Taglieri, who once played for Stinson and coached under him for 11 years, took over the head coaching reins and made one initial promise and kept one simple theme: No change was necessary.
"I'm not changing anything," Taglieri said in May when he was appointed. "I'd be stupid if I wanted to change things. The Delaware (Wing-T), the base defenses, it's what I know. It's what I teach. It's best to teach what I know. We're not changing a thing. Everything is already in place, so we're just going to move on. It's almost like you can take a cut out of Eddie Stinson and put him on our sidelines, because nothing is going to change. It's not broke, so we don't have to fix it. We're going to be the same team. We're not reinventing the wheel. The program is already in place. We're just going to roll everything over and keep it going. Nothing is going to change."
Flash forward to December, some seven months after Taglieri officially took over. The Red Wings are facing Verona for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state title. They hadn't lost a single game all year, doing the same things Hoboken football teams always did - running the Wing-T, playing ball control offense, keeping the opposing defenses on their heels.
Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate, just straight forward, straight ahead football.
It's that approach that enabled the Red Wings to methodically take care of Verona in the state title game. Keeping the ball for long chunks of the clock. Making sure that their running backs kept moving forward, kept moving the chains.
It might not be the prettiest way of playing the game, but it works. It was proven in the past, when Stinson was the architect of six state championship teams. And it was going to be successful with Taglieri as the coach as well.
"That's just Hoboken football," Taglieri would say after his team's 21-6 victory at Giants Stadium last Friday night. "That's the way we play. Grinding out the yardage, controlling the clock. It all adds up to the same thing. Through the year, we might break off the play and go 70, 80 yards. But we knew that wouldn't happen here. We were facing a good team and needed to just keep going, moving forward."
So Damien Bates, who bolted for 1,700 glory yards and a bunch of touchdowns during the season, had to transform himself into a workhorse for the title game. No problem with that. Bates got the ball 32 times, far exceeding any total he had all season, for 120 yards. More importantly, he held on to the football and only lost yardage on two of those 32 carries. He might not have been flashy and his runs weren't exactly highlight film material, with only two of the 32 going for 10 yards or more, but Bates was certainly effective and stayed within the simple, moving forward game plan.
"I knew that I wasn't going to make the big runs on this team," Bates said. "I just had to stay focused and keep moving forward. We had to play hard, physical football. As long as we continued to drive the ball and control the clock, we would win."
Two of the three Red Wing touchdown drives were of the methodical persuasion. Their first scoring drive was 13 plays, marched 66 yards and took a little more than six minutes off the clock. The second one was a thing of beauty, like it came out of the Tubby Raymond textbook when he devised the Delaware Wing-T offense back in the 1950s. That Red Wing drive was 12 plays, 77 yards and almost eight minutes off the clock (7:40 to be precise).
If you're holding onto the ball that long, you're keeping the other team's offense off the field and more than likely, you're going to win. Plain and simple. Just like Taglieri professed when he took over.
But there was something different between this year and last year. The Red Wings went to Giants Stadium to play in the Group I state title game in 2004 and did all the right things except win the game. They outgained Cedar Grove, outplayed them, except on the scoreboard, where they went home with an empty 6-0 setback.
To a man, they all knew that wasn't going to happen again. The Red Wings were determined to forget about the debacle of 2004 and create their own piece of history. After all, it had been six long years since a Hoboken team won a state title. A decade ago, winning a state championship was almost an annual occurrence in the Mile Square City.
Chris Willis remembers those days, when the Red Wings were the Team of the Decade in the 1990s, winning five state titles in a span of six seasons. Willis remembers those years well because every year, another member of his family was securing a state championship ring.
First, Willis' cousin Ravon Anderson got his share of titles, followed by another cousin, Tyrell Dortch, who won back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999. Another cousin, Rory Praylow, a fine defensive tackle in his heyday, was also part of the winning tradition as well during that time span.
Willis had come close before to getting his. As a freshman in 2002, Willis was the starting tight end on the Red Wing team that lost to Ramsey, 7-6, in the Group II title game. Last year, another brush with success, but another heartbreak, losing to Cedar Grove, 6-0.
Now, as a senior, this was Willis' last chance to experience the same feeling that all three of his older cousins had enjoyed. This was one for the family tradition.
"I knew that this was it for me, that I had to make up for all the other times we lost," said Willis, who was a powerful running back and defensive end on this year's team. "We just had to come out here and get it this year. There were no other chances. I had to make sure we kept the family tradition going."
So sure enough, Willis will get his ring, just like the other members of his family. That's why he didn't want to let go of the state championship trophy after the Red Wings won, carrying it around the bowels of Giants Stadium the way a mother carries around her newborn. It wasn't going away, nor was the feeling of accomplishment and achievement.
"This is a great feeling," Willis said. "Hoboken pride is back."
Talk about pride and talk about class. Try this one on for size. Soon after the Red Wings won their title, they huddled in the deep hallways of Giants Stadium, celebrating the win with each other. There was talk about quickly shuffling the team onto the bus and back to Hoboken as soon as possible.
But the Red Wings felt like they had one more thing to do before they left. They had to offer their comrades from Hudson County, the team that they shared the HCIAA championship with this year, their well wishes and good luck.
So after St. Peter's Prep finished its pre-game preparations in the bubble outside Giants Stadium to come down the ramp to take the field for the Marauders' state championship game, there were the Red Wings, lined up on each side of the Marauders, in a show of Hudson County solidarity that is so rarely seen. A wall of Hoboken players on the right and a wall on the left, with the Marauders coming right between them, hearing the well wishes.
"Go get them," the already victorious Red Wings told the Marauders. "Go get yours now. Do it for Hudson County."
People who witnessed the classy gesture by the Red Wings were practically moved to tears. Needless to say, it didn't go unnoticed by the team playing the second game of Friday night's momentous doubleheader, a night that will be forever remembered in Hudson County athletic history.
"Louie [Taglieri] and I grew up together in Hoboken and have known each other for 30 years," St. Peter's Prep head coach Rich Hansen said. "We've been friends for a long time. It was so cool to see those kids there. It was a nice gesture on their part."
Prep followed suit. The Marauders later got theirs as well.
Score two for Hudson County, in terms of class, in terms of champions, in terms of pride. Chris Willis was right. Hoboken pride had definitely returned. So did Prep pride. Both teams left Giants Stadium in the same fashion that they left in 1994, as state champions.
- Jim Hague