“They were two oncoming trains, headed at each other,” Mike said. “Kevin got the best of it, I guess.”
“I think [the Northwestern player] was actually knocked out,” said Bob Kavetsky, like Mike, a member of that DeMatha team.
The teammates are approaching 70 now, with 50 years’ worth of memories between then and now. But that play made a lasting impression. DeMatha went on to win that game 54 to nothing in a season where they went undefeated before losing to a scrappy team on a muddy field in East Liverpool, Ohio.
As Mike prepared for their class’s reunion — coming up on Aug. 28 — he had a thought: DeMatha used to film all of its games with a 16mm movie camera.
“Every Monday we looked at the film and got praised or yelled at,” said Mike, who lives in Laurel, Md.
Was film from that game still out there somewhere, visual proof of Kevin’s epic block? If it was, it would be perfect for the reunion.
Compared with some schools, DeMatha’s Class of 1971 was small, just 99 graduates. There weren’t a lot of physical reminders from those days. And they lacked something that’s a staple at most high schools: a yearbook.
“Back then we were all kind of revolutionaries,” said Bob, who lives in Gambrills, Md. “That was 1971. In my senior year, my dad was in Vietnam. My brother and I both grew our hair below our ears. Everybody was just anti-everything back then.”
Part of it was apathy, and part of it was cost: No one wanted to shell out the few extra bucks for a yearbook.
Bob and Mike started planning the reunion in the midst of the pandemic. They weren’t sure if it would be real or virtual. In case they weren’t able to meet in person, they had classmates film video of themselves reminiscing.
They even interviewed Joe Behrmann, the DeMatha chemistry teacher who took over coaching football from Morgan Wootten so Wootten could concentrate on basketball. Behrmann still remembered that game and how Northwestern failed to adjust when DeMatha ran three wide receivers.
Mike checked with DeMatha and, lo and behold, a storeroom held 200 reels of old game film. Among them were the reels with that game. He went over to take a look.
Mike threaded the film into a viewer and started it rolling. There was a wide shot of the field, the kickoff from Northwestern to DeMatha, DeMatha’s Joe Lemon catching the ball, Kevin Costello moving downfield along the left side, ready to mark his man.
And then the cameraman focuses where he should: on the ball.
Said Mike: “As soon as I start to see the image zoom to the ball carrier and Kevin disappears out of frame, my heart sinks. I knew it was going to be an urban legend forever.”
A lot has changed in 50 years. The DeMatha guys have read all about concussions. What they celebrated as 18-year-olds looks a lot different now. Was that Northwestern player able to shake off the hit or did it end his sports career? (Mike thinks he knows who it was. I did some research and found that the student went on to later set county track and field records. Whew.)
Said Bob: “My grandson’s not going to play football if I have anything to say about it.”
Even Kevin — who played college football at Notre Dame — told me “It’s not a bad thing” if his five grandsons don’t play football.
But Kevin can’t deny that being coached by men like Morgan Wootten, Joe Behrmann and Ara Parseghian made a big contribution to his life.
“It really taught you good discipline, good principles and a good work ethic,” he said. “They were very, very good, high-character guys, and they expected as much out of their players. We didn’t have a bunch of rogue guys doing their own thing.”
Kevin went on to spend 32 years at IBM, retiring at the vice president level. He lives in Sandy Spring, Md.
But, Kevin: Was that 1970 block as massive as everyone says it was?
“I knocked a lot of people on their backs, but this time, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I remember that much about it,” he said. “I guess my teammates were a little more jacked up about it than I was.”
Then Kevin said: “It was probably the best hit ever performed in football or it didn’t take place. Somewhere in between the two is the truth.”
These area schools have reunions in the works.
High Point Senior High Class of 1970 — Oct. 8. Email Highpointshs1970@gmail.com.
Richard Montgomery High 1960s Reunion — Gathering of classes from 1960 to 1969. Sept. 4. Email Bob Khuen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Woodrow Wilson High Class of 1971 — Oct. 23. Email wilsonclassof1971reunion@
gmail.com or visit “Woodrow Wilson (D.C.) Class of 1971 50th Reunion” on Facebook.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.