Those who oversee football in the state of Florida say “The Game” doesn’t count.
The FHSAA will ignore the Plant-Manatee Kickoff Classic as if it was an illusion that never really happened.
So the lords of football in the state have turned this into our own Watergate.
It will seem as if some burglars broke into Joe Kinnan’s office, destroyed the stats and ran off with the game.
If only Richard Nixon had it so good.
But outside the confines of the Sunshine State, the view is different.
This game has national championship implications. Though the FHSAA will try to wipe it off the map, those who follow high school football around the country will remember the victor.
This is not Roger Goodell’s fun-in-the-sun NFL preseason football where researchers are needed to identify players in the fourth quarter.
Heading into Friday night’s game at the house that Kinnan built on the Hawkins Stadium turf, Plant is sixth in the USA Today national rankings, and Manatee is eighth.
Plant has a date later in the season with Abilene (Texas), which is America’s third best team, according to USA Today.
Get the picture.
Manatee beats Plant, and Plant beats No. 3 Abilene, and in a lot of people’s eyes the Canes move up to No. 3 if they take care of other business.
This is no pipe dream. Manatee can put itself in position to win a national championship, and it all starts Friday in a game that doesn’t count.
Tommie Frazier, Willie Taggart and the legendary Henry Lawrence would’ve begged for an opportunity to become the best high school football team of our 50 states.
They never had the chance, but these current kids who comprise the Joe Kinnan 11 can become football immortals bringing the county its first national title.
On the flip side, the loser could drop out of the top 25 and spiral so far down that the climb back would be too steep to be thinking national championship. Since USA Today began ranking high school football teams in 1982, every one of its champions was undefeated.
The loser Friday night cannot come back and say the game didn’t count and claim a national title even if it wins all its games en route to a state title.
If Kinnan wants to instill extra motivation in his kids, he can have them call Peter Warrick or Brett Timmons or any other member of the 1994 Southeast team.
Those Noles began that season ranked No. 1 in the country and lost only one game (to Riverview) in the now infamous “Mud Bowl.”
Southeast won a second straight state championship, but the Noles had to work their way back into the national limelight and settle for a disappointing No. 19 ranking.
So while the FHSAA, in its less-than-infinite wisdom, bills this as a game that means nothing, it means everything. It will be beamed over the national airways, kicking off a new phenomenon that is taking hold — televising high school football across the country.
There are 29 games scheduled to be televised nationally this year by ESPN and FSN, and others could be added. Five USA Today Super 25 teams have already played, with No. 11 Las Vegas Bishop Gorman going down to defeat to No. 16 Chandler Hamilton (Ariz.).
The news of that game was flashed across the country. Times have changed, and we are closer than we’ve ever been to crowning a true national high school football champion.
The highest a Manatee County team ever finished in the USA Today National final season football poll came in 1993 when Southeast (15-0) was ranked sixth. Manatee’s best was 10th in 1989, when the Canes were 13-1 and won a state title.
So don’t tell the kids at Manatee this game doesn’t count. The chance to give their high school football careers eternal life doesn’t come around very often.