The snow was coming down at a steady rate during La Grande’s Wednesday morning practice at Community Stadium.
It was perhaps fitting, as players and coaches from the 1974 state championship team — which won a home semifinal in several inches of snow on the way to the championship — came to speak to the team at the conclusion of practice, then spent time sharing with the players about their experiences in winning the state title.
That team won La Grande’s only state football title 45 years ago today — Nov. 29, 1974 — a 26-7 victory over Corvallis at Civic Stadium in Portland.
“It was my lifetime goal since I was in grade school to become a state champion. It was kind of like reality happening,” Rick Simonis, a linebacker and captain of the 1974 team, told The Observer. “Like we were in a bubble.”
Simonis addressed the 2019 team at the end of Wednesday’s practice with players and coaches next to him as he recalled the words of the late Doc Savage, the head coach who guided the Tigers to the top in 1974.
“I’d like you all to know you are all winners. (Only) two teams to make it to the finals,” he said. “But, wouldn’t it be great to be the best of the best?”
Simonis told the players they were “winners right now. You guys are very successful.” He likened them in his comments to gladiators, preparing for battle, and called the moment they were about to embark on one of the greatest of their lives, one that will “mold (and) imprint who you are, and unite you as a team. You’ll stay united for life.”
After Jim Dalton, a defensive end on the ‘74 team, offered a prayer, the players, past and present, talked about the experiences they had gone through, or were about to go through.
“It’s really cool getting to know how they played (in) the game, and getting advice,” senior tight end Gabe Shukle said. “They said they treat it like...another game in the season.”
Running back Nathan Reed said the comment about already being winners stuck with him.
Corky Hunt, who was a defensive back and quarterback’s coach on the ‘74 team, said in an interview with The Observer the players need to soak the scene in, and he still remembers vividly the end of the game 45 years ago.
“You need to enjoy the moment, because this doesn’t come along very often,” Hunt said. “I can still look back and remember (the scene) after the game in the middle of what was then Civic Stadium in Portland, (and) it was pretty memorable.
“It was pretty euphoric.”
The thing this team has the most in common with the 1974 squad? Defense, Hunt said.
“I’ve only watched a couple of the games, but both teams have strong defenses. We relied on that a lot,” Hunt said. “The other part I guess was that we had a running back like this team does that we relied on. The offense (this La Grande team has) is a lot more explosive.”
Both said the team needs to put its best effort out on the field Saturday.
“Realize this moment — you can’t relive it,” Simonis said. “Capitalize on everything you’ve learned to this point, and make every play count.”