Looking back after all this time, Junious Slaughter is proud to have played that night. It was a game for the ages, one that stands out from his high school glory days.
But man ... if only he could go back to that autumn evening — Nov. 4, 1994 — and change a couple of things. Heading that list would be Ronald Curry's two-point conversion pass that gave Hampton a 22-21 win and sank the spirit of upset-minded Phoebus.
"It was so tough to get over that game," said Slaughter, a senior linebacker that year for the Phantoms. "I never believed we would lose at any point of that game. Wow, it really was a good one. I was glad to be a player in that game.
"Man, it really could have gone either way. I got player of the game for us, too, which only made it worse. It's no fun getting player of the game if you don't come out on top."
Friday night will mark the 40th game in what is arguably the best high school football rivalry in the commonwealth — Hampton, with its 17 state championships, vs. Phoebus, which has won four titles this decade. The series has seen plenty of drama, hype, star power and back-and-forth.
But the '94 game, for many, was the best.
They said it then. Fifteen years later, it holds up.
Consider the times. Bill Clinton hadn't been in the White House for two years yet, and not four months earlier, O.J. Simpson had taken his white Bronco for a spin. Mike Smith, in his 24th year at Hampton High, had yet to win five of the 12 state championships he has now. Bill Dee, in his 10th year at Phoebus, hadn't won his first.
The Phantoms came in with a 9-0 record; Hampton was 8-0 with Gloucester remaining on the schedule. This game was for first place and, of course, bragging rights. An overflow crowd of 9,000 packed Darling that unseasonably warm night.
"The atmosphere was great," said Ahmad Hawkins, a wide receiver for the Crabbers. "It was standing-room-only. We had (freshman quarterback) Ronald Curry, they had (sophomore tailback) Antwoine Womack. … It was a great matchup."
And an emotional one.
Phoebus had dedicated the season to Joemel Dennis, its quarterback who was murdered during the summer. The Phantoms wore Dennis' No. 1 on their helmets. Curry was also playing for the memory of Dennis, who was his cousin.
Womack, who would leave Phoebus after the 1996 season as the leading rusher in Group AAA history, scored on a 7-yard touchdown run to give Phoebus a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. But Curry, who would practically rewrite the VHSL record book by the time he left, tied it on a 19-yard run with 1:07 left in the third.
In the fourth quarter, both teams had chances but didn't convert. Curry lost the ball on a bad pitchout in Phantoms territory; Phoebus kicker Josh Jones missed a 47-yard field-goal try on the final play.
So it went to overtime, with each team getting the ball at the 10-yard line. Smith still doesn't like that rule — he'd prefer the 25, like in college — but he really hated it that night. Phoebus had Womack, who even as a sophomore was a 200-pound power runner. And Hampton had little size.
"They had such a big front line," Smith said. "We played an unorthodox defense most of the night."
Sure enough, Womack went right up the middle for a touchdown on the first play of overtime. Jones' point-after made it 21-14. The Crabbers answered on a 1-yard run by Curry, which apparently set the stage for a second OT.
Instead, Hampton kicker Lindsey Sharp stayed on the sideline. Curry and the offense remained on the field. The Crabbers were going for the win.
"If you know Coach Smith, he always had that foot-on-your-throat attitude," Hawkins said. "He wanted to go for the jugular right then. We were more comfortable going for the two than going to (a second) overtime. This way, we controlled our destiny."
Smith told reporters that night he had asked the kids if they wanted to go for the two-point conversion. Fifteen years later, he admits, "I had already made up my mind."
Hawkins lined up to the right, and Noell Rainey was split to the left. Curry took the snap and rolled left with the option of passing or running. Given that he had completed only one throw all night while rushing for 104, was there any doubt that he would run?
Well, he didn't. Instead, he lobbed a pass to Rainey in the back corner of the end zone. And Rainey — who, at 6 feet and 160 pounds, was nicknamed "Bones" — jumped up and pulled it down.
"It was a heck of a catch," Hawkins said. "It was priceless. At first, everybody thought it was me who caught it. But I told them, 'No, I couldn't jump like that.' "
Fifteen years later, Slaughter still can see the play unfold.
"I was on the opposite side of the field," Slaughter said. "(Curry) just got the ball past our defender — if he would have gotten a finger on it, that would have knocked them out of the play. I'll never forget that game — ever."
Especially those who have tried so hard.
"We thought we had it," said Dee, now in his first year as a Christopher Newport assistant. "And when they went for the two, we had the perfect (defensive) call. We had a guy right in Curry's face, but he made the play. He always did."
Coming up Thursday •Daquan Romero — The Phoebus defensive end/tight end isn't one to seek attention, but what can he expect when he plays the way he does? •David Watford — Following all-time Crabber greats — like Ronald Curry, Marques Hagans and Tyrod Taylor — the junior understands the tradition of the Hampton quarterback. Friday •Previewing the 40th matchup between the longtime rivals. •An A to Z of the rivalry. HRVarsity.com View photos from past Hampton- Phoebus games and vote for which team you think will win Friday's matchup.Tickets WHEN: Today and Thursday from 4-7 p.m. in the Phoebus and Hampton main offices. Student tickets will be sold through Friday from noon-1:30 during lunch in both schools' offices.
PRICE: Adults — $5; Children (11 and under) — $3; Senior citizens (65 and older) — $3.