The Penn sprint football team's seniors are a motley crew. Of this band of 15 fourth-years, some can hit, others can throw. Some can just plain run. There are quiet leaders and jokesters, seasoned veterans and newcomers. But they all share one goal. They all want to wrap up an undefeated season -- the first one in Penn history -- and sole possession of the Collegiate Sprint Football League championship. It doesn't matter if they have endured the last three years, or just the last three games, every player in this unique crowd has the same fire in his eyes. It is clear that this group is not about to let Princeton stand in the way of its dreams of perfection when the Tigers visit tonight. In 1996, Penn's 5-1 record was its best in its 60-plus year existence, a season where the Quakers tied for the league championship with Army and Navy. This feat was not intimidating to the freshmen who walked into Penn coach Bill Wagner's office the next year. They wanted to step in immediately, not to sit on the bench for two years and wait their turn. "We took it as our team when we came," said senior linebacker Mike Viney, a four-year starter. "It's been our team for four years." Viney is just one of nine four-year starters. Since 1997, they have known what they want -- an undefeated season. But it wasn't their turn in 1997. One year later, they proved their dominance, their presence on the field. And they came home with a title, but only a share of the title after losing to the Cadets. "It was bittersweet. It wasn't just us who won," senior captain Robert Reeves said. "We appreciated it, but at the same time it didn't diminish our personal want to win a championship outright." In 1999 they tried again to reach their goal. They failed. By eight points they failed. Army squeaked out a 17-9 victory and won the title with an undefeated record. "Their junior year, they were 5-1. Our only loss was to Army," Wagner said. "We should have won that game. We had the ball at the 12-yard line when the game ended." Again, it just wasn't their turn. This year, they haven't been distracted by their ultimate goal. The Quakers have played each game as if it was the title game. After shutting out Cornell and Princeton in the first two games of the season, Penn hit the road to take on Navy in the first match of the league season. There was no question about it -- Penn had to win. And they did, but at a high cost. There was a two-men-deep casualty list, both four-year starters, at the end of the overtime battle. Quarterback John Kernan broke his jaw, and one of the best defensive back hitters on the team, Dan "Rock" Rowcotsky tore his ACL. Cornell came next. The circumstances were certainly tough, with freshman Jim Donapel starting at quarterback for a Penn team beat up by the rough one-point overtime victory the game before. The Quakers were tired and missing two leaders, but that didn't stop them. The 15 seniors knew every game was theirs to be had. Every game was in their grasp. This year, it was their turn. The team rallied around the rookie QB and destroyed the Big Red. Army, also undefeated at the time, was next on the hit list. It was a position every true athlete dreams of -- two undefeated teams playing for at least a share of the title. It doesn't get much better than that. Unless, of course, you win. And win they did. With five games down, there is only one contest left for Penn. The Tigers can make plenty of friends at West Point by staying true to their nickname and ripping the Quakers apart. Or they can stay at the bottom rung. And Penn can take home the gold. The Quakers hope that they can dictate the action and make the latter outcome the true one. "We have to continue with the same approach -- not to take Princeton lightly, but to go out there and put it to them right from the beginning," Wagner said. Under the bright lights of Franklin Field with rain slowly starting to pick up speed, an army of football players standing 10 men across and five men deep last night began their last practice of the season. Slowly and softly, the synchronized clapping began. It began to get louder and quicker. It was the sound of athletes ready to win. For three years, this moment -- like the clapping -- has been building to a climax for a motley crew of 15 seniors. Tonight it's their turn, one last time.Comments powered by Disqus
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