Whether De La Salle had won or lost last Saturday to a super strong opponent in a close game was not what mattered most to head coach Bob Ladouceur. It was whether this year's team could do all the hard work required and reach up to play at that championship level so many of the school's longtime fans are used to seeing. The team did it, Poly couldn't respond and another chapter was added to the legend.
We always look at De La Salle's 1992 team as the school's best ever in one sense because it was that team, led by current Serra of San Mateo head coach Patrick Walsh, that set the standard all others have strived to reach. The win streak has lasted so long because every De La Salle team since 1992 has gotten to that level. Some didn't reach it right away -- like this year's team and perhaps 2000 -- but all have by the middle of each season and they all stayed there. This year's team still has to prove it can do that.
With that in mind, the question for us after the big win over Long Beach Poly as a rankings entity and keeper of the state record book becomes not so much about the streak but in looking back and evaluating just how many other teams in the state have been able to play at that same De La Salle standard of excellence. It's a very short list.
1992 -- There were five other undefeated Div. I state-ranked teams for this season other than the Spartans, but probably the only one that would have challenged them or beaten them was 15-0 Bishop Amat of La Puente.
1993 -- Eisenhower of Rialto was the last team to be No. 1 in the state other than De La Salle. The Eagles started this season at No. 1 and basically stayed there throughout. Coach Tom Hoak's team did have some shaky moments, but its 52-3 romp past Mater Dei in the CIF Southern Section Div. I final was as impressive as any win De La Salle has ever had. Clovis West's team this year may have been as good as DLS or Ike, too. The Eagles of 1993, with McKay Christensen and Brad Martin, would be our pick as the best Central Section team we've ever seen.
1994 -- This was one of the best Southern Section years ever and it would be easy to say that eventual champion Mater Dei plus Bishop Amat and Los Alamitos were at least as good or perhaps better than De La Salle. All three were unbeaten heading into the semifinals. This also is one of the years Mater Dei was No. 1 by USA Today but not No. 1 in California. After No. 1 Bishop Amat lost to Mater Dei, picking between the Spartans and the Monarchs for this year is still the toughest No. 1 in the state pick we've ever had to make. We moved up No. 2 De La Salle instead of hopping Mater Dei in front, but there was almost an equally strong argument for doing it the other way.
1995 -- This was a year in which no one in the state came close to De La Salle. Bishop Amat, the Southern Section champ, had a loss and won by just 17-7 at home over a Berkeley High team in which both DLS and league rival Pittsburg absolutely destroyed.
1996 -- Early in this season, we saw Mater Dei and DLS on back-to-back weeks. Then at the end of the season we saw them both again. By this point, DLS was going to be No. 1 until it lost with a win streak getting to be as long as any in U.S. history. Our thinking was that MD was the better team in September but that DLS had improved much more during the season. No other team in the state other than MD would have beaten DLS.
1997 -- Looking back, this might have been the weakest team for DLS in the years of the streak. The team did achieve its championship standard, but committed more turnovers and made more mistakes than almost any other. We chalk that up to the weakest schedule any team at De La Salle has played. This was the season before the school got out of playing all of its league games and there was only one nonleague school on the schedule. The NCS playoffs also were getting too easy by this point as coaching instability had wrecked the once powerful Pittsburg program and a new school had split Antioch. Both Poly and Mater Dei might have been able to top the Spartans for this year. None of Poly's teams from 1992 to 1996 would have been much of a challenge to DLS.
1998 -- This was the season in which the Spartans were able to start scheduling their first five games against teams from everywhere and the second and third matchups were against Bakersfield and Mater Dei. They beat Mater Dei, 28-21, and the Monarchs went on to knock off an unbeaten Poly team to win the CIF Southern Section title. Both of those teams, though, were truly exceptional and who's to say either one couldn't have beaten De La Salle at the end of the season. Another team for this season that played at the same level as DLS, MD and Poly was Elk Grove. The Herd scored 77 points in their Sac-Joaquin Section final and have been the best team we've seen from that area since Cordova was so strong in 1974-77.
1999 -- Since Mater Dei tied Poly in the Southern Section final and since De La Salle ripped the Monarchs by 42-0 when they played up at UOP in Stockton, it's safe to say that the Spartans were the only team in the state for this season that played at their own championship standard.
2000 -- In the first game for the Spartans this season, they almost lost to Buchanan of Clovis. That turned out to be more of a plus for Buchanan than a minus for DLS as Buchanan wound up with one loss and won the Central Section title. The Spartans also nearly lost to Mater Dei in their third game but by the fifth or sixth game they had improved to the level the coaches look for. Poly wound up as the Southern Section champ, but the Jackrabbits probably were too young to have done much at the end of the season vs. the Spartans.
2001 -- The Spartans came out smoking in their first game and never looked back. The only team to reach their own standard of excellence was a team they beat, Poly. That game was closer than the 29-15 final score indicates and the Jackrabbits bounced back to beat Edison of Huntington Beach in the Southern Section title game.
By our count, that's only 13 teams in the state that we think have played at the same level De La Salle has reached in each of the last 10 years. Note: We counted Poly for 2000, but not Buchanan.