Einstein High School might win a football game this afternoon. It hasn't won a game since 1979. That's 28 straight losses. Oh-for-the-'80s. The Titans have lost seven times this season. Only now, though, do they meet Damascus, also a seven-time loser. Somebody has to win.
Around Einstein High there is -- what? -- not optimism, because anybody run over by a cement truck 28 straight times feels flat for a long time. There is in the air something new, something wonderful, something that isn't hope but isn't the old hopelessness, either.
The Einstein coach treads lightly here. He is Kevin Kelly, a flat-nosed Irishman, 42, in his fourth season at the school. He played football at John Carroll High before going to George Washington University. You'd like him in his faded blue jeans. "Gotta line the field today," he said, for which he earns part of the $1,900 a head coach is paid in Montgomery County. If you're not careful, he'll name-drop old Washington Senators (he loved Al Kozar, a stubby second baseman in '48 and '49, when the team finished next to last and last).
"Damascus is 0-7, but they were state champions last year and so they know how to win," Kelly said, leaving unsaid the painfully obvious. "What they're going through now is a little valley. But we're right down in the nadir and we still have to get that taste of victory. Maybe . . . "
As old Senator fans sometimes do, Kelly let his voice turn dreamy. "Maybe a conversion will take place."
"A real conversion. Maybe my guys will realize that, by God, they can stop 'em on defense and they can score on 'em on offense. A conversion, that's all we need."
Einstein is losing games about five touchdowns to one. Its closest brush with victory came early this month when it trailed Woodward only 21-19 in the fourth quarter. With just 21 varsity players, and with four of them ejected that day for fighting, Einstein used most everybody on both offense and defense. Exhausted, Einstein lost, 35-19.
Einstein may not have many players, but they're small.
"We're in a losing syndrome here in football," Kelly said. "You know that 28 games is not Einstein's longest losing streak. They lost 31 straight once, in the late '60s. That's why kids do not participate.
"Plus, we're in a cycle here where we don't have physically large kids. Who knows why? They're all little. If I saw a brute in the hallway, believe me, I'd get him out for football. They're all at Northwood and Magruder and Kennedy. Then my kids have to go up against them -- 150-pounders against 220-pounders. So a lot of kids would rather bypass it than participate in football here."
Kelly said he'd read a story in the morning paper. Scientists in California, after 10 years of looking, think they've found a way to reproduce the stuff that makes fellows grow up so big they're called Too Tall. The stuff is growth-hormone releasing factor (GRF).
"If that is true," Kelly said, "we're going to package the stuff."
This fall during a scrimmage with a big-shot school, one of Kelly's linemen led interference on a sweep. Suddenly, the lineman was in Kelly's lap.
"I started shouting, 'What are you doing here, you're supposed to be blocking out there.' Then I realized the defense just picked him up and threw him out of the way. Wasn't a thing my guy could have done about it."
It is conventional wisdom for underdog football teams to throw a lot of passes because it's easier to throw a ball over Too Tall than it is to run through him. So Einstein assistant coach Al Caruso designed an offense based on deception.
"It calls for little blocking," Kelly said, "and we run a lot of plays from the shotgun. We depend on a sequence of plays. But, still, you need people the same size as the other team's people. Otherwise, they just go karoooomp! They put you in a bear hug and say, 'The hell with your sequence.' "
It isn't always safe even in the school corridors.
"The school administration is good and we get a lot of support from most of the students and parents, but some kids here are just ridiculous," said Paul DeLeon, a senior cocaptain who plays wingback and cornerback. "They'll say, 'Who you playing? Northwood? Oh, you're going to get killed.' We don't have the monsters here because everybody in school doesn't have the guts to play. I say to them, 'If you have a mouth, why don't you come out and show us what you can do?' "
All this could be forgotten come Saturday afternoon.
"Coach Kelly always tells us to 'win it for yourself,' " DeLeon said. "But I'm going to win it for Coach Kelly. He's a great guy. He's been looking at us as people, how we're going to make it as men, not just football players. We're building character here."
"You're supposed to say you're not looking ahead," said senior cocaptain Darryl Grear. "But for a while now, we've felt like this is our first big chance of breaking the streak. Coach Kelly has held us together. He's had the perfect attitude. He looks for the good points, not the bad. We're going to be good Saturday."
Even the Titans' community newspaper, the Montgomery County Sentinel, has leaped on the bandwagon. The paper's sports prognosticator, known only as Fearless Forecaster, two weeks ago wrote, "Einstein may win a game this season. And Alexander Haig may be voted Mr. Congeniality in a Tass poll. And Nancy Reagan may be Playboy's next centerfold. And . . . "
You get the idea. Anyway, this week Fearless sees Einstein defeating Damascus, 16-14.
"That guy, whoever he is, grraaroomp," said DeLeon, making a noise like a cement truck running over a sportswriter.