The Point Loma Pointers, a Pop Warner football Jr. Pee Wee Division II team, walked down a jetway at Lindbergh Field late last Saturday night holding a Super Bowl trophy that proved them the best in the United States as a large contingent of parents, relatives, siblings and friends cheered and carried congratulatory signs.
They won the trophy with a 24-13 victory over a team from Dallas.
And this achievement is made more remarkable in San Diego, named by a national publication as the most frustrated sports city in North America based on the absence of a single championship won by our beloved major league losers, the Padres and Chargers.
For the 29 boys and their coaches, their Super Bowl trip and triumph concluded a perfect season, winning all 13 of their regular season and playoff games before going undefeated in three games at the Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Their odds-defying season was without serious challenge by opponents, even during the first two Super Bowl matches, held the last 20 years at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, a large complex of fields located on the grounds of Walt Disney World.
That was until the Pointers' final championship game last Friday when they faced off against the scrappy Southeast Dallas Wolverines who were also 2-0. The game was played in wet, windy conditions with an 8:30 a.m. (EST) kickoff time.
Holding a slim lead, head coach Pete Balistreri called for a fake punt play that backfired, and it was not until Kendall Johnson broke into the open on a 44-yard touchdown run with 2:39 left in the game the Pointers could finally breathe easily.
"I thought 'I almost cost the city of San Diego a national championship' with my fake punt," Balistreri said with a grin on the field after the game. "I was hoping the boys would save me and they did in the second half."
The celebration began as the scoreboard clock ticked down the final seconds..
"The good thing about this trophy is we earned it the right way," Balistreri said after the game, citing "the way these kids fought and played and their discipline."
Balistreri, an area restaurant executive, praised his team's defense for shutting down "a very talented team" and the offensive line for opening holes for the running backs.
"We have a very balanced offense and that's what got us here," Balistreri said. "We (the coaching staff) watched film and created game plans for 14-15 hours a day to prepare for our opponents."
He noted the team added a special new defense during the tournament, calling it the "Disney defense," which coaches signaled by putting a fist on each side of their head in a tribute to Mickey Mouse.
Balistreri also cited intelligence as one of his team's weapons.
"One of our strengths is we are versatile and the kids can adapt. We have over 20 formations we can run without a huddle. And this is important because as you get older, if you're not smart enough you won't play on the field."
Pop Warner football has an All-American Scholar program to reward those who are high achievers in both academics and activities outside the classroom. Only 35 players per state are named to a first team with many more named to a second team. The program requires submission of school report cards and supporting documentation.
"Football is a special sport," Balistreri noted, "The team dynamic is really special and it helps them out in life, all the discipline and good things you learn.
And hopefully, these 29 boys know their victory brought pride to the Peninsula.
Balistreri's son, 11-year-old Rocco said, "I hope we made history."
Yes, Rocco, you did.
Pee Wee division players are ages 8, 9 and 10, weighing between 65 and 115 pounds. Also included are 11-year olds from 65-95 pounds.
The Pointers defeated Lenape Valley (New Jersey) 32-0 and the Title Town Titans (Georgia) 25-6, outscoring their opponents 81-19 in three Super Bowl games.
The team only yielded 38 points over their full 16-0 season.
Games were broadcast over ESPN3, an Internet channel that allowed parents to watch the games from home. Participants ranged in age from 8-15 among the 78 teams at the Super Bowl.
There were also competitions held between over 400 Pop Warner cheer and dance teams from around the U.S. also broadcast on ESPN3.