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Posted at 8:27 AM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Story Pick: A town where football greats are raised

By Theresa Vargas

For those still in a Super Bowl stupor, here’s an incredible article about a small town that over the last five decades has seen its economy tank, its population dwindle and its teenagers consumed by violence and yet has thrived in one notable area: creating great football players.

As Sports Illustrated writer S.L. Price so powerfully puts it:

“Fueled by obedience, reveling in brute force, dismissive of weakness, the game hardly seems nimble enough to withstand the social trends that made Aliquippa feel, over the past 40 years, like some corroding edge of the American Dream. Industrial collapse, race riots, massive layoffs, white flight, corporate greed, fatherless families, the scourge of crack: All battered this tiny town like a series of typhoons. It's as if the same mysterious alchemy that keeps producing Hall of Fame talent and a team with a record 13 WPIAL titles created an equally outsized appetite for destruction. Aliquippa takes everything to extremes.”

It's a long piece but flows easily, pushed along by careful details that take us into a locker room where young men before a game write on their wrists the names of relatives and friends they’ve lost, and into a stadium called “the Pit” where normally warring fans find neutral ground. Prince writes:

The Pit on Friday night is the one place where Aliquippa now feels closest to Aliquippa then. Those who moved away find their way back: The old millworkers in wool hats gather under blankets in the senior citizens' seats, people wary of the streets gather here to greet old friends. White and black, young and old sit together, taking swigs from tiny bottles, commenting on the cold. The starters run out arm-in-arm with a cheerleader. The smell of gyros and cheese fries fills the air, the gravelly voice of the P.A. announcer says, "First-and-10, goooooo Quips!" and the masses softly answer, in less a cheer than a collective warning, "Yeeaaaah!"
"Did you get chills?" asks Sean Gilbert, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle and former Quip. "What football will do. Football's a religion sometimes."
They are cocky, this crowd, and why not? Few corners of the nation, certainly none as small as Aliquippa, have produced so many big names. A man will be shot and wounded tonight on a street in Plan 11, not far from where Gilbert, NFL Hall of Fame tight end and coach Mike Ditka, Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett, two-time Super Bowl champ Ty Law and Revis, the 2009 AFC Defensive Player of the Year, grew up. But there's little danger of a shooting at a Quips game.

Whether you're sulking or celebrating last night's game -- or even if you don't like football -- it’s worth a read.

By Theresa Vargas  | February 7, 2011; 8:27 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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