ROCKLAND, Mass. -- Sean Reilly was climbing the ladder to the rooftop of the press box at Rockland Memorial Stadium, where he and lifelong pal Kevin Whalen were to commentate tonight's heated rivalry matchup for Abington Community Access. And as usual, he couldn't resist an opportunity for self-awareness.
"All the nuts and bolts are tightened, right?" he shouted across the press box as he ascended the ladder.
"Yeah, well, most of them are up there," joked the scoreboard operator, pointing to the rooftop.
After all, it was a year ago this week that their hometown Abington Green Wave saw their 39-game home win streak snap to their archrivals a few miles down Route 139, the visiting Rockland Bulldogs pulling out a 21-12 win in a battle of unbeatens. Overshadowing the Bulldogs' come-from-behind win, though, was a controversial backwards pass committed by Rockland that was ruled an incompletion after an Abington player returned it to the house.
Had the play been called correctly, the Green Wave would have put the nails in the coffin. Instead, then-backup quarterback Ricky Witt heaved a 50-yard touchdown bomb to lead the Bulldogs to victory.
Visibly frustrated at the incompletion call, Whalen didn't just go unconscious -- he went dissociative. The result was 56 seconds of pure gold:
"You grow up in a town you're proud of like Abington, and not that it doesn't really matter, it's not like I live for football, but I try to make it about the kids as much as possible," Whalen said. "And every now and then, you have one of those out-of-body experiences."
This is nothing new, Whalen notes. He brings up a 2005 Super Bowl game between the Green Wave and Archbishop Williams -- "one of the best games in football history" he boasts -- and laughs reminiscing about getting into a heated argument with the Bishops' coordinators during the live broadcast.
Even still, nobody could have predicted the aftermath that followed. Within days, the clip was getting replay all over the local Boston media sites. Within weeks, the clip had gone nationwide, with two million views on YouTube, regular drops on the sports radio airwaves, and spots on Comedy Central, NBC, Yahoo! Sports and ESPN's "SportsNation".
Put it this way: Celtics basketball has forever had "Havlicek stole the ball". Now, Massachusetts high school sports has "Nuts and bolts, we got screwed."
"It went around our town like no time. That was incredible," said senior captain Cejay Suarez. "It was the funniest thing I've ever heard. I laughed for days."
Said junior captain and linebacker Pat Dwyer, "It took on a life of its own. Watching our games on cable TV is awesome, it's like ESPN. I saw the clip online before it went on TV. Seeing myself on TV was ridiculous. It's bittersweet though, you know what I mean? It's weird that it picked up so much traction."
Heck, as recently as last Tuesday, Suarez and Dwyer found the clip while browsing Google during business class, and Suarez said "It fired me up right from the beginning.
"It got me fired up for practice that day," he said. "[And] I laughed for days. It was hilarious."
How did their families take it? Laughed Whalen, "They're used to it. They see me in front of the TV watching the Pats every Sunday, so..."
Within the Abington sphere, Reilly and Whalen are beloved. Classmates at Abington High who have been calling Green Wave games together off and on since 1988, they are beloved as much for the indiscriminate passion on two yard and 50-yard gains alike, as much as their penchant for breaking all the cardinal rules -- high-fives, cheering, and all in all blatant homerism that they make little effort to hide.
Both hold down day jobs -- Reilly is a lawyer in town, while Whalen is the Director of Administration and Finance with the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation. On Friday nights, Green Wave football is their animal; and for the players, there's nothing better.
"Most towns don't have two announcers that enjoy going to the games, calling the games [as much as they do]," Suarez said. "They get just as fired up as those kids do, and that's the best feeling. The best feeling is when you're on a Wednesday night, to go watch that game [on the local cable access channel], and they're sitting there in the freezing cold weather, down in Mashpee, and they're calling the game for you. There's nothing better."
But it almost came to an end. Last November, the day before Thanksgiving, Reilly and Whalen appeared on 98.5 The Sports Hub to talk about the call, how they wouldn't change "anything we do", and the fame they'd received locally since that night. During the interview, they also revealed that the next day's game, the 100th installment of the Green Wave's Thanksgiving Day rivalry with Whitman-Hanson, would be their last.
Going out on top? Seriously? First Barry Sanders, now this?
That didn't last long.
"I talked to few kids," Whalen said. "A couple of kids really asked us to come back. I was working a couple of jobs last year, so that kinda changed my situation there a little. I think in the end it was, you know, coming back for the kids. We're kind of a tradition in Abington. A couple families, you know, were really asking us to come back. So, maybe in a couple of years."
So how did the fellas do in their encore, a last-second 14-10 Abington win?
Reilly and Whalen started off calmly -- "Maybe we'll do something stupid to get on your website," joked Reilly to an ESPNBoston reporter on the roof.
But like a high-priced sports car, Whalen went from 0 to 60 in no time, peeved by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Green Wave inside the red zone early in the second quarter.
"What a joke," Whalen grunted repeatedly, waving his arms for added effect.
Two plays later, Rockland's Tyler Eaton dove over the near left pylon from eight yards out to make it 10-0, and Whalen -- still peeved about the previous call -- began shouting "Where's the holding penalty? That's awful."
A few moments later, Reilly uttered, "It's the second quarter and Kevin's already mad. Turn up you television, sports fans, this could get interesting."
In the third quarter, Whalen goes old school. Abington quarterback Brandon Cawley heaves up a fade to the middle of the end zone, and receiver Joe Buckley out-jumps two defenders to come out with it, stirring Whalen to scream at the top of his lungs, "Touchdown, Manamooskegan!"
(For those keeping score at home, that's "land of many beavers", a nickname bestowed upon the town centuries ago by the Native Americans)
On the ensuing point-after pass to Buckley, another jump-ball that cut Rockland's lead to 10-8, Whalen again screams, "P.A.T., Manamooskegan!" and high-fives Reilly up high, then down low.
And like that, it was off to the races.
Good to know all that fame hasn't gotten to the guys' heads.