MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Sitting in a public house last Sunday not long after church, while watching the Baltimore Ravens gag against sorry Jacksonville, we heard a big cheer and applause from a fellow at the other end of the bar watching another game.

Fort Hill High’s Ty Johnson had just scored on a 32-yard touchdown run for the New York Jets in their 31-10 win over the Chicago Bears.

“That’s great,” the gentleman said as he applauded Ty’s seventh TD of his NFL career. “I didn’t go to Fort Hill, but I always root for the hometown.”

Ty’s having a great season for the resurgent Jets. He is on the field every game on special teams and made himself a favorite of general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh, which is easy to understand, because Ty Johnson has always done whatever it takes. He is a valuable player for the Jets and it was nice to see him in the backfield more last Sunday, as he rushed for 62 yards on five carries and caught a pass for 16 yards.

I have a feeling he’s going to become more involved in the Jets’ running-back rotation, but what he does on special teams for the Jets in his fourth season in the NFL (and think about the significance of playing four years in the NFL) is very important.

The great thing about it is Ty Johnson, having always been counted out, despite the warnings from all who know him and who have followed his wonderful career from Fort Hill to the University of Maryland and the NFL, has always succeeded. He has always created the chance for himself to have the last laugh, yet never takes it; likely because he has always been counted out and has never been given a chance.

Ty Johnson makes his chances, and he always has.

Everybody you see around here seems so pleased by Ty’s success and so very proud of him, because they know him to be a good and honorable man, who is true to his family, his friends, his hometown and to doing the very best he can in any endeavor he pursues, such as graduating from the University of Maryland in three years.

Our area never ceases to amaze me in every conceivable way, both good and not so much, but mostly in the heartwarming aspect of it.

During the high school football season around here, our area proves every year to be as partisan as partisan can be. Yet once the actual participants in the games graduate from their respective schools and move on to other things, we’re all in, and we’re with them — together. And that’s a good thing and it’s always been this way around here.

In the 1950s and early ’60s, Cumberland once collectively rooted for the Miami Hurricanes because of the pipeline of Cumberland players who went to school in Coral Gables (check your old Dapper Dan programs if you don’t believe me).

Then through the mid-’60s and early ’70s, we were Maryland and West Virginia fans, which, of course, we always have been and always will be. Yet we’ve also been George Washington fans, Navy fans, Army fans, Youngstown State, Georgetown, Towson and Fairmont State fans, Virginia and Virginia Tech fans, Pittsburgh fans, North Carolina fans … Wherever our former high school players took their games, they also took our hearts.

Then there were our Ohio State days. That’s right, Cumberland was a Buckeyes town — first with quarterback Greg Hare and then with head coach Earle “Lefty” Bruce.

Greg Hare was the starting quarterback for Ohio State his junior year and took the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl. Early in his senior year, he was injured and Cornelius Greene took over as the starter and remained the starter. That is, until Ohio State needed to at least tie Michigan in Ann Arbor to get back to the Rose Bowl, which is what happened when they called on Hare to save them.

When the Buckeyes returned to Pasadena, Greene returned as the starter, which, naturally, angered us to no end and prompted the promise from every single one of us, “We will never root for Ohio State again!”

Which we never did. Until, that is, Earle Bruce was named head coach.

Hare, of course, played for Fort Hill. Bruce was an all-time great halfback at Allegany. Yet all that mattered to us was they were both from Cumberland, which meant all of us, no matter our own high school affiliations, were Ohio State fans just six years after pledging to learn the words to “The Victors,” which, of course, is the Michigan fight song.

You know the story. In nine seasons, Bruce’s teams went 81-26-1, including 5-4 against Michigan. His final game as the Buckeyes head coach was a 23-20 win over the Wolverines, and just like that he was no longer the Ohio State coach for reasons only a select few ever seemed to know. And just like that, we were no longer a collective Buckeyes town.

And that’s how we roll. And that’s how we should roll. That is why we were Detroit Lions fans and are now New York Jets fans; even those of us who will never get over Super Bowl III.

And this, as we discover every time somebody from our area strives to make his or her mark in whatever his or her chosen endeavor may be, is a good thing.

It is a very good thing, indeed.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT