Freeport native in spotlight
When former Washington Township and Freeport High School football coach Don Earley settles into his easy chair Sunday to watch Super Bowl XXXVII from San Diego, here’s the list of things he won’t be watching:
The important Super Bowl story line for Earley goes back 19 years, to a hard-working, meticulous and intense kid named Jeff Christy who ran onto the Freeport football field as a ninth-grader and changed everything.
“He was that man among boys in the ninth grade,” Earley said. “You could tell right away. He had size and great agility. You could tell.”
Christy is the anchor center of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line. A Pro Bowler in his 10th season, Christy makes his first Super Bowl appearance against the Oakland Raiders.
It’s his time. It’s his stage.
Earley will be watching closely from his Washington Township home. He won’t snap back into his coach mode, but Earley knows the best line usually wins.
“To tell you the truth, it’s kind of exciting,” Earley said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m just planning a quiet evening. I’ll just be right here in my house watching.”
It won’t be so quiet on the field.
When Christy peers across at Oakland’s massive defensive line, he will see nothing but muscle and more muscle up the middle.
Take your pick. The men across the line of scrimmage from Christy will be defensive tackles John Parella and Sam Adams. Neither is a bargain. Parella stands 6-3 and weighs 300. Adams checks in at 6-3, 330.
“The big guys inside look at their man-to-man blocks and they say that you pretty much can’t block them,” Christy said.
Christy, 6-3, 285 pounds, will smash into both tackles before it’s settled.
“I’ll get my chance Sunday,” Christy said. “Either you get it done, or you don’t.”
Christy admits he’ll be running on adrenaline when the big game starts.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a great feeling making the Super Bowl. My travels have brought me to Tampa Bay and it’s come together this year.”
Christy began the excursion as a fourth-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 1992, but soon moved on to play center and earn Pro Bowl honors for the Minnesota Vikings and Buccaneers.
A four-year letterman at Freeport, Christy set career totals of 2,842 yards and 45 touchdowns rushing as a fullback and made 340 tackles as a linebacker.
Christy switched from linebacker to fullback before settling in as an All-Big East guard at the University of Pittsburgh.
Earley describes Christy as a leader by example and talent. He describes him as a tough guy who likes to prepare. He calls him a guy who loves every aspect of competition.
“His talent was pretty obvious,” Earley said. “He was the only freshman who ever played for me.”
Christy plays center on a Tampa Bay offense ranked 24th in the league, but it’s an offense that has improved during the second half of the season, led by quarterback Brad Johnson who completed 62 percent of his passes and won two playoff games by a combined 58-16 score.
How Christy grinds it out with the big men across the line and protects Johnson will go a long way toward determining the winner.
Earley chuckles when asked how it feels to watch one of his players in the Super Bowl for the first time.
Thirty-seven year ago, Earley watched the Super Bowl because another of his former players, Bobby Long of Washington Township High School, played a backup role in Super Bowl I.
Long played end (wide receiver) behind Green Bay standouts Max McGee and Boyd Dowler.
“It wasn’t like they show the Super Bowl on television today, but it was still great,” Earley said.