Former longtime Barbe football coach Jimmy Shaver. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 05, 2012 10:04 PM
With each passing day the distance between mentor and pupil gets a tad wider. Every instinctive call, every tough decision, puts a little more space between the current the head coach and the legend.
But the bond will never be totally broken.
Make no mistake about it — the Barbe High School team that makes the school’s first-ever appearance in the Superdome Classic state championship game Saturday night is Mike Cutrera’s team.
But Cutrera still talks regularly with the namesake of the Jimmy Shaver Field House, from where the longtime Shaver assistant now rules the Buc football kingdom.
That was the case last Sunday, two days after the greatest victory in the school’s history — for now,at least — the most unlikely of 49-48 comebacks over perennial Class 5A bully West Monroe.
Maybe the two of them tried to figure out how a team wraps three touchdowns around two successful onsides kicks to rally from 20 points down in the final 2:11 of a game that had already been frantic and crazy and unpredictable and, finally, unexplainable.
Maybe you don’t over-analyze a miracle — perhaps better to leave alone a victory that nobody can yet believe happened — and somebody might remember that early in the fourth quarter Barbe actually trailed by 28 full points. Maybe you just look ahead to the Superdome.
Maybe Shaver even had a paternal arm around Cutrera’s shoulder when he remembers telling him last Sunday:
“Every day of the year other than this week, I could help you with anything. But this week I can’t help you — I’ve never been.”
Crazy, isn’t it?
In 29 seasons, Shaver went to the playoffs 27 times, won 238 games and 13 district championships.
Three times he had teams one victory away from the finals, including a excruciating 3-0 loss against Shaw in a stadium on the West Bank, across the river from New Orleans, where you could literally see the Superdome from the field. Barbe dominated the game except for one costly turnover.
When the team bus had passed the Superdome on the way to that game, Shaver had stood up on in the front and told his players, “Y’all look at that dome. Tell it we’ll be right back.”
That was in 1987.
They passed the dome on the way home. They never made it back, never got inside.
Since then, Shaver watched one his best friends, Max Caldarera, lead Westlake to the famous mecca. He set the Barbe-Sulphur blood-rivalry back 30 years when he actively — unapologetically — joined the Tors’ cause in offering whatever encouragement or go-fer assistance Paul Bourgeois might need in their run to the Dome.
He even watched one of his former players, Justin Vincent, run for 117 yards in the Superdome as the MVP of LSU’s 21-14 BCS national championship victory over Oklahoma in 2003.
But he never was head coach of a team in the place.
“I don’t have any regrets,” said Shaver, who never denied over the years that the top of his coaching bucket list was to lead a team onto the Superdome floor; that carrot might even have kept him coaching a few years after he knew it was time to step down. “I had the opportunities, it just didn’t happen. Really. No regrets.”
He paused ... gently bit his lip.
“But if I did have one, if I did have a regret, that would be it — I never went to the Dome.”
Cutrera has done it in his second year as a head coach.
Maybe it was Shaver’s wisdom handed down. Maybe it some subtle change, some slight Cutrera tweek that got the Bucs over this hump.
We’ll never know.
Shaver could care less.
“All I know is we’re going to the dome, baby!”
Coach, you retired.
“I still feel like a part of it,” Shaver said. “That’s still our program. They, the coaches, they make me feel like a part of it.”
But he does try to keep his distance. He watches the games now from a golf cart in the end zone, well away from most anybody.
That’s where he was when the Bucs fell behind West Monroe 35-14 at the half Friday. He did wander into the field house for the intermission, catching Cutrera’s eye when the Bucs prepared to return to the field.
“ Mike, you know you can still win this,” he told Cutrera as the Bucs trotted out. “You were down this much before and won.”
Shaver picks up the story, with an admission.
“But when you’re in the fourth quarter down by four touchdowns, I just about gave up ... but not enough to leave.
“That’s crazy. How in the world you get a team to come back from four touchdowns, I don’t know.”
Most of the good stuff in the final two minutes was happening at the opposite end of field from the golf cart.
By the end, Shaver admitted, curiosity got the best of him. When the final-horn bedlam broke out, he had wandered over to the sidelines, easing toward Cutrera.
“I grabbed Mike when it was over, gave him a big hug. His eyes were about this big. He said, ‘Coach, what just happened?’ ”
The Dome just happened. Out of the blue.
Fans were pouring out of the stands, across the track, onto the field, a mass celebration.
Many, including a lot of former Barbe players and parents, would grab and hug at Shaver as they ran gleefully past.
“Congratulations, coach! You did it. You did it!”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“For a while I was caught up in the moment with everybody else,” Shaver remembered. “It was crazy. I couldn’t believe how proud I was. It was emotional.”
This was all happening, of course, in a stadium that Shaver fought for years to finally get financed and built so the Bucs wouldn’t have to bus across town for “home” games.
“Maybe I reflected a little bit then,” Shaver said. “I stepped away from it, kind of. I was alone and kind of taking it all in.
“For some reason, I remember I looked down at the grass and I was thinking, that’s good grass.
“I know it’s good grass because I grew that grass.”
Posted By: Doug Brown On: 12/6/2012
Title: Coach Cutrera
Mike did play on the 1980 team. He was a starting defensive back. The actual championship game that year was played at McNeese Statium. Barbe played in the Superdome the week before against John Ehret. Several long time area coaches were on that staff. Charles Vicknair, Wayne Cespiva, Kirby Bruchaus, Joe Crawford and Jimmy Shaver.
The 1980 team had several players that continue playing football in college, including Cutrera, who played at McNeese.
Win State Barbe! POWWA!
Posted By: D. Tatum On: 12/6/2012
Title: Don't dish the 1980-81 season players and coaches
Make no mistake this is the 1st trip to the dome in the 5A championship but the 4A finals in December of 1980 saw the undefeated Bucs travel to the dome under coach Charles Vicknair (14-0); Shaver was an assistant and I think current coach Mike Cutrera played on that team against the East St.John Wildcats that narrowly defeated the Bucs that made it to the finals in just their second playoff appearence.