When Bobby Blizzard went off to college, he was surprised to discover how many of his teammates knew about the Hampton Crabbers. Make that pleasantly surprised.
When Ahmad Hawkins joined the Colorado Crush of the Arena Football League, a teammate from De La Salle High in California said to him, "You were that team ranked ahead of us." As in, the only team ranked ahead.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Hampton football was nationally known. The Crabbers were ranked No. 1 in the final National Prep Football Poll, and quarterback/safety/all-around phenom Ronald Curry was the top recruit in the nation.
And from the second week of the 1995 season through the '97 championship run, the Crabbers won 40 consecutive games. It was a VHSL record that stood for 13 years … until Phoebus, their arch rival four miles down the road, tied it last week.
With an expected win over Warwick in Friday night's playoff opener, the Phantoms would own the record outright. And Hampton will fall to second, at least on page 28 of the VHSL Record Book.
But anyone who paid attention to Peninsula District football in those days knows that Hampton took a back seat to no one. The 1996 team was so absurdly dominant that it won its four playoff games by a combined score of 227-47.
The Crabbers won their state semifinal game 76-14!
The trigger man was Curry, arguably the greatest player in Virginia high school history. Yet it wasn't a one-man show. There was tailback Darryl Smith, who rushed for 1,785 yards in '96. There was Blizzard, the 6-foot-5 bruiser of a tight end with wheels.
There was Hawkins, who had 1,129 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior. There was linebacker Darnell Hollier, lineman Jarrit Green, and plenty, plenty more.
"That '96 team was awfully, awfully good," Hampton coach Mike Smith said. "No doubt the best team we ever had here."
The Crabbers were so good that whether they'd win was never the question. Instead, it was how many they'd score. Fifty? Sixty? Eighty? The fans wondered, and the players did, too. The final season average was 58.4.
"We'd sit in the locker room before a game and say, 'How many points we gonna score tonight?' said Blizzard, now an assistant coach at Kecoughtan. "Somebody would always say, 'Hey, let's go for 100.'"
"We felt like we could beat anybody," Hawkins said. "And it wasn't the personnel or that we had the best quarterback, best athlete, anybody had ever seen. It was how Coach Smith always prepared us.
"We had that confidence. We always said, 'While we're practicing, everybody else is sleeping.'"
Opponents knew they had little chance.
Between losses to Kecoughtan on Sept. 1, 1995 and Heritage on Aug. 29, 1998, Hampton won 40 straight games by a combined score of 1,859-259. Twelve of those wins came in the playoffs as the Crabbers became the first team to win three straight outright titles. (They would add a fourth in '98).
When Phoebus won the 2008 state championship, some asked how that team would have fared against the '96 Crabbers. Like Hampton, the Phantoms steamrolled everything in their path. Phoebus went 15-0 and outscored the opposition, on the average, 48-6.
"Honestly, and not to take anything away from Phoebus, they'd have a lot of trouble stopping us," said Blizzard, who played collegiately with Kentucky and North Carolina. "And the game-changer would be Ronald. You never know with him."
As for the streak likely coming to an end Friday night, Hawkins is philosophical.
"I'm not worried about the record," he said. "We had the greatest team that was ever assembled in that area, but records are made to be broken. But we won four state championships in a row."