Rooney: Win for Mac would cap Fairview’s storybook season

JEREMY PAPASSO
Fairview hopes to win the first state title in the career of head coach Tom McCartney in Saturday’s 5A championship game against Valor Christian.

Tom McCartney always appreciates telling a good story.

One of his favorites is of his 2009 Fairview football team that reached the state semifinals. That’s the squad that balanced stout defense (the Knights allowed 20 points only once during the regular season) with a rushing attack paced by Tucker Tharp. Alas, that story ended two wins short of a championship climax.

Another one of McCartney’s favorite tales is of the 2002 team, the last Fairview squad to reach the state title game. Much like the 2013 version of the Knights, that club left a permanent mark among the state’s all-time passing leaders behind another Tharp, quarterback Taylor Tharp, and a receiving corps that included a pair of the best single-season receivers in state history, Kelton Lynn and Patrick Blakemore.

As gripping a yarn as that 2002 season was, it too fell short of that storybook ending.

You see, Fairview’s veteran head coach doesn’t enjoy sitting around comparing one great Knights team to another. Given McCartney’s penchant for crafting each of his teams around the particular skill-set he has to work with each season, it’s no wonder McCartney prefers to recall each of his teams through the stories they collected that year.

That’s a lot of stories now. And in his 21st season, McCartney has yet another opportunity to enjoy the only sort of ending that has eluded him in an otherwise spectacular career as the Knights take on Valor Christian Saturday in the Class 5A state final at Sports Authority Field.

“What I like to do is I like to tell a team story, and so I’ve told the 2002 story, or I’ve told the 1999 story or the 2001 story,” McCartney said. “We just keep telling our guys, ‘What are we going to say about you? What’s your story going to be? What’s your legacy going to be?’

“In 10 years I still plan on being here, and what will I be able to say about these guys? These guys are putting quite a story together.”

In 2013 the Knights have witnessed enough plot twists and dramatic turns to fill a novel — and give Fairview the belief that it is a team of destiny. Most notably, of course, were the September floods that ravaged the region and prompted Fairview’s football players to help dig out the homes of teammates and complete strangers with equal dedication.

There also have been nail-biting victories, from an early test at Overland to an emotional comeback win at Lakewood in the first game after the post-flood slate resumed. There have been injury scares, from the knee of quarterback Anders Hill to the wrist of standout receiver/kick returner Cameron Frazier. And, certainly not to be overlooked, was the announcement last month that legendary Fairview coach Sam Pagano had been elected to the Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame.

The coach of three Fairview state title teams — and the father of Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano — even Sam Pagano admits the 2013 Knights have the look of a team of destiny, regardless of the challenge presented by four-time defending champion Valor.

Pagano compared this year’s title game to what his Knights faced in the 1987 title game against a loaded club from Cherry Creek. Fairview defeated the Bruins 13-10 while Creek was in the midst of a stretch of winning five 10 seasons.

“Whenever they’ve needed a score, needed a stop, or needed a big special teams play, they’ve done it,” Pagano said. “They were down at Overland and at a couple of other games and showed a lot of heart and determination. We might be outsized (against Valor). But I think probably a few of the teams have been bigger than us. I’m real excited for them and I think it is a team of destiny.”

McCartney would be the first to say that the Knights’ 2013 story isn’t about himself, but instead should be focused on his players and all they have endured and achieved. Nevertheless, a state title is the only thing missing from a 21-season tenure in which McCartney has compiled a record of 134-95. And that is the missing chapter all those who have been touched by the McCartney-led program hopes will finally get written on Saturday.

That list includes Pagano, who has dutifully attended the Knights’ games this season and will do so once again Saturday. It also includes Taylor Tharp. Now a graduate assistant at Texas, Tharp only found out Friday morning that he would be free this weekend. He immediately booked a flight for Colorado and will be in the stands Saturday afternoon.

It’s that sort of devotion that still has Fairview football alums speaking in terms of “we.”

“Coach Mac has found a way each year of building on the traditions and success of previous seasons,” said Blakemore, one of the stars of the ’02 state runner-up squad who’s now an attorney in Manhattan. “Each team is different. I mean, before our group Fairview had a strong running game, and then we threw the ball a lot like this year’s team.

“But there always is that sense of pride being in the Fairview football program, and coach Mac is the glue that holds it together. Hopefully this is the year we can add a championship. I can’t think of anyone more deserving than coach Mac.”

Stay tuned for this story’s thrilling conclusion.

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