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New London - Bill George stood on synthetic grass surrounded by brass late Saturday afternoon at Cadet Memorial Field, listening to all the hosannas. About himself, his team, his accomplishment. His day.
And while George wanted nothing to do with the kudos that come with becoming Coast Guard Academy's career wins leader, alas he had no choice.
It featured bon mots from the big boss, Adm. Robert J. Papp, Jr., the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and later Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, the Academy's Superintendent. Athletic director Tim Fitzpatrick presented George with a football commemorating his 49th career victory, a 40-0 waltz over Maine Maritime, before 3,300 fans on Homecoming.
"If you come to my funeral," George said, pointing to the ball and drawing a few chuckles from the gallery, "you'll see this in the casket with me."
George passed John Merriman, the man for whom the gymnasium is named at the Academy.
"I don't want this to be about me," George said. "We have a group of coaches who come in every day and work harder than I do. They put together a game plan. They're just as nervous. We're running our lives together here, not just coaching football. We're spending our lives together, burying parents, raising children. I can't say this is just my win. It's just as much theirs."
And with that, George ping-ponged his way through a variety of other subjects, not the least of which was the significance of the victory. The Bears, 3-4 overall, won for the third time in four tries within the New England Football Conference. Whether they win the league and qualify for the NCAA Division III tournament is entirely up to them.
Their next two games are against the two teams ahead of them in the league: next week at Endicott (coached by Niantic native J.B. Wells) and later at Salve Regina.
"We have a great opportunity," junior receiver Collis Brown said. "We're definitely taking it day by day, week by week. We knew we had the pieces. It's great we're showing it now."
The Bears lost their first three games this season. How the narrative has changed.
"Did I know we'd be here like this? No," George said. "But I also know we have two of the top teams in the league coming up. I'm not going to be foolish and stick my neck out there. We have our hands full. We have a young team."
Coast Guard was never threatened in this game, keeping Maine Maritime winless. Brown threw an 80-yard option pass to Blake Thompson for a touchdown, highlighting an efficient day.
"Coach said let's have fun with it," Brown said. "It was fun. And it worked out. I knew Blake was fast and I had to get it out of my hands quick. I can only throw it so far."
And to think George was nervous about this game. The reason: Maine Maritime is winless, but leads the country in rushing, using the triple option.
"It's amazing how wound up I was today after all these years," George said. "It had nothing to do with the most wins. Maybe it's the nature of people who coach. That perfect storm. They lead the nation in rushing. We're 2-4 (at the time). A lot of things could go wrong."
Instead, freshman quarterback Derek Victory was 21 of 23 for 186 yards and two touchdowns and the defense was perfect. So was the day, really.
"It's awesome for coach George awesome for this team," Brown said. "We know this is a collection of the work of all the guys who came before us. It's awesome to him get the individual recognition."