TERRE HAUTE —
On Friday night, Mayor Duke Bennett declared Oct. 1, 2010, “Tony McGee Day” in Terre Haute.
If you’re a Terre Haute South football fan, you probably want every Friday to be “Tony McGee Day,” at least for the next few weeks.
“That’s what I said after the game,” South coach Mark Raetz remarked. “He needs to be here every time because he definitely brought us some luck tonight.”
A former Cincinnati Bengals tight end and South legend, McGee spoke to the team and treated the enthusiastic homecoming crowd to a pregame speech when his No. 5 football jersey was being retired by the high school. That set the tone for the Braves’ 21-7 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference triumph over Indianapolis North Central.
Having covered the 6-foot-4 McGee during his eventful South athletic career in the late 1980s, I was glad to see him looking so fit and happy at 39.
“My daughter says, ‘When you get your jersey retired, that means you’re old and crusty,’” McGee said with a chuckle before the game.
“For me, it’s exciting coming back. I got the opportunity to go to the pep rally. They’ve got homecoming here and I got to spend time with the football team … It all started for me right here.”
I didn’t get to see McGee after the game, but my guess is he kept smiling after South piled up 14 points in the fourth quarter to seal the outcome.
Living in Orlando, Fla., McGee described how he played for the Raiders and Chargers — not in the NFL — but in the Vigo County Youth Football League in the 1980s. And the field he often played on was Terre Haute South’s.
“I’ve been playing on this field for a long time,” he recalled. “I was big for my age, so my mom always made me play with my older brother. I think you were supposed to be 10, but she threw me in when I was only 8.
“I played here all the way through high school. We had a lot of fun here. We got a lot of victories and we played with some great football players on this field, guys like Anthony Thompson, Ernie Thompson and Shawn Stephens. But I think too we had some great coaches — Rod Shafer and that whole group of [South] coaches, Wayne Stahley back then at Terre Haute North… We also had great fan support.”
On the personal front, McGee said he married former Orlando television anchor woman Jacqueline London in April. He also praised his 11-year-old daughter Hannah and her tennis-playing skills.
McGee mentioned that he’s no longer helping the Big Ten Network broadcast football games because of the time he needs to spend on his business, HNM Enterprises.
Still the sports fan even though he’s retired as an athlete, McGee follows Terre Haute South, University of Michigan and pro football when he can. A veteran of 11 NFL seasons with the Bengals, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, he said he usually watches games at home on DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package.
McGee particularly enjoys checking out Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who went by Chad Johnson when he was an NFL rookie in 2001, McGee’s final season with the Bengals.
Speaking from years of football experience at the highest levels, McGee certainly left a favorable impression on the Braves and a few of his former mentors over the weekend.
“He’s a great person, he’s a great athlete and he’s a great role model,” Vigo County School Superintendent Dan Tanoos said during the pregame ceremony.
“He just told us to focus — get all the homecoming stuff out of our heads — and just focus on the game,” emphasized South workhorse running back Tyler Evans, who contributed 153 rushing yards and one touchdown Friday night. “It helped.”
“We want these Braves to get a victory tonight,” McGee told me before the game. “That’s what it’s all about and that’s my message to the team: ‘Hey, it’s great to be honored. But this is about you guys and taking it one play, one game, one victory at a time. And when you get into the [IHSAA] tournament, anything can happen. Keep that vision in mind as you move forward.’ “
Yes, the stars seemed to align for South’s 2010 homecoming. When the Braves needed a win, they turned to Tony McGee, just like the old days.
A 1977 graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High School, David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224 after 4 p.m.; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.