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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

Remembering football games at Tilton & Orchard Streets

As the end came (mercifully) to the Eagles 4-11-1 season, I was amused by the fact that some friends of mine from 30-plus years ago were still debating the Philadelphia Eagles, most notably the future of its quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts.

What was the problem? Would he return next year? Where would he go if he didn’t return?

I smiled to myself. Following the Eagles and fantasy football are obsessions of my group of friends. For most of us, the fantasy football obsession goes back three decades-plus, to 1989. As for the Eagles, well, some of us can date our passion for the Birds as far back as the late-1970s. That’s a lot of history for one group of guys and one sport. Age and time haven’t done anything to quiet this bunch down when it comes to football.

In fact, it’s pretty much been the opposite.

That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

Not that we weren’t loud as a group of kids. Remember that movie The Sandlot? That was us, just the middle school and high school versions.

A window in my office at The Gazette looks out at Orchard Street where it intersects with Tilton Street. Across Orchard Street, there is an empty lot. We called it a “field” back in the late 1980s and early 1990s but it was more like a “lot.” The sign on top of the former W.E. Crane Lumberyard had changed to “National Door Co.” by then, so we named the field where we would play pickup football before Eagles games and during halftimes “Doorco Field.” About eight of the guys who are still in our 12-team fantasy league today were around to watch the games each Sunday. We’d eat, play football, play some Madden Football on Sega Genesis, eat some more, and mostly enjoy hearing my father yell at the screen as the Eagles played.

There were some highlights. In those days, it was Randall Cunningham, not Wentz, at quarterback. Cunningham was always a source of debate (as every Eagles quarterback seems to be). In 1990, he threw a ball to Fred Barnett after nearly being sacked in the end zone by Bruce Smith of the Buffalo Bills that remains one of the most amazing plays I’ve ever seen. Not just for the Eagles—it was one of the most amazing football plays I’ve ever seen. He ducked Smith, tossed the ball 40 yards down the field and Barnett ran the rest for a touchdown. It was incredible.

We played a lot of football across the street from my parents’ house during the games (their house is diagonally across the street from the offices of The Gazette), especially during the Fog Bowl against the Chicago Bears, where the fog was so thick the television cameras couldn’t show viewers the game. We tossed the ball around outside instead.

Mind you, we had some athletes in our friend group/fantasy league. Our commissioner (then and now) John Maccarella had played starting quarterback for the Hammonton Blue Devils, and Michael Carapucci (whose fantasy team won the Madden Bowl, our league’s championship, just last week) played wide receiver for the Devils. They both also played football with us on that postage-stamp-sized swath of grass at the corner of Orchard and Tilton Streets back then.

Those two guys have won quite a few championships in our league, as have a few other longtime league members, like my brother John Donio. I have just one championship in 32 seasons, which I won back in 1995. I had the Eagles’ Ricky Watters that year.

A group of us did come back to play one last time in 2008. We were in our late 30s then, but we still tossed the ball around (the end zones were still between the Orchard Street sidewalk and the Passalaquas’ driveway) and watched the game with my father. It was the game where Donovan McNabb forgot how the overtime rules worked, leading to a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals. There was a lot of debate by us after that game.

I’m bringing this all up because the Eagles season is over, but also because the markouts have been made on old “Doorco Field” for a new house that will soon be built. It’s the first new house in the neighborhood in decades, and of course the first one built on our old football field in my lifetime, and many lifetimes before mine.

It’s not a new story. It’s happening throughout town. The progress that the community courted for years is here, and lots that were always left alone are seeing homes built on them. As times have changed dramatically, people have quickly discovered what we always knew was true about Hammonton: We have what people want.

That includes being the kind of town where relationships you make when you are kids stay with you well into your adult years. The memories are great, but what’s amazing is making new memories with the same people decades later, watching football games and dissecting every move the Eagles make.

These days, they refer to it as “quality of life.”

Back in our younger days, we just referred—and actually still refer—to it as “life.”

Of course, we always knew it was “quality.”

Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.


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