By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Earl Hansen sat down on Saturday with his wife, Marilyn, and his son, Peter, and went through the ritual that countless citizens around the world performed on Christmas Day -- opening presents.
There was nothing under his tree, however, that lived up to the once-in-a-lifetime gift that Hansen received the previous weekend when his Palo Alto High football team presented him with a 15-13 victory over Centennial (Corona) in the CIF Division I state championship at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
So, opening up packages filled with ties or slippers or even a nice warm sweater just wasn't going to cut it this season.
"I've already got it," Hansen said of his 2010 Christmas present. "It's a pretty darn good one."
No one would dispute that. Those big boxes of excitement and satisfaction are only handed out to five California high school football coaches each season. Hansen had his hands out in 2006, but received only a lump of coal after his Vikings reached the Division II state finals only to lose to Orange Lutheran.
Dec. 17, however, was different as Palo Alto scored the year's big gift with, most likely, one of the most surprising results in the nation this year given the fact Centennial was ranked No. 5 in the nation and No. 2 in the state and had the most prolific offense in state history.
Palo Alto won in the rain and mud with its defense, its teamwork and its heart. The Vikings beat a team that was deemed unbeatable as the Huskies had averaged 54.8 points a game and hadn't scored fewer than 42 during a 14-0 season. All Palo Alto did was accomplish something no other team had while becoming the first Central Coast Section team to win a state football crown.
Thus, Hansen and his players walked off the muddy turf last Friday not only with a state championship trophy, but a 14-0 record and tons of pride. Had the game been played on Christmas Eve, analogies with miracles would have been the norm.
It has been a week since Palo Alto registered its historic victory while becoming the sixth Paly football team to go undefeated. The others came in 1924 (6-0), 1950 (10-0), 1951 (8-0), 1956 (8-0) and 1963 (9-0). Things have returned to normal, sort of, for Hansen.
On Dec. 20, he and his coaches cleaned out the football lockers so the Paly basketball players could move in. On Dec. 21, Hansen was raking leaves and cutting the grass. On Dec. 22 Wednesday, he was putting up more outdoor Christmas lights.
While this seems all so normal (and it is), Hansen still has his head somewhere near Cloud 9. He has been receiving phone calls and e-mails daily, even getting an e-mail from a father of a Centennial player. He has heard from former players and ex-teammates who played with him at Cubberley High in the late '60s. Hansen recently got an e-mail from a man who used to swim at the neighborhood Greenmeadow pool when Hansen worked there.
"I hadn't heard from him in over 40 years," Hansen said.
That's just one of the many perks being a state championship coach. It's just one of the many reminders of how many folks can be affected by a football game.
Wrote a fan from another city in Northern California: "Congratulations Viking players, coaches and parents! What a fantastic end to a magical season. All of northern CA and the area is very happy for you guys. You exemplify all that defines "Team." You all gave it your best and no matter the outcome you would all be winners. Best wishes on all your endeavors and keep your belief the rest of your lives. Thanks for putting the CCS back on the football map with such a great outing."
Said another reader from the Paly community: "I thought it was crazy to drive 800 miles through the rain to see a high school football game, but I am glad we did it! It was just amazing, I am so happy for the kids at Paly, they will remember this with a glow for the rest of their lives. Congratulations!
As soon as life seems to have returned to normal, all Hansen has to do is go to his computer and open up his e-mail. This has been a special time for Palo Alto football and not something easily dismissed.
Hansen realized that on Dec. 20 when he was cleaning out the lockers and realized there was not another practice to attend.
"All of a sudden you're walking around at 3:30, wondering what to do," he said.
The Vikings had 78 practices this season. By one player's calculations, that translated into about 9 1/2 days of workouts. That's a lot of time for anyone to spend together. Paly used that time to bond as a team, improve at critical positions and form a mindset that there was no reason why they couldn't win each week.
Hansen had major concerns about his offensive line, for one. It was just so untested. To make matters worse, he lost his top two centers (Jackson Moses and Sam Moses) during a win over Homestead on Oct. 29 and had to spend the next week trying to plug that hole. Other players were injured in that game, as well, and it became known to the Vikings as the "Homestead Massacre", and not because Paly won comfortably.
By the time Paly reached the state finals, the offensive line featured senior Kevin Anderson, junior Tory Prati, sophomore center Spencer Drazovich, senior Dustin Nizamian and junior Mike Lyzwa.
While Hansen said his 2006 team probably produced the best offensive line in school history, based on its size, this year's line wasn't far behind.
"These guys found a way to get it done each week," Hansen said. "They improved so much."
The fact that senior quarterback Christoph Bono finished the season with 165 completions on 251 attempts for 2,682 yards and 30 touchdowns reflects on the offensive line. The fact junior running back Dre Hill gained 952 yards on 145 carries and junior B.J. Boyd added 772 rushing yards on just 95 hauls says a lot, as well. And don't forget senior wide receivers Davante Adams (63 catches, 1,089 yards, 11 TDs) and Maurice Williams (28 catches, 798 yards, 11 TDs), who had time to get open.
"We had obvious speed and skill," Hansen said, "but we had to get it to them and protect Christoph."
The Vikings did just that all season long while developing a defense under the guidance of third-year coach Jake Halas. The Vikings allowed only 135 points this season for an average of 9.6 points over the 14 games.
"He was so prepared," Hansen said of Halas. "He knows the game well and the kids bought into everything he said. It was the same defense we've been running (for years); he just put his stamp on it."
And the other defensive key?
"We have some very tough kids who are smart," said Hansen, pointing out that defensive Kevin Anderson is headed to Stanford, linebacker Will Glazier is ticketed to Harvard, linebacker Michael Cullen is headed to Cal Poly-SLO and safety T.J. Braff is going to Santa Clara.
That group was just part of a defensive unit that made all the difference in the state championship game while holding Centennial to 41 points under its average. Big plays came from junior safety Gabe Landa, junior lineman Chris Martinez, senior cornerback Bill Gray, linebackers Nathan Hubbard and Morris Gates-Mouton, Prati and cornerbacks Williams and Adams.
"These guys were prepared," Hansen said. "They were excited. They did not want to be embarrassed by this (Centennial) team."
They, of course, didn't do it alone as teammates contributed throughout the season to make it the most successful in school history.
The 1950 team that went 10-0 was regarded as the best in Paly history until the '06 squad went 12-2, setting a school record for single-season victories and reaching the state finals. How, the 2010 Vikings have surpassed them all as the best team ever.
"I can't say they aren't," Hansen said.
While his team improved to 14-0, Hansen ran his 23-year record at Paly to 174-85-3. This season he moved past the legendary Hod Ray as the winningest football coach in school history. Ray went 166-80-26 from 1921-51 and actually coached Hansen's father, from 1934-37.
Palo Alto hit another milestone by winning the state title, earning its 600th combined victory for football and rugby since 1897. That mark ranks among the top six in state history.
Equally impressive is the final No. 13 national ranking that Paly received from MaxPreps. It's the first time any Viking football team has been in the national rankings.
"It's just amazing; 13th in the nation. It's crazy," said Hansen, whose Vikings also finished No. 4 in the state. "I just never thought about any of the national stuff. I've always known about the CCS and those things, but 13th in the nation? That doesn't compute."
Hansen, however, will just have to get used to it. It comes with being 14-0 and a state champion.
"It's very gratifying," he said of the season. "Look how far some of these kids came. It was hard work for everyone."
So now it's time to relax, bask in the glory of the season. On Monday, Hansen and his wife took off for New Orleans to visit friends -- yet another chance to talk about the historic season and the best Christmas present ever.