- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

The odd circumstances surrounding high school quarterback Nate Haasis and his pursuit of glory had a precedent. It has happened before, the rules of competition being broken or altered to allow an athlete to set a record.

But Haasis’ response was virtually unheard of.

In rejecting a record that people had literally handed to him, the 17-year-old senior from Springfield, Ill., made a statement that embraced such concepts as morality and the true meaning of fair play.

Such a statement had previously eluded older and presumably wiser athletes and coaches before him.

This isn’t about Jake Porter, the mentally retarded high school football player from Ohio who last year was allowed to score a touchdown, thereby setting off a torrent of tears and emotions. It’s not about Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain grooving one so Mickey Mantle could hit home run No.535 late in his final season and pass Jimmie Foxx on the all-time list.

This is about chasing records, about the need to be remembered for doing something really big and the lengths to which some will go to make it happen.

There was Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre falling down, or not, allowing the New York Giants’ Michael Strahan to set the NFL record for sacks in a season in 2001. Three years earlier, Connecticut basketball star Nykesha Sales, wearing a cast on her leg, was permitted to make an uncontested layup to break the school career scoring record.

Back in 1984, with Tampa Bay running back James Wilder in range of breaking the NFL record for total offense in a season, Buccaneers coach John McKay, in the final game of a long career in college and the pros, ordered his defense to let the New York Jets score a touchdown so the Bucs could get the ball back for Wilder. The defense did its part, but not the offense: Wilder fell short.

John Reaves didn’t fall short. Playing quarterback for the University of Florida against Miami in the last game of the 1971 season, Reaves’ defense blatantly allowed the Hurricanes to score a touchdown so he could get his hands on the ball and break the NCAA Division I mark for passing yards in a season. With a 15-yard completion, Reaves got it.

Nate Haasis got his little piece of history, too. But unlike Reaves or Sales or Strahan or James Wilder, if he had been successful, he gave it back. Haasis refused to accept the record for career passing yards in the Central State Eight Conference, of which his school, Springfield Southeast, is a member. Thanks, but no thanks.

He refused after he learned that both his coach and the opponent’s coach had rigged things to not only let Haasis get a final opportunity but offer no resistance so he could complete the record-setting pass. Speaking for players “past and present,” Haasis said he “felt disrespectful” to set the record that way and wanted no part of it. Then, in a letter to the conference, Haasis used such words as “integrity” and “sportsmanship.”

Haasis wasn’t the only one turned off by what happened. Others shared his contempt. And in the prior instances of dubious record-setting conditions, all of which occurred on a much larger stage, much ill will also was generated.

Joe Klecko remembers that ‘84 game in Tampa. Then a defensive linemen for the Jets, a member of the famed “New York Sack Exchange,” Klecko is still appalled by the memory of the Bucs’ defense laying down for the Jets so Wilder could get a crack at Eric Dickerson’s record.

“I was hurt on the sideline, and I was upset as I could be,” said Klecko, whose son, Dan, is a rookie defensive lineman with New England. “They allowed us to score so they could have enough time to get the ball in the offense’s hands.”

After the Bucs failed on three onside kicks, the Jets got the ball on the Tampa Bay 35. They quickly moved to the 2, and from there, Tampa Bay let Johnny Hector run untouched into the end zone. Then the outraged Jets tried an onside kick of their own to keep possession, but it didn’t work. The Bucs got the ball with 54 seconds left. Wilder needed 16 yards.

“You talk about being mad,” Klecko said. “All the guys were really upset about it. McKay was a guy who could pull [expletive] like that. That was pretty bush. That was about as low as you could get.”

The Jets stopped Wilder on three straight plays before time ran out. He gained zero yards.

“It was great to see our guys bull their necks like that,” Klecko said. “It was very appropriate that they got it stuffed back in their faces.”

Klecko is indirectly linked with Strahan because Klecko’s former teammate, Mark Gastineau, held the sack record Strahan broke. Yet Klecko is not among those convinced that Favre went down on purpose, even though Favre during the week before the game had joked about working out a little “side deal” with Strahan.

“You look at that play, it looks like Favre misses a handoff,” Klecko said. “To me, he never goes down that easy. But when you’ve got a 300-pound defensive end barreling down on you, you think about it.”

Favre and Strahan have remained popular. Despite some criticism at the time, so has Nykesha Sales, who had torn her Achilles’ tendon in the previous game, one point shy of the record. She is currently an all-WNBA player for the Connecticut Sun.

But the game in which John Reaves broke Jim Plunkett’s passing record, set just the year before, left a bad taste that wouldn’t go away.

It was an essentially meaningless game, two teams with no postseason plans. Florida came into the Orange Bowl as an underdog but dominated from the start and had a big lead in the fourth quarter. There seemed to be plenty of time for Reaves. Then Harvin Clark returned a punt for a Florida touchdown. Not only was Reaves denied an opportunity, Miami again had the ball.

“If Clark had fair-caught the ball, we wouldn’t have had all of this,” said Doug Dickey, the Gators’ coach at the time.

Miami, despite trailing 45-8, played ball control, pounding the Gators with running back Chuck Foreman. They were eating up the clock and Dickey was getting frantic. He knew Reaves needed 14 yards for the record.

“I was thinking, John has had a great career,” Dickey said. “This game has no effect on anybody’s season. There’s no bowl game or national ranking at stake. I just wanted to get the ball.”

Finally, with 1:20 left and the ball on the Florida 8, Clark persuaded Dickey to let the Hurricanes score. He gave the command, but the players took him a bit too much at his word. All but one literally laid down on the next play, and Miami scored. After a failed onside kick, Reaves hit Carlos Alvarez for 15 yards and the record.

Miami coach Fran Curci refused to shake Dickey’s hand afterward, and some of the Gators jumped into the pool used by the Miami Dolphins’ mascot. Hurricanes fans held a grudge for years. But Dickey still defends his actions. He was asked if he would do the same thing again, a question he has been asked more than once.

“I might tell them to go full speed,” he said. “But no tackling.”

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