Except for an occasional comment about a fancy sports car or an attractive young lady, Danny and Steve Dolan made the half-hour drive from their home in Bethesda to Carroll High School in Northwest Washington in utter silence.
In less than two hours the Dolans would be in the starting lineup in their first varsity football game and the last thing either wanted to do was to appear nervous and alarm the other.
"We just rode along and tried not to think about the game too much," said Danny Dolan, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior tight end. "We worked hard all summer to get to play but starting. . . . . . . .I never thought about that. I was just hoping to break in slowly. We both played jayvee last year and that's a big difference from varsity, a big difference."
Upon arrival at the parochial school that had won the Metro Conference football title three straight years and has been one of the most successful teams in the area, the Dolans went their separate ways. Danny remained outside, staring at nothing in particular, while 15-year-old Steve, a 6-2, 185-pound center, went inside and began fidgeting with his uniform.
The other Carroll players, each one looking as if he were in another world, began to stroll in. Very few pleasantries were exchanged, only a smile or slap of the hand. This was opening game and no one wanted to be accused of not concentrating.
"All right, let's get serious," yelled one Lion player to a group of his teammates who had gathered in the hall. "Dunbar won't come in here laughing." t
That one comment seemed to set the tone of the morning. The players moved into the steamy, overcrowded dressing room to gather their equipment. Many of them retreated back into the hall, into the equipment room, back in the dressing room to pick up a dropped sock or just to break the deathly silence.
"Nothing wrong with being nervous," said Joe Howard, the Lions' best all-round performer. "Even the vets get nervous. This is the first game for me too. I got butterflies, too. Once that first hit comes, they go away."
One of the assistant coaches walked through the hall and bellowed out, "Okay, special teams, you got two minutes."
Steve Dolan had finally dressed and sauntered outside with several teammates. Danny, along with Steve a member of the kickoff team, rushed in and grabbed his helmet and started outside. Folks had begun to arrive and the noise picked up when the buses carrying the Dunbar team arrived.
Carroll, which had lined up in numerical order for the customery lap around the field, paused to wait for the special team members to take their places in line, waited for the visiting team to unload and run on the field. Perhaps it was a matter of courtesy. Perhaps they needed someone to remind them they were about to play a game and warmups were necessary.
"Why aren't they on the field?" asked Maus Collins, the Carroll coach, staring out the window, "Let's go, Joe."
It was finally time. The Lions wonthe toss and elected to receive. Steve took his place right in the middle of the Carroll front five while Danny took his position on the next row. The ball soared to the return man and the crunching began. Both Dolans got into the early action. Steve being knocked backward while Danny got in a good lick.
"I got popped on the kickoff but they (Dunbar) were nervous too," the younger Dolan said. "It really felt good."
Carroll quarterback Pete Muldoon, a three-year veteran of the high school weekend wars, probably sensed the nervousness of his center and tight end and did a very smart thing. He called two running plays right off Steve's backside and picked up five yards. On a third down call, he called a pass play and flipped a pass toward Danny. The ball was slightly high and Danny couldn't hold on.
"The pass was catchable; it was my fault," said Dolan, who did catch one touchdown pass in a scrimmage earlier this year. "Maybe, just maybe, had I held on, the game would have gone better for me. But those things happen. I thought everything else went okay. I did a good job of blocking."
Steve hurt his lower back and had difficulty staying low on his blocking techniques. He incurred the wrath of one of the assistant coaches when he failed to block his man on a screen pass.
"I thought I might clip him so I let him go," said Steve, who could only watch as his assigned man made the tackle. "We had already picked up 10 yards on the play so I wasn't taking any chances on a clip. I didn't say anything when he yelled at me."
The one person who probably witnessed the missed block was Mike Dolan Sr., who has made a practice of watching his four sons participate in sports since they could pick up a ball.
"It's virtually impossible to watch both of them, so I try to focus on one of them on each play," the elder Dolan said. "I probably watched Steve a bit more because he had a big nose guard on him. I was interested in seeing how he would handle himself out there. I thought Steve did a good job on him. It was nice to see both of them out there together."
Mrs. Dolan was in New York. Seeing her youngest two sons pounded into the turf wasn't her idea of a fun afternoon and, as Steve put it, "she's not heavily into sports. She thinks we should preserve our bodies."
Steve has always played football while Danny was mainly interested in basketball. Both initially went to St. John's but transferred when they decided the "military atmosphere wasn't for us." Because of the sit-out rule in the Metro Conference concerning transfers, Danny wasn't eligible to play varsity as a junior and had to play jayvee with his brother.
"He has lots of talent and that extra year would have helped him tremendously," Collins said. "Steve is going to be a fine center. His brother (Mike) was a center when he was here and I thought he might have a knack for it. He does. But he could've played anywhere."
At the end of the game, won by Carroll, 16-8, the Dolans were tired but pleased.
"The one thing I wished was that I wouldn't get hurt," said Dolan, who had only one other pass thrown his way (overthrown). "I wish I could have caught a pass but we have some more games to play. I'm just glad to get that first game over with. I don't think I'll be nervous anymore."
"Neither will I," agreed Steve. "We did all right and most importantly, we won."