State football titles etched in town’s lore
Dan Cholas was looking dapper in his 1959 letterman sweater cheering on his Paonia Eagles on Saturday.
The former Paonia running back reminisces with three former teammates before the game, then critiques the Eagles’s play as they went on to a 32-24 victory over Centauri.
After 54 years, Paonia has another state football championship.
Cholas laughs, recalling the Eagles’ 7-0 victory over Windsor on a chilly day on the Colorado plains 54 years ago.
“I remember that I fumbled three times,” he says.
Thanks to the victory, it’s a detail that doesn’t offer an ounce of torment.
As a 127-pound Eagle on that team, Bob Sunich jokes that he was the quarterback because he was so small.
“I made him fumble three times handing off to him,” he says, laughing.
The four men reveled in those memories, reliving the plays, the game, the moments, the special day when they won it all.
It was a different time back in 1959. A gallon of gas cost a quarter, a new Ford cost less than four grand and Elvis was gyrating up a storm. And high school football reigned supreme.
“What I remember most was when we came back, almost from Hotchkiss to Paonia there was a solid line of cars waiting for us,” Cliff Davis says.
Hart Edwards nods. “That was special.”
Residents from all over the region came to shower the conquering heroes with Paonia pride.
On Saturday, the stands were packed and the field was lined with cheering Paonia fans.
The Eagles of 2013 won the title on their home field.
Football titles never vanish from the lore of a small town. High school football has a way of carving memories into the minds of young men, and those memories hang around forever.
But when a team wins a state title, everyone remembers.
It offers a small town, and those teams good and fortunate enough to claim the gold ball, a small slice of immortality.
“It has for 54 years,” Edwards says with a laugh.
The foursome shook hands and shared stories about that game with Paonia fans young and old.
They stood a little straighter, a little prouder.
Cholas said the 16-14 sudden death win over Alamosa in the semifinals was actually the better game.
But that game is reserved for their memories.
Everyone else just remembers the state title victory. That’s the way it is. Win it all, and the team etches its place in history. Come up short and the memories are just reserved for the players.
The 1959 team now has company. Maybe in five, 10, 20 years, five decades, the likes of Taylor Walters, Ty Coats, Tony Darling, Will Austin and others will show up at the old football field wearing a Paonia letter jacket, standing proud.
People will point and talk, and smile.
They will remember the 2013 team, just like the 1959 team is remembered. Just like the 2012 Cedaredge team is remembered, the 2008 Glenwood Springs team, and all those Palisade championship teams are remembered.
Title teams have a place in history. Runners-up are the poor step-children of high school sports.
Rifle won it all in 2004, then lost in 2005 and 2012.
The 2004 team has a place in history.
People won’t forget the championship team, the year, the game and some of the plays.
“I still get butterflies thinking about that game,” Cholas says.
That sums it up. Not too many players get that chance to play in a championship game. Even fewer get to experience that slice of small-town immortality that comes with winning a title.
The 1959 team cheered and celebrated as the 2013 Paonia Eagles won it all.
Three 70-year-old gents and one 71-year-old enjoyed reliving those memories of a game and a season 54 years ago.
For the 2013 Eagles, it will probably take a decade or two before they fully realize what they accomplished.
Sometime in the future, there will be folks talking about Paonia football, and there will be a sentence that starts with “Remember that 2013 team?”
Everyone will nod.
“They were pretty good.”
In 2013, just like 1959, the Paonia Eagles were better than just pretty good. They were the best.