HALL OF FAME NFL PLAYER TY LAW, with family. Law played football at Aliquippa High School. (Photo by Kenneth Ogilvie)
by Bill Neal, For New Pittsburgh Courier
There was no denying it…step-by-step as I approached the famed Aliquippa Stadium (aka the Carl A. Aschman Memorial Stadium), you could feel it, see it and without question you could smell it. If you’ve been there—done that—you know of what I speak. The smell of football grass. Once it’s in your nose you never lost it.
If somehow all that doesn’t send your football radar through the roof, when the Aliquippa Mascot comes charging at you in the historic form of a painted Indian (Native American, if you will) atop a stampeding horse, you know you’re truly on the hallowed ground known as “The Pit.”
You wanna talk history? Here in Aliquippa, this may in fact be where history first got defined. The legendary names are world-renowned and are forever anchored in Western Pa. sports history. You know the names: Mike Ditka, Ty Law, Sean Gilbert, Darrelle “The Island” Revis.
There are others, many others, of course…including the sharing of the great Tony Dorsett between Aliquippa and Hopewell. But, these four would stand tall and proud on this high school football Friday night in August as their names were enshrined to the new football Field House reconstructed in their honor.
Many of you don’t know and for that matter, probably don’t care, that I was raised in Donora, another one of the many small towns in Western Pa. that slowly saw its economic base shipped overseas and elsewhere. But, through it all, Donora managed to maintain its all-American base and dignity.
As Aliquippa showcased the legends on this summer Aug. 30 evening, I think of my old stomping grounds, where Donora had their legends: Ken Griffey Sr., Malcolm Lomax, Dane Tart, Reggie Walton, Bernie Galiffa and others. It was the same, just different names.
It was incredible that the family and close friends of Law, Revis and Gilbert were here to take it all in. After all, they are the ones that have been with these prominent figures through thick and thin.
For those who don’t know, Ditka (who was not in attendance for the Aug. 30 event) was an incredible player who won an NFL Championship in 1963 and a Super Bowl (VI). He was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1961, and a five-time Pro-Bowler. And let’s not forget about his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1988—just a few years after coaching his beloved Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl victory. Yes, he was that good.
Law made his mark with the New England Patriots, winning three Super Bowls as part of a tough defensive group. He had 57 career interceptions, a seven-time Pro-Bowler, and was inducted to the Hall of Fame this year.
Gilbert was the big fella for teams, playing defensive tackle. He played in the NFL from 1992 to 2003, and recorded 10.5 sacks in 2003 with the Los Angeles Rams, earning him a Pro Bowl spot.
As for Revis, he had his own “island.” His coaches would match Revis, a cornerback, on the opposing team’s best receiver, and Revis would oftentimes win the battle. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and won Super Bowl XLIX with the New England Patriots.
This evening was made possible by Aliquippa native Kevin Cameron, my co-host on the radio show “Soul Take—Champions Live.” Also, it was made possible via the partnership with the Aliquippa coaching staff and head coach Mike Warfield (who by the way, won a state title in his first year as the new head coach…in case you’ve been under an Aliquippa rock!), the school district and of course, our good friend Mayor Dwan B. Walker, the man who just flat out gets this done. And of course we can’t forget about retired Aliquippa Athletic Director Mike Zmijanac.
And there were many unforgettable moments that night. The crowd that welcomed us and our crew with the greatest hospitality ever; the families of the legends who let us in their world; and not to forget the team that treated us like part of the operation.
That being said, I’ll have to live a thousand more Friday nights before I am privileged to be in the company of and have the opportunity to interview the likes of Hall of Famer Ty Law, and, in most people’s assumptions, future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis. The only thing greater than their talent and NFL accomplishments is their humility. You only needed to witness how they “welcomed in” and interacted with the Aliquippa kids to really appreciate what true champions are made of.
“Mr. Law and Mr. Revis have been visibly active in the Aliquippa community throughout their outstanding careers. Whether monetarily or being available to speak with our kids, their time and visibility to our youth is the ultimate ‘give back’ and we can’t thank them enough for it,” said current Aliquippa Athletic Director Brandon LeDonne, in an Oct. 18 statement to the New Pittsburgh Courier.
This season, Aliquippa’s football team is on a roll. I mean, what else would you expect? They’re 9-0, with one game left in the regular season (Oct. 25 vs. Central Valley). Aliquippa has won a record 17 WPIAL titles, played 28 championship games, including 11 straight, three state football championships, produced 11 NFL players and two Hall of Famers.
We could do another book on how, why, who, what, when, yada, yada, yada…the fact is and has always been, that Aliquippa is a football factor, but with it comes character because you can’t have one without the other.
When I asked, “how do you keep producing these great football players?” a prominent Aliquippa leader simply said, “Aliquippa has heart.”
(Rob Taylor Jr. contributed to this story.)
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