A knowing smile crossed John Sullivan's face as he gazed out across what is now a soccer field at Carson Middle School, but was once a bustling bed of football known as McElroy Field.
Then again, John Sullivan well remembers growing up in Carson City in the 1940s and '50s. He remembers Carson and King streets being paved ... but that was pretty much it around town. He also remembers weekend nights meant cruising Carson Street from one end of town to another.
"From down by Gottschalks and then you'd turn around right here across the street at Eagle Thrifty; that's what you did at night, just up and down the street," he recalled.
What Sullivan remembers best, however, are the stories revolving around athletics in Carson City. There are many fond memories for a man who, 40 years ago, was a senior on Carson's 1960 Northern Nevada 2A championship team, and many of those memories will be recalled on Saturday night when the Carson Boosters Club hosts the school's inaugural Football Hall of Fame ceremony at Adele's Restaurant.
Sullivan will be one of three inductees, along with former coach Harold "Pep" Martin and former star Chet Wood, who were part of the Senators' back-to-back state championship teams of 1955 and '56.
"This stirs a lot of memories," said Sullivan, who now teaches American government and serves as head coach of the softball program at his alma mater. "In one sense you're proud to be nominated to get an award like this, but on the other side, it's kind of embarrassing because we were a close team and it wasn't one person who won this. It's a team sport, I don't know why I was chosen, but I'm proud to have it."
Sullivan played fullback and outside linebacker for a team that was undefeated in eight regular season games before losing to Basic 39-6 in the state championship game in Henderson. He played fullback and linebacker - at 6-feet, 170-pounds.
"That was the average size of the kids back then. We didn't lift weights or anything, we just went and played," he said.
Today's players may be shocked to hear of Sullivan's first experience with high school football.
"When I started as a freshman in '57, we still had pretty primitive stuff," Sullivan recalled. "The school had just gotten plastic helmets. Before then, the helmets had been leather and had no face masks. My dad and I went to Reno, which was about an hour's drive at that time. We went to the Sportsman and Chet Piazzo said, 'Face masks, I never heard of that sort of thing.' So he called around and the next week he got a face mask, which was just a single bar.
"We took it home and our neighbor had a one of the old type drills that crank around, he drilled a couple of holes in there and put that on, so I was one of the first people on the team who had a face mask. Then within a week or two, everybody had one."
Sullivan remembers practicing his freshman year at what is now Bordewich School, then in 1958, the Senators moved over to McElroy Field, a home they maintained through the 1992 season.
Carson was dominant during its 1960 championship football season, outscoring eight Northern opponents by a combined 154-32 score. The Senators got past Fallon 14-6 on Sept. 30, then came into their big game a week later on the road against Sparks at Tip Whitehead Field.
"Sparks was the powerhouse," Sullivan recalled. "They had a great football team."
The showdown came right down to the wire, too. Sparks scored a touchdown at the end of the third quarter to take a 13-6 lead, but missed the two-point conversion attempt. Carson regained the lead early in the fourth quarter on a pass from tailback Richard "Boo" Little to quarterback Jim Hutchings followed by Sullivan's conversion run.
The Senators got the ball back and looked to run time off the clock, but stalled and appeared to be ready to punt the ball back to the Railroaders.
"They stopped us on about the 13 yard line, it was fourth down and (coach) Harry Dickson sent the punter in. Since I was the fullback (in the Single-wing), I called the plays, so when I saw Boo coming in, I waved him off the field. Mike Griffin came back in and I said, 'Hey, we're going for it.' We had two yards to go or something, we came up, snapped the ball and I ran the ball, it was pretty close but I got the first down."
After that, Carson ran the clock down to about a minute left, then punted the ball away and held them to end the game.
As Sullivan pointed out, Carson's team featured a balanced offense. Sullivan rushed for a team-high 555 yards on 126 carries and scored 33 points. Griffin also rushed for 542 yards behind a line that included Dan Miles and Bob Horner at the ends, 240-pound Ed Johnson and Ron Partelow at tackles, Don Clyde and Tom Hutchings at guards and John Utt at center.
Sullivan, whose family moved to Carson City in 1943, was part of a graduating class of 103 students, a reflection of the small town Carson City was at that time. Even a visit to the home of a future governor and U.S. Senator was routine.
"In a small town, sports was the center focus," he said. "During basketball season, after every home game, we'd all go over to Paul Laxalt's house. He and his wife would cook dinner, we would have soda pop, sit around and talk."
Sullivan found time to fit work in between school and his athletic endeavors.
"I worked as a milk man delivering milk during school," he recalled. "I'd get up at 3 o'clock in the morning and deliver milk to everybody's house in town. That probably kept me in shape, I guess."
There was the weekend cruising, and yes, even some occasional mischief.
"I think there were only a couple of policemen," Sullivan said. "Bill Furlong was one of the officers, and of course, he knew everybody and he knew their car. He wouldn't give you a ticket, he'd just call your parents, so when you got home, then you'd get in real trouble."
Sullivan well remembers the long-distance traveling in the old days of Nevada prep athletics.
"It was a good league, but there was a lot of travel ... you had us, South Tahoe, Hawthorne, Winnemucca, Elko, Sparks; we played Manogue then, and Portola," he said. "We'd go out to Winnemucca and play at night, it was a two-lane highway at that time, so we always had a long ride back in a bus. The coaches were the bus drivers back then, but it was fun."
Then there were the rivalries. Not the school versus school rivalries as they are known today, but town versus town.
"Carson-Douglas was a big rivalry. South Tahoe was a big rivalry, of course Sparks and Manogue were big rivals," Sullivan said.
"The Douglas games were always fun," he added, referring to a rivalry that dates back to 1922. "There wasn't any animosity between us because we knew all those boys and they knew us. Like all of us were in 4H, so we all went to 4H camp with everybody. That made it fun."
There are vast differences between athletics of today compared to the '60s, yet Sullivan also sees many similarities.
"It certainly has stayed the same but has changed radically," he said. "The caliber of the athletes has stayed the same, but they're so much more talented. The caliber of the coaching and the expectations, you have to lift weights and the one-sport stuff. It's changed a lot, but it's still the same ... kids are still playing."