix, La Mesa), Matt Leinart (Mater Dei, Santa Ana), Carson Palmer (Rancho Santa Margarita), Ricky Williams (Patrick Henry, San Diego), Rashaan Salaam (La Jolla Country Day), Marcus Allen again, Charles White (San Fernando), Mike Garrett (Roosevelt, Los Angeles), John Huarte (Mater Dei) and Glenn Davis (Bonita, La Verne).
If you want current stuff, let's look at final MaxPreps 2007 rankings. Three of the top 20 (No. 12 Centennial (Corona), No. 13 Long Beach Poly and No. 20 Birmingham (Lake Balboa), all from Southern California. Five more were in the top 78.
Do I really need to continue? Should we use a running clock?
SS: Ah, my old friend, the Heisman Trophy. Pretty sure I netted a few of those playing PlayStation in college. Let me tell you a little bit something about that award. Back when Marcus Allen was in diapers, a native of Cincinnati named Roger Staubach was bringing home that award. He only went on to win two Super Bowls and make six Pro Bowl appearances.
But focusing on individual athletes obscures what football in the Queen City is all about. Cincinnati may not churn out top flight talents on a yearly basis like the massive SoCal region, but the coaching, passion for the sport, and team success is unmatched.
You mentioned John Madden and Bill Walsh, but on the high school level, is there a coach in SoCal you would rather go to battle with than St. Xavier’s Steve Specht, mastermind of the recent Bomber dynasty?
And where in SoCal do they draw the huge crowds that they do in Cincinnati on a weekly basis? I was at the X/Colerain game last year, huddled into Nippert Stadium along with 20,000 other fans in 20 degree weather. I'd be surprised if you crazy Californians drew that many people for the three state final games at the Home Depot Center, in much friendlier temperatures.
In Cincinnati on a Friday night, if you're not at a high school football game, you better be making a run to Graeter's victory celebration ice cream. In SoCal, I suspect, "Laguna Beach" re-runs and trips to the tanning salon are far more popular. With all due respect, I think the Cincinnati high school football hotbed packs a lot more heat than the brisk fall weather in Ohio would have you think.
MS: I think the tanning booths were open last Nov. 9 – OK, I know they were open because I got a quick airbrush that day – when 25,000 fans showed at Angel Stadium to witness a league game between Orange County rivals Mater Dei and Edison (Anaheim).
I don't know if "Laguna Beach" aired that night, but that game was televised live regionally, yet all those folks watched wonder boy Matt Barkley throw for 345 yards and four scores leading Mater Dei to a 38-13 victory.
Wait a minute, you were there! As I recall you graciously offered me one of those Super Electric California burritos, in fact. I think you had one too. Evidently the beans blocked your memory cells because that Barkley kid is already earmarked for the NFL. The USC-bound signal-caller is considered the No. 1 recruit in the land.
And his coach – Bruce Rollinson – he's won a pair of mythical national crowns. Mater Dei has attracted more than 30,000 fans to a pair of playoff games at the same venue in the 1990s and the LA City Classic between Garfield and Roosevelt at East Los Angeles College annually attracts 20,000 or more.
The thing is SoCal gets a legitimate rap for its lack of fervent fan base. Everything, other than the weather, about the region is diverse and people tend to spread to the hundreds of attractions, including the coastline.
But for those who are into the games – the coaches – I would match their fire and expertise with any nationally. I'm certain Mr. Specht is as good or better than even given credit. But yes, I'd be just as fine with guys like Rollinson, Jim Kanau (Lutheran, Orange), Bob Johnson (Mission Viejo), Matt Logan (Centennial), Kevin Rooney (Notre Dame, Sherman Oaks), Troy Thomas (Servite) and Ed Croson (Birmingham, Lake Balboa) – to name a few – leading my sideline.
SS: That's a great point about SoCal's diversity, because it makes my next point about Cincinnati.
Cincinnati is diverse as well, but on the high school football scene, there's unity within its diversity. That's what I think is so special about Cincinnati.
When St. Xavier played Lakeland in 2006, it didn't matter that Moeller fans had just endured a heartbreaking loss to a national power in Byrnes, or that Elder fans were bracing for Bob Ladouceur's De La Salle Spartans later that night. Nippert Stadium became one giant pro-Cincinnati crowd, as Moeller and Elder fans cheered on St. X, a bitter GCL rival, in the spirit of supporting Cincinnati football.
The same phenomenon occurred last year at the Herbstreit, when Hoover (Ala.) fans packed the visiting stands, and the rest of the stadium responded by pulling for the hometown Cardinals (who won in OT). Similarly, in the night cap, Elder seemed to be fueled by the partisan Cincinnati crowd, storming Independence in the second half and ending the nation's longest active winning streak.
Could you ever imagine any scenario where one SoCal team rooted for its rival? Bob Johnson and the Mission Viejo Diablos crossing their fingers and pulling for a Mater Dei victory?
MS: Johnson leading the wave for the Monarchs? Not likely. But sure, SoCal fans back their own like any other region. I once covered a Little League West Region final before 10,000 fans in San Bernardino (Southern California). A SoCal squad (Long Beach) played a NorCal team (San Ramon Valley, Danville) and about 9,500 booed the 12-year-olds from Danville. They'd especially exalt any SoCal team facing a Cincy squad. After all, they have to make up for all those years the Big Red Machine with Morgan and Foster and Bench used to wail on a pretty good Dodger team. Sure, different sport, different level, but then prep football in Southern California is simply at another level. Ask any college recruiter. The top dogs are from Florida, Texas and Southern California. Cincinnati's coaching and support – fantastic and abundant to be sure – can't compensate for the wealth of SoCal talent base and resources.
SS: Cincinnati not having talent is a bigger myth than "the five second rule”.
In case you aren't aware, college football does exist outside of the Pac-10. For one of the finest examples of Cincinnati football products, check out Notre Dame next season. The Fighting Irish will feature former Elder star tight end Kyle Rudolph, who could help Charlie Weis right away. Over in Big 10 country, watch for Devier Posey at Ohio State. He was another national-level recruit from Cincinnati who could make his mark this season for the Buckeyes.
This season, the guy to watch on the Cincinnati high school scene is Cornelius "Tank" Carradine. The Tank checks in at 6-5, 210 pounds, and runs a 4.6 40. I'm pretty sure no matter who the SoCal QB were (Barkley, Bridgford, et al), the Tank would steamroll into the backfield and introduce him to the cold Cincinnati grass.
I'll give you the final word, Mr. Stephens.
MS: No one claims Cincinnati is searching for talent. Not in five seconds or even 10. It's just that Southern California has Blue Chip talent oozing from the Pacific blue. On rivals.com's top 100 national recruiting list for class of 2009, seven of the top 37 are from SoCal, including No. 1 Barkley and No. 3 Cierre Wood, a 6-foot, 192-pound blur of a running back from Santa Clara-Oxnard already committed to Notre Dame.
No region in the country comes close to that kind of top-end talent. Not Dade County Fla., not Dallas, Texas and certainly not Cincinnati Ohio, cold grass, hot fans, masterful coaching and all.