When you flirt with immortality and lose, the consequences can be haunting.
Brett Timmons, a cerebral type who doesn’t believe in curses and such, says it’s like having flashbacks that never stop. They come and go over the years leaving that same nauseous feeling on every visit.
Last season marked the 15th anniversary of the game that denied Timmons and the rest of the Southeast football team a chance at immortality.
To this day it dogs him, though Timmons was luckier than his teammates that included Peter Warrick and Dyral McMillan. In college, he got to crystallize his name in one of those Ripley’s Believe It Or Not seasons.
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But with another season on the horizon, Timmons can feel those demons returning to wreak their annual havoc before leaving him alone to coach his current team. It’s the price he must pay for his ambitious endeavors.
The opportunity for Timmons and his teammates to become immortalized began on a typical hot August day in 1994 when he picked up USA Today and saw Southeast listed as the No. 1 team in the country.
“We jumped, we shouted and ran to campus to tell everyone. We went crazy. We couldn’t believe it,” Timmons recalled.
This was a miracle in the making that seemed to have a clear path to the football heavens with only a few hurdles to leap. It looked like a set-up that was too good to be true.
The bulk of the squad was back from the previous season, when the Noles won their first state title and the roster was filled with dream makers.
The big obstacle in 1994 was Manatee, and after Southeast got past the Canes, Timmons and his teammates saw a road paved with gold.
In all their youthful enthusiasm, those Noles couldn’t see they were in the middle of a murderer’s row dressed up as a football schedule.
Riverview coach John Sprague was a master at laying traps and summoned all his ingenuity, reminding everyone the Noles were probably the best to ever step on a football field.
The following Friday, with the Manatee game in the rearview mirror, Timmons sensed the football gods were in a mischievous mood as the Noles were getting set to travel to the Ram Bowl. Fears they would rob him and his teammates of their date with destiny danced through his head.
It rained most of the day, and when it stopped, rumors raced up U.S. 41 that someone saw people watering the field to keep it a pile of mush. Sprague’s landscaping skills were a hotter topic than his knowledge of X’s and O’s.
“Our defense was predicated on speed, and that was the one thing that could take it away,” Timmons recalled. “It rained the whole day, and then we heard they wet the field even more. When we got there, it was like mush. It was a mush pit.”
A linebacker, it was Timmons’ job to stop Riverview’s wishbone offense that featured Greg Hill and James “Disco” Mills, who ran behind an offensive line that was bigger than many college lines.
But the Southeast defense was tough, physical and quick, and the players figured their high powered offense, even with Warrick out with an injury, would put up a bundle of points.
The Noles had a touchdown called back and managed only 10 points while Riverview put 15 on the board.
It was over. The next week, Southeast fell out of the top 25 national rankings, going from the penthouse to oblivion.
“The game still haunts me because we could’ve done something that no other school in the area had done, go from start to finish as the number one team in the country,” Timmons said. “It was so sad because we knew we threw history out of the window. Even today, every time I go to Riverview, I get so frustrated and angry because we were the better team.”
There were no close games the rest of the season until the state championship game, when the Noles beat Daunte Culpepper’s Ocala Vanguard team 19-17.
Warrick returned after the Riverview loss, helped put up 64 points against Port Charlotte, and the converted receiver was undefeated as a quarterback the rest of the way.
Timmons got a little redemption playing on Tulane’s only undefeated team in 1998. He has also been anointed a miracle worker of sorts for taking the Out-Door-Academy football program from its birth to the state semifinals in less than five years.
But nothing makes up for that loss to Riverview, even back-to-back state championships.
He had immortality in the palm of his hands and let it slip away.
And it still hurts today.