Trying to pick the best football team the Bradenton Herald coverage area ever produced is a dubious task.
It's like going to Hollywood on Oscar night and selecting the best actor of all time.
This is especially true in an area where Joe Kinnan and Paul Maechtle have plied their trade for three decades.
Maechtle is entering his 33rd year as Southeast head coach with 280 career wins while Joe Kinnan has registered 279 victories in his 29 years at Manatee.
Things are different now. Manatee is the big attraction and has had major success since the mid 2000s. Southeast has been carved up into pieces that are called Lakewood Ranch and Braden River.
Looking for the best team is difficult, but the 1983 Manatee squad and the 1993 Southeast team did something extremely special.
They both won state championships and didn't lose a game.
It's enough for the Bradenton Herald to select them as joint Area's All-Time Best selections in area football history since the FHSAA began playoffs in 1963.
Keep the arguments flowing, we hear you.
Southeast finished ranked fifth in the country (USA Today) in 1993 and was the first football team in state history to win 15 games. Manatee finished 14-0 and ranked 16th.
The perfect records are enough to separate them from a field that includes Manatee's two one-loss state champs and Southeast's 94 squad, which started the season ranked first in the country and went 14-1 in winning a state championship.
The '83 Canes and '93 Seminoles excelled on defense.
Both had excellent kickers and highly talented skill players.
And both had some good fortune along the way.
Noles: No weaknesses
Former Southeast linebacker and current ODA head football coach Brett Timmons played on both state championship teams for the Noles and said the '93 team was unquestionably better.
"We had all those talented juniors and were stacked from to top to bottom. There were no weaknesses," Timmons said. "When someone left the field, there were no drop-offs. Our defense hit hard, was physical and fast. Our middle linebacker (Rich Robich) was a force like Brian Urlacher. He epitomized what our defense was about."
The '93 Southeast squad held its five postseason opponents to just 128 yards total offense and 10 points per game. In its 23-0 state semifinal victory, Southeast limited Deerfield Beach to 107 total yards of offense and 56 yards rushing.
"The team was blessed with great speed on defense and our kicking game (Danny Boyd) forced opponents to go 80 yards almost every time," Maechtle said. "We had an offense that could put points on the board in a variety of ways."
The Noles defeated Bay High 20-17 in the Class 4A state title game, holding the Panama City team that had averaged 38 points in its four previous postseason games to 152 total yards offense while sacking quarterback Chris Moore six times (four by defensive end Carl Hines) and 1-for-10 passing. Noles safety Reggie Davis had two first-half interceptions.
The Noles had offensive weapons, but some, such as receiver/returner all-everything Peter Warrick and running back Dyral McMillan, were battling injuries due to what Maechtle called the rigors of a 15-game schedule.
In the state final, McMillan lost a fumble, quarterback John Reeves also had a fumble that was returned 62 yards setting up a TD, and on the ensuing kickoff Warrick allowed the ball to hit the ground and Bay fell on it to set up a field goal. The Noles also lost second-leading rusher Andrew Jackson to an injury in the second half. But they prevailed thanks to their defense.
Southeast had 11 players who would eventually play Division I football: linebacker and 4A player of the year Robich, Warrick, McMillan, Reeves, Boyd, Keeton Cromartie, Brett Timmons, Roundtree, Reggie Davis, Alphonso Roundtree and Antonio Shepherd. Others who played college football included Charlie Brown, Josh Hunter, Chauncey Green, the late Kevin Covington, Ryan Rose, Jermaine Belvin and Cory Williams. Warrick was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, while Reeves, Roundtree and Boyd all saw time in the NFL.
Canes strike gold
The '83 Manatee squad defeated Miami Southridge in 4A state title game that still has folks in Dade County screaming they were robbed.
The Canes were on the Southridge 5-yard line and trailing 21-19 in the fourth period when quarterback Tracy Sanders fumbled the snap from center David Ott.
Southridge got the ball, and it was initially ruled a turnover. But the head referee overruled the call and said Sanders' knee was on the ground when he had the ball. Two plays later, Sanders scored the winning touchdown and "The Fumble" lives in infamy.
The call seemed to spark an incredible run for the Canes, who went on to win three more state championships in the next 10 years.
The '83 Manatee squad was supposed to be in a rebuilding mode with only one skill position player returning from the previous season in fullback Tracy Waiters. But Kinnan quickly found there were a lot of talented players just waiting for an opportunity.
The best might have been Tracy Sanders, who moved from defensive back to quarterback and provided the spark for an unbeaten season. Others included tailback Frank Crayton, defensive back Alvoid Mays and offensive guard Richard Starowesky.
"We had a quarterback, fullback and tailback, and all three had great athleticism," Kinnan said. "They all ran for about 1,000 yards, and none of them cared who had the ball. We had a strong, physical offensive line, and we had very athletic people in the secondary."
