MANATEE -- Before the Internet, before TiVo, before Bristol Palin and Justin Bieber, there were Joe Kinnan and Paul Maechtle.
Before 60 percent of the area’s high schools fielded a football team -- and before some of those schools even existed -- Kinnan and Maechtle teamed to win more state championship rings than one hand could hold.
Before ESPN started airing preseason games and verbal commitments, Kinnan and Maechtle made Bradenton a national football hotbed, home to some of the country’s greatest teams and best players.
So in an age when things fade and nothing lasts, it’s fitting that the only two area teams still standing are Kinnan’s Manatee Hurricanes and Maechtle’s Southeast Seminoles, both of whom host regional semifinals tonight.
Would it be nice if all five area postseason participants were still alive tonight, still trying to punch their way to a state championship?
Sure. Postseason prep football is a blast, and the more people who get a taste, the better.
But there’s something poetic about the fact Kinnan and Maechtle, both of whom hit their respective sideline in 1981 and brought a level of excellence to their progams that neither had ever seen, are still here, still playing.
Kinnan’s Hurricanes are undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 5A and No. 2 in the country by ESPN Rise.
Maechtle’s Seminoles have won seven straight games, cracked the Class 3A top-10 during the poll’s final week and posted a memorable win last Friday over Lake Wales, scoring two touchdowns in the game’s final five minutes.
Manatee won its district. So did Southeast.
The teams are a combined 20-2, with the Noles’ lone defeats coming to Manatee and the same Venice team visiting the Hurricanes tonight.
Manatee has answered the bell each week despite being hit with a number of big injuries to big players. Southeast has persevered despite the school’s ever-plummeting enrollment, which has forced a number of Seminoles to play on both sides of the ball.
And tonight, each coach brings a big playoff game to Bradenton.
Manatee on the west side, Southeast on the east side.
Manatee fighting for Class 5A supremacy, Southeast doing the same in Class 3A.
Say what you want about how things were, about how the town doesn’t quite shut down like it used to on Friday nights, that the stands are a little emptier than they were 20 years ago.
Say what you want about the fact that until Manatee reached the Florida Citrus Bowl last year, neither program had played for a state championship since Southeast did in 1998.
But say this -- after all the years, all the changes and all the distractions that have come their way, Kinnan and Maechtle still know how to coach a football team. They still know how to get what they need out of their players, still know how to command respect.
They still know how to win, still know how to teach, and most importantly, still want to do both.
Neither seems content to sit down and polish their rings while watching old game films. Neither seems ready to look at the litany of championship years listed on each stadium’s scoreboard and say, “That’s enough.”
It’s the Friday night after Thanksgiving, and playoff football is still here -- two teams captivating one town.
Knowing what we do about the men on the sideline, none of us should be surprised.