by Jim Riggs
Three Who Beat the Jinx
On the negative side are jinxes. There is the famous sophomore jinx in baseball and Cleveland’s Joe Charboneau will attest to that. Then there is the old jinx about mentioning a no-hitter while a pitcher is still in the process of hurling one.
One of the most famous jinxes involves the cover of Sports Illustrated. It seems whenever a person or team is pictured on the cover of SI, it means trouble because failure usually follows. Another media jinx involves rankings and predictions. Some coaches consider it the kiss of death if their team is ranked high on polls or predicted to be the team to beat in the upcoming season. Many are afraid their players will become too cocky from reading about how good they are and will then slack off in their play. Others, they fear the clippings will become fuel to fire up opposing teams.
Three area football coaches, Joe Sanfilippo of Jamestown, Tom Sharp of Frewsburg and Jack Keeney of Panama faced that situation this season. All three were supposed to have the teams to beat in their divisions and that meant their teams would be involved in the Section 6 playoffs today at Rich Stadium. Well those pre-season predictions came true and had no negative effects as all three teams won their divisions and are playing at Rich Stadium today. And all three coaches say they didn’t mind the pre-season publicity.
“Jamestown Coach says ‘This could be one of my best teams’” was what the headline said for the Jamestown preview in The Post Journal’s Gridiron1981 back in September. And on the next page above the story about the Red Raiders’ Division 1 opponents the headline said, “Div. 1 Coaches Say JHS is Team To Beat”.
Sanfilippo says all that pre-season hype didn’t bother him at all and he doesn’t believe it has a negative effect on his players. It must not have because the Red Raiders are 9-0 and ranked third in the state coming into today’s game. “I wish they could say it next year,” he said with a grin.
“I don’t pay attention to it,” says Sharp. “It doesn’t bother me at all.” It must not have bothered his Frewsburg Bears either since they are 8-0 heading into today’s game with Albion. Frewsburg’s preview in the Gridiron 1981 pointed out the Bears had 17 returning lettermen which made them an obvious choice to win the Division 8 title. Most of the opposing coaches figured it would be a dogfight for the title and all included Frewsburg. One coach said, “Frewsburg on paper looks like a powerhouse.”
One thing Sharp did say was that he likes to see things correctly printed about his team in the paper. That is a good point because the joker pictured at the top of this column has a habit of making brutal headline mistakes about Frewsburg.
Panama received overwhelmingly favorable pre-season publicity. The Panthers won the Division 9 title last season and the headline over the Panthers’ preview in the Gridiron 1981 said, “Repeat performance likely at Panama.” The first paragraph said, “Panama Central Schools Division 9 champion Panthers dominated the All-Conference team last year and likely will do the same thing again in 1981.”
Panama had 11 starters back and 20 letterman. All that experience made one opposing coach say, “Panama should have a cakewalk in Division 9. Another coach was quoted as saying, “On paper Panama has the best shot to repeat as winner of Division 9.” Another said, Panama will be in a class by itself. The rest of the teams will be competing for second place.” And another said, “Panama will be the class of Division 9.”
Those are the kind of compliments that can lead to complacency. Does that kind of pre-season build-up bother Keeney?” “Absolutely not,” says the Panama coach. “I like being thought of as being a good football team.”
But it can’t be damaging for the players to read that kind of favorable publicity? “I think it helps,” pointed out Keeney. “Kids like to think they are successful.”
“People aren’t going to say it without justification,” Keeney said and then added, “We probably didn’t think as highly of ourselves.” He explained that if your team is strong, you will always notice the weaknesses, no matter how small they are. So while the coach usually notices the negative things, outsiders look at the positive things.
Panama lived up to its reputation by winning the first six games. The Panthers clinched the title outright the next time out. Then came back-to-back losses to Frewsburg and Cassadaga Valley, both Division 8 teams.
Today Panama and Jamestown are still carrying the banner as favorites as both are supposed to win their games at Rich Stadium. Both are also meeting opponents from divisions one step below their’s.
On the other hand, Division 8 champ Frewsburg must meet Division 8 champion Albion which is ranked 14th in the state among small schools. For that reason, the Bears are the underdogs for the first time this season. So after proving it could live up to favorable predictions, Sharp’s club will now be faced with proving unfavorable predictions about today’s game are wrong. Also, maybe the favorable pre-game publicity will jinx Albion.