tampabay.com

Coach's faith in QB rewarded

"I wouldn't want any other quarterback in the nation running the two-minute drill," Weiner said.

By JOHN ROMANO
Published December 10, 2006


MIAMI

The kid should be crushed. Playing in the biggest game of his life, he has thrown back-to-back interceptions in the fourth quarter.

The coach should be desperate. Blowing a 17-point lead in the state championship game is a memory that could haunt a man forever.

The end is just minutes away, but the momentum has been building for months. For the coach never willing to turn out the lights, and the quarterback never ready to call it quits. They deserve each other, and that is meant most sincerely.

So when Plant coach Robert Weiner leans in close to Robert Marve and whispers in his quarterback's ear, the words sound soothingly familiar.

"I wouldn't want any other quarterback in the nation running the two-minute drill," Weiner said. "Let's go win us a ballgame."

- - -

It is late August and few in Tampa Bay have any inclination of what is about to unfold. Armwood is the local football factory, and Jefferson's Stephen Garcia is the quarterback everyone is raving about.

This is before anyone knew Plant was a state contender. Before anyone might have guessed that Marve was about to break all kinds of state passing records.

Yet, in the moments before Plant's season began, Weiner pulled his quarterback to the side and opened his heart.

"I wouldn't want any other quarterback in the nation," Weiner told Marve that autumn night. "Because you're going to lead Plant to a historic season."

It sounded corny. Maybe even a little crazy. Yet here they are. Fifteen games later on another sideline, on the other side of the state. There are barely three minutes remaining in the season, and Plant is trailing Nease High 21-17.

Marve, coming off the two interceptions, is standing alone on the sideline. He tucks in his shirt. He adjusts a shoestring. He shifts his weight.

When Weiner offers his hand, Marve grabs it in apparent appreciation. As the coach turns to face the field, his arm is pinned awkwardly behind his back because Marve is reluctant to let go.

This is the moment Weiner chooses to embrace Marve. To remind him of the words he first spoke in August. Remember, he says, no other quarterback.

"Coach," Marve responded, "I won't let you down."

- - -

Across the field they are celebrating and congratulating. The kids from Ponte Vedra Beach have recovered from a disastrous start, and are just minutes from claiming consecutive state championships in Class 4A.

After Marve's second interception, Nease drove 41 yards in seven plays. Nothing fancy, nothing dramatic. Just seven rushing plays that put Nease in the end zone and put Plant behind for the first time in the game.

Yet, amid all the hoopla, Nease coach Craig Howard is concerned. The scoring drive was almost too easy. It certainly went too fast. When he looks at the clock and sees 3:02 remaining, he worries about what is to come.

"I wish we could have burned more of the clock," Howard would say later. "You knew Marve was going to have one more shot, and that gave you a knot in your stomach. He has the ability, and the magic, to get it done one more time."

- - -

Truth be known, as cool as Marve looked, he had been fighting it on the sideline. After his first interception, he had pulled his helmet from his head and slammed it against the back of the Plant bench.

Weiner had been watching. He gave his quarterback a few minutes, and then gave him an earful on the sideline. Not so much to vent, but to inspire.

When he was through, Weiner began walking away. He had gone only a few steps before he heard Marve calling his name.

Weiner turned and saw his quarterback gesturing with his hand across his chest, followed by a quick hand-clap. It was a message they had used in the past.

It meant he had wiped the slate clean. That he was ready to go.

"I just kept thinking I was going to have another chance," Marve said. "This season was not going to end because of me."

- - -

He had already thrown for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns. He had already broken Tim Tebow's state record for touchdown passes and yards.

And, in the final two minutes, Marve got better.

Starting at his 22 with 2:55 left, he began with an 18-yard scramble. He threw to receivers on short sideline patterns to stop the clock. He scrambled when the field opened in front of him.

When it was over, he had completed 6-of-6 passes for 47 yards, and the winning touchdown to Derek Winter with 17 seconds left.

In the mad celebration after the game, Weiner ran around the field hugging every player within arm's reach. Yet, somehow, he had missed Marve. He finally spotted a crowd of television cameras and burst through a hole to embrace Marve. There they stood, tears in their eyes, whispering in each other's ear.

"We're like family, me and him," Weiner said.

An hour after the game, state officials were trying to set things up for the Class 6A game to follow. Weiner was on the sideline, and Marve was heading to the locker room. The coach called, and the quarterback stopped.

They embraced again in the end zone, then walked arm-in-arm into the stadium tunnel and into Hillsborough County lore.

No other quarterback.

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.