Tonight is a big one. For the first time in the history of Cadillac High School football the Vikings will play for a state championship. The outcome the game is to be determined, but there is one thing that is not in any doubt. Every player, coach, cheerleader, marching band member, alumnus, and fan who has ever been associated with Cadillac football is pulling as hard as they can for this team. If there's such a thing as sending out positive vibes, a tsunami of support is behind the team.
This game will obviously be a new chapter in Viking football lore. In addition to being a once in a lifetime opportunity for this team, it is also a tribute to the rich history of Cadillac Viking football. Not only do we get to delight in the current team's accomplishments, but we also get to fondly recall the great Viking teams of the past.
Every age group in Cadillac has memories of the teams from their era. Comparisons are inevitable. However, differing landscapes make such comparisons a bit futile. (https://michigan-football.com/f/cadillac.htm)
You know, at one time Cadillac traveled to games via trains. There were a couple of world wars in the mix. The wearing of face guards was considered “sissy” at one time. Lincoln Field was the home of the Vikings back in the day. There were no playoffs before 1975. There were just four playoff classes prior to 1990 (A-B-C-D). Talk about apples and oranges. (https://www.mhsaa.com/MHSAA_ARCHIVE/sports/fb/history.pdf)
The determination of what team deserved to be in the top ten rankings in each class was made by various news agencies (Associated Press, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, and others). Over the years Cadillac made some of those lists, which was a great accomplishment for a school outside of Detroit and north of U.S. 10. Here's where it gets fun. I will bet we can all recall teams that would have loved the chance to participate in a real playoff.
It's at this point that you're thinking: “Geez, here's where Neff goes off on his ramblings about Cadillac football and KISS.” Wrong! Not this time.
Others will tell you about the great 1962 state championship team, the 1980 team that gave up only 19 points the entire season, or the 2013 team that went 11-1. Instead, let me take you back to an often overlooked three-year stretch when the Vikings went 23-3-1.
With the 1971 season just a couple of weeks away, CHS football was in an odd circumstance. It needed to find a new head coach – fast. Tom Jobson had just been hired as assistant principal and since he had been the head coach at Flint Southwestern was asked to fill the spot. He agreed to do so for one year.
That team had won just two games the year before, but Jobson found a senior- laden squad that was determined and tough as nails. A veteran backfield of QB Jon Reitmeyer and running backs Cy Ketchum and Rock Baty were joined by Sophomore Norm Smith. They ran behind an offensive line that was gritty and experienced, including: Tom Gilbert, Bill Kinney, Bill Hydenberk, Dar Packer and Greg Ball. When they needed to throw, speedy receiver Jeff Harrold was there for clutch catches. On defense that group was augmented by Brian Elenbaas and Walt Falan up front with Ken Allen at linebacker (who made 99 tackles that year).
The 1971 Vikings showed their mettle during the final two games. With the team ravaged by flu, the back-ups came through and many front liners switched positions (like Gilbert moving from tackle to center). The result was an 8-8 tie with Ludington and a 20-8 win over previously undefeated Manistee Catholic.
Summing up the season, Jobson said: “Everything you hope to see as a coach is here in this Cadillac club. Our people did a great job.” It was a team that would have been tough to handle in any playoff.
The 1972 season began with another change in head coaches. Dave Brines came to Cadillac from Flint Northwestern. This began a run that would land him in the Michigan High School Football Association Coaches Hall of Fame.(http://www.mhsfca.com/)
Building on the success of the previous year was challenging because so many new faces had to step into the lineup. The Vikes did have returnees to lead the way, however. Jeff Harrold was back. Steve Ault, Steve Brinks and Dave Cook provided experience up front and all-conference defensive back Dave Peterson was on hand. Junior tackle Mike “Swede” Johnson added to the line's depth.
The big task was to reload the backfield. Norm Smith was switched to tailback, Mike Labar stepped in at fullback, Doug McClure took over at halfback and Pat Maury assumed the helm at QB. This group was to become one of the most prolific quartets in Viking history. While Smith battered opponents off tackle, McClure had the speed to beat defenses around the end. Once defenses were watching those two, Labar would bite off yardage chunks up the middle. To make matters worse for defenses, the Maury to Harrold combo was lethal through the air. The Viking defense was led by linebackers Gary Lung and Dean Worden. This pair was lightning fast.
The '72 season began slowly with a 1-2 record, but then the team got rolling winning their final six games finishing at 7-2. During that stint they scored 186 points. This was a team that would have been “hot” going into any playoff.
To borrow a phrase from KC Chiefs coaching legend Hank Stram, the 1973 Cadillac team just kept “matriculating that ball down the field.” The backfield was still intact (and Smith would be All State at season's end). Swede Johnson was still leading the line and was joined by ends “Tex” Johnson (as a deep threat) and reliable Bob Kellogg. On defense, Dave Laurent continued the tradition of excellence at linebacker and Dave Brines stepped into a key role in the defensive backfield. (Laurent and Brines would go on to co-captain the 1974 team.)
In short, the 1973 team went 9-0 and finished ranked number three in Class A. To say they were a juggernaut would be putting it mildly. They scored 366 points and allowed only 64. During their last four games they outscored opponents 222-0. No team would have wanted to draw these Vikings in a playoff.
All of these teams are a part of the fabric of Cadillac football. Their successes are noteworthy. However, truth be told, there were also some lean seasons when the records were not so sterling. But do you know what? That's part of the fabric too because regardless of wins and losses all Vikings share something. It's the honor of donning the blue and gold and competing on the hallowed ground of Veterans Memorial Stadium. It's knowing that you've been a part of bringing the Cadillac community together on a Friday night when we're all united as one.
So, tonight we all are behind our team as they make history. We are all proud of them and proud to be Cadillac Vikings.
Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.