Manatee had 11 players who went on the play Division I football: Sanders, Waiters, Mays, Richard Starowesky, Frank Brunner, Trey Walker, Scott Schubert, Harry George, Doug Andrews, Mark Jensen and Scott Booth. Others who played in college include Mike Lewis, Frank Crayton, Steve Peebles, David Ott, Jeff Dunbar, Brad Crossan and Todd Mooney.
The closest games for these Hurricanes were a 22-17 regular-season victory over Southeast and a 19-14 triumph over Lakeland in the second round of the playoffs. In the Southeast contest, the Noles fumbled at the Manatee 13 with 2:40 left in the game.
In the Class 4A state semifinal, Manatee romped over previously unbeaten Gainesville Buchholz 28-12 with Waiters rushing for 124 yards and Crayton 118.
Sanders was the catalyst. He finished his only season at quarterback with 938 yards rushing and 16 rushing TDs while throwing for 12 touchdown passes and 1,175 yards. He played opposite Deion Sanders at FSU and had a standout Arena Football League career with the Tampa Bay Storm.
A great inspiration was Mays. Despite carrying only about 145 pounds on his 5-10 frame, he played safety and led the Canes with nine interceptions. He played two years at West Virginia and was an eighth-round draft pick by the Houston Oilers in 1989.
Waiters led Manatee with 22 touchdowns and 136 points and rushed for 1,172 yards. He played at Miami and was on its 1987 national championship team.
Starowesky went on to play at Florida and is one the most successful offensive linemen in Manatee history, with the Canes going 25-1 with him in the lineup.
With 14 returning starters from the 1993 state championship team, the Noles began the season ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today. It won another state title and its only loss was to Sarasota Riverview on a muddy field without star Peter Warrick, who was out with an injury. The defeat denied this team immortality. But good fortune smiled on Noles (14-1) in 19-17 5A state title win when Ocala Vanguard missed a 25-yard field goal on the final play.
Some Manatee fans argue the '89 state title team that won the 5A crown was the best. The squad featured offensive guard Patrick McNeil (FSU), tailback Kevin Freeman (Florida), linebacker Jimmy Stratton and quarterback Antwonne Newsome. The roster included Joe Kinnan's son, JoJo, and nephew, Chris, along with Tropher Fryer and Ryan Gentle. In the state-clinching 21-8 win over Carol City, Florida-bound Chris Bilkie ran for 110 yards and three touchdowns, and Freeman had 98 yards. The Canes (13-1) beat two teams in the USA Today Top 10 in the postseason.
The squad featured two of the greatest skill players in Manatee football history in running back Shevin Wiggins and quarterback Willie Taggart. They were at their best in a 44-14 state Class 5A title-game romp over Fort Lauderdale Dillard. Wiggins rushed for 105 yards and three TDs and threw a TD pass. Taggart ran for two scores and threw at TD pass. The team also featured Steve Gulash and kicker Robbie Stevenson, who played at Florida. The next season, Wiggins became Manatee County's first Mr. Football when he ran for 2,415 yards and set county career rushing record (4,451 yards). Manatee finished 13-1 with its only loss to Southeast.
The Hurricanes barely made the playoffs, getting in on a 3-way tiebreaker when Riverview upset Sarasota. Carl May took over at QB after a loss to Southeast and provided a spark as Canes (12-2) averaged 38.3 points in playoffs while allowing 14.8. The closest game was a 14-point victory over Coral Gables, and kicker Andy Elton's leg proved invaluable. Other key players: Faron Hornes, Trey Walker, Steve Gaskin, Chuck Howard, Macy Mitchell and Zach Samuel.
The Hurricanes (13-2) won fifth state title and finished unbeaten against Florida schools. Dominated Jacksonville First Coast in 7A state final with a 40-0 romp. With his play, Cord Sandberg made case he should be considered for best quarterback in program's history and defense was stellar behind Blake Keller and Derrick Calloway. Team rolled up 429 yards total offense while allowing 108 in state title win. Other key players were: Quentin Bundrage, Darius White, Hershel Caywood and Marquis Dawsey.
The Tigers (11-3) were the first team from Manatee County to win an FHSAA state football title. Palmetto defeated top-ranked and unbeaten Pahokee 7-6 in the state semifinal. The points came on a 40-yard TD pass from 5-foot-6, 140-pound quarterback Ronnie Deans to Jackie Garvin with 8 seconds left in first half. Pahokee had six turnovers and three roughing-the-punter penalties. The Tigers defeated Hamilton County 13-11 in the state title game when Jay Shafer tackled holder on a field goal attempt on the game's last play. Basketball All-American Wilmore Fowler set the Palmetto single-season school record with 13 interceptions and was an all-state receiver. Other key players were Mike Simms, leading rusher; offensive lineman Tom Tryon; linebacker Louis Davis; cornerback Chuck Jacks; and fullback Steve White. Frank Turner was head coach.