As recently as the day before yesterday, Coach Eddie Stone was saying that after yesterday there'd be no tomorrow; and the "Tennessee Workhorse" was right on the money as his Golden Devils took on the Long Green in a contest they'll be speaking about from here to spring training. To call that match-up a squeaker is like calling Dr. J. a fair leaper. It was a cliffhanger, a heartbreaker, what the great old Chicago scribe, Ed Stone, used to call a nail-biter. If there were any doubts the Devils had come to play, hard-nosed veteran Eddie Stone put them to rest with oen shot.
Sure, the odds-markers had the Long Green as underdog but this Cinderella, dark horse, dream team of Kardiac Kids have pride, and they showed what they were made of. To win the big one they knew they'd have to go all out, pull out all the stops, be patient, play their game, and execute. So execute they did. Off to a quick start, they soon opened up what seemed an insurmountable lead, dominated play, out-hustled their opponents, and controlled the tempo of the game. What they lacked in experience, they made up in youth.
"If we just play our game," Long Green's Eddie Stone told his disciplined, happy-go-lucky sqyad at the half, "there isn't a team in this league that can touch us." Coming from Stone, a deeply religious man who never takes off his hat, this was high praise indeed, especially for a bunch of raw rookies who, a year ago, felt they had as much of a chance to make the finals as did Tino Alhambra when the fought Eddie Stone in the Garden. Yet, like Tino, these kids had guts. They wouldn't lie down and roll over; they wouldn't say die; they just kept coming. "I've said it before: Two-thirds of sport is mental.
But the name of the game is teamwork; desire; blocking; defense; pitching; concentration; speed. And this was clear to feisty, publicity-shy Edward Stone, the Devils' colorful owner when he began his rebuilding program last fall, bringing talent along, from the bottom up. The Devils always had height. What they needed was quickness, size, depth and a winning tradition. Yesterday they put it all together. "For Eddie," said Stone. "We won it for Eddie."
Eddie, of course, is the sensational safety, Eddie Stone, who only hours before the face-off broke the collar bone that has plagued his whole career. If any single player has symbolized the Long Green it has to be this big-hearted super athlete considered a shoo-in for the coveted Theodore E. Stone award, until yesterday. In a way, Eddie's absence seemed to give his teammates a psychological advantage. They already had the home-court advantage, the home-crowd advantage, the height advantage, and the advantage of tournament know-how. They had been there before.
Still, manager Eddie Stone insisted this was just another game. "We take 'em one at a time," he said. That attitude turned out to prophetic, for when it came down to the wire, when the men were separated from the boys, and the sheep from the goats, there was only the choice of drilling one, sinking one, letting one fly, getting hold of one, booting one, lofting one, banking one in or popping one up. Here you have to say a word for the officiating, which was nothing short of fantastic. Only one incident marred the afternoon. But it was enough to demonstrate why lots of folk still think of this sport as bush.
That incident occurred in the fourth, when T.F. Stone, the articulae, former Rhodes Scholar -- a terrific prospect, with all the physical tools to be one of the great ones -- kicked a marker, out of pure frustration, and was ejected by Ned Stone, son of the great old chief of American League umpires, Nestor Stone, the "Tennessee Workhorse." "I'd like to put this one behind me," Stone told reporters. "I couldn't buy a hit; none of my shots were falling; the rim had a lid on it." All in all, it has been a disappointing season for Stone, who fell into both a tailspin and a nosedive after taking the Ed Stone Desert Classic. However, his ejection, like Eddie Stone's tragic injury, seemed to provide the necessary spark plug. Now both teams had something to prove.
I go back a ways in sports, as most of you know. I watched gentleman Eddie Stone run for daylingt; and I was there when Ted ("Can He Sky?") Stone made the "katch that killed Kanarsie,"; and I have seen teams toppled, stunned, smashed, smeared, edged, blasted, bombed, mauled, murdered, massacred, whipped and crushed. Yet never before did I see such a comeback as last night's. After the lead had changed hands a dozen times, after it was back and forth, and nip and tuck, only then did those Golden Devils put on a show that 35,656 screaming, stomping fans will not easily forget.
Yes, they proved they could play with the big boys. They could take the whole shooting match, the whole ball of wax, the whole megillah. And they could do it without Eddie Stone.
Still, the man of the hour was Eddie Stone. It was Eddie, the "Tennessee Workhorse," who came off the bench to make the big plays when they needed them, who played heads-up ball, who took the game to them, who forced them to play his game. A complete ballplayer; a totally unselfish athlete; a great competitor. He took a young ball club that had tailed off and lost its momentu, got them to get their act together, to get their game together, and do it all.
Never again will we see his like.