High School Memories Give Perry a Different Look
PROVIDENCE, R.I.--He was wearing number nine now, not the eight of his high school years, and his jersey was black, not blue and gold. But the laser he threw to Sean Morey on second and 11 was a vintage James Perry pass, and although the crowd chanted Morey's name, I thought of the quarterback instead.
On a crisp September evening two years ago, I saw Perry emote those same lasers while steering our high school, Malden Catholic (M.C.), to a win over Boston College High. That game heralded a season more brilliant than the red and yellow hues that splash the autumn landscape.
No less splendid was the spirit that flooded forth. Before the B.C. High game, I had joined my classmates in the school lobby. We painted our faces blue and gold--the M.C. colors--and dubbed ourselves the "Lancer Loonies." We roped off a section of the Brother Gilbert Stadium bleachers and designated it "The Looney Bin."
Now, Perry was a familiar face in an opposing uniform. As he stepped authoritatively out of the pocket, confusion swept into me.
Before making the pilgrimage to Brown, I thought not of the Ivy matchup, but a different game--the Mona Lisa of my senior year, M.C. versus St. John's Prep.
Imagine a foe more detestable than Yale, more imperious than the Yankees, more dominant than the Canadiens, and you will have the Prep. In each of my first three years of high school, St. John's steamrollered us. In my junior year, St. John's eschewed running out the clock and tacked on another touchdown instead. It wasn't pretty.
Even before the 1995 M.C.-Prep showdown had started, however, something had changed. An exuberance skipped about our heads like leaves dancing in a cool breeze. Maybe it was the chance to relieve stress accumulated over college applications, SATs and high school in general. Maybe it was faith. Maybe it was both.
We inaugurated the day with our own football game. In my only action at quarterback, I completed two of three and had a handoff that nearly produced a touchdown. Then we drove to Danvers and watched James Perry do the real thing.
In describing Game Six of the 1975 World Series, Roger Angell wrote, "Crispin Crispian: for Red Sox fans, this was Agincourt." Too young for El Tiante, Spaceman, and Fisk, we settled on the 1995 MC-Prep showdown as our Agincourt.
No M.C. team had defeated St. John's in 11 years. M.C. had not had a winning season since 1990. The Prep, meanwhile, had traveled to the Super Bowl in 1993. But Perry marched the Lancers to a 70-yard scoring drive on just six passes.
"That set the tone for the whole day," Tim Perry '90, James's brother, remembered. "For the first time, we intimidated the Prep. Sometimes, when you get a bully on their heels, they're not that tough."
Perry ran for two touchdowns against the Prep and threw for another, leading MC to a stirring 22-8 triumph. You could almost hear the bagpipes from "Brave-heart" playing.
"It was his best game at M.C.," said E.J. Perry, brother of Tim and James. "He legitimized the program, made the team take off. Winning that game and having that year was very big for them."
M.C. finished 9-1 that year, and although a loss to Xaverian thwarted a Super Bowl berth, the Prep win crowned the season.
"As far as high school rivalries are concerned, I would equate M.C.-St. John's to Harvard-Yale," said Tim Perry, a former Crimson quarterback.
When Kevin Quinlan, who is still scoring M.C. touchdowns these days, scampered in for the final six points, we rushed from the bleachers and thronged the field. Team members crowded in a circle and lofted their helmets high.
In addressing his men before Agincourt, Henry V said, "And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered: We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."
That day--our "feast of Crispian"--won more than a simple victory. We came together as a school, watching and celebrating and relaxing. Ahren Rittershaus wrote "Die Prep" with duct tape on his sweatshirt, and during the second half, we sang TV theme songs from "Different Strokes" to "The Jeffersons."
In December, James and I were both accepted to Harvard. But James chose Brown," Tim Perry said.
"I think that initially, James was weighing which school he was going to go to," he added. "But once he got to Brown, he realized it was the place for him."
At Harvard, Tim had once guided the Crimson to a 27-14 win over the Bears. On Saturday, James led Brown to a 10-0 first-quarter lead before Harvard ripped off 27 unanswered points.
"James will learn from this game," said Brown Coach Mark Whipple. "James and [Harvard quarterback Rich Linden] will do a lot of great things at both universities."
In Perry's first game as a starter for Brown, he shredded Yale for 333 yards. He threw for four touchdowns, one short of the school and Ivy records. Perry accomplished this despite playing just one series in the second half.
"He relates his high school experience to the challenge at Brown," Tim Perry said. "He's going into a situation where Brown has had losing teams the last 15 years, and he's excited at being a part of turning that around. It's what he feels like he was a part of at M.C. The Prep game was the culmination. In a lot of ways, it made his whole high school career."
After Brown's 52-14 triumph over the Elis, Whipple told The Boston Globe, "I felt good about the future of Brown football when [Perry] came here."
Sorry, Coach. I can't stop thinking about the past.