Everyone who’s been paying any attention knows how significant the past two seasons have been for the Bishop Hendricken football team.
Two titles, both equally as special. The first, in 2010, snapped a 13-year championship drought. The second, last year, featured perhaps the biggest upset in state history, when the Hawks knocked off unbeaten and heavily favored La Salle 17-14 in the Super Bowl.
But the significance of both wins could soon become even heavier. Did you know that Hendricken might be in the midst of one of the greatest football runs in the last 80 years that the sport has been played in Rhode Island high schools?
I didn’t either, until I did some research.
This season, if everything falls into place and the Hawks end up standing on the Cranston Stadium turf with the championship trophy held high once again, Hendricken’s past six years will be on the short list of the most successful stretches ever.
It’s a short list, the Division I football programs in Rhode Island that have been ever pulled off the elusive three-peat (all royalties to Pat Riley, please).
Since 1932, when Rhode Island began honoring schools for high school football supremacy, only seven schools have ever captured three Super Bowls in a row.
But that list needs to be adjusted for modern times. For the first 40 years, champions where crowned based on regular season play only. There was no championship game, no Super Bowl.
When the season ended, the team with the best record was named the winner and everyone went home. La Salle was the first team to win three in a row, as it actually won four from 1942-45. Mt. Pleasant three-peated a decade a later, winning three from 1956-58. From 1960-63, Mt. Pleasant won four more, giving it seven titles in eight years.
There’s a problem with those statistics, though. While the goal isn’t to take anything away from those dominant runs, they need to be looked at with a careful eye.
One of La Salle’s four titles – in 1943 – was shared with East Providence, which finished tied at the top of the division with the Rams. Of Mt. Pleasant’s seven wins, four of them were shared.
It’s impossible to know what would have happened if there was a championship game during those years – or even today’s four-team playoff model – which makes it very difficult to evaluate them from a historical perspective.
But the likelihood of Mt. Pleasant actually winning those seven of eight with a full playoff system is a lot lower then them just being handed those trophies because of a great regular season.
If that was how it was meant to be done, La Salle would have cruised to last year’s title and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
That brings us to the “Super Bowl era,” where the state began to sort itself out. Rhode Island began having Super Bowls in 1972, and Rogers was the first school to dominate using the new model.
It twice won five Super Bowls in six years, including three-peating twice – both in 1976-78 and in 1988-90.
The second run for Rogers is the pinnacle of Rhode Island dominance, as it not only won five times, but it reached the Super Bowl for six straight years.
That’s the gold standard. Five in six years, with six appearances.
Other than that, there’s only been two other three-peats. Portsmouth won three in a row from 1991-93, and then went back to its fourth consecutive Super Bowl in 1994, where it lost to Hendricken.
That was the beginning of another three-peat. The Hawks won their three from 1994-96, and then went back to the Super Bowl the next three years, only to lose all three.
Still, three straight wins followed by three more appearances is nothing to scoff at. As of now, it’s the best stretch in Hendricken history.
But it will have some company if the Hawks win this year.
If they can claim a third straight Super Bowl, they’ll join that small group of schools that have been able to capture three in a row. They’ll be just the fifth in the modern era, the second in school history and the first team of any kind to do so in the past 16 years.
Besides Rogers’ dominance in the late 70’s and its annihilation of the state in the late 80’s and early 90’s – and Hendricken’s own run from 1994-99 – the current Hendricken team would have established the best run in history.
It has already played in five of the last six Super Bowls, and is seeking its sixth appearance in seven years.
No team – besides Rogers and the 90’s Hawks – has made six in seven years and won three.
La Salle played in six in a row from 2000-05, but won only two. East Providence played in five of seven from 1997-2003, but also won only two.
A place in history is at stake.
When the Hawks were great in the 90’s, that run of six straight Super Bowl appearances ended a 10-year drought of never reaching the big game.
In 2006, Hendricken reached the Super Bowl for the first time since those 90’s teams, ending a six-year drought and bridging a gap between eras.
The Hawks can bridge that gap even more with a third straight title.
They’d join their counterparts as Rhode Island legends.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.