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Before there was Rudy Ruettiger, there was Touchdown Tommy
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Before there was Rudy Ruettiger, there was Touchdown Tommy

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In 2013 Benedictine College Prep left Richmond. With an eye to the future — better facilities and growth potential — they packed their furnishings, unique Catholic/military culture, legends and lore and moved west to the wide open spaces of Goochland County. Recently, at the 50th reunion of the Class of 1971, one of those legends was unpacked with the recounting of the story of Touchdown Tommy.

At 5-3 and 115 lbs., Tommy seemed well-suited for his chosen extracurricular activity as manager of the Benedictine basketball team, a thankless but necessary job. However, like the legendary Rudy Ruettiger, Tommy had an improbable dream. He wanted to play football.

In the heat of August preseason workouts, he won the respect of his teammates with his dedication, courage and grit, but the coaches remained skeptical. During the season, his playing time was limited to special teams and only when victory or defeat was a foregone conclusion.

A November football field is grassless. It may be a desert of blowing sand or a sea of cold mud, but it is never September’s green carpet. And so it was to that sea of mud, in a torrential downpour on a part-frozen field that Tommy came to play, but most likely watch, his final football game.

By the end of the first quarter all jersey numbers were unreadable due to the caked mud. The players, fans and football were all cold and water-logged. By the end of the first half, with Benedictine trailing 10-0, and the weather conspiring with the score to limit Tommy’s playing probability, even his father, who had supported Tommy at every game, could be seen heading for the exit.

However, Benedictine rallied in the second half and, with less than two minutes remaining in the game and the ball on the opponent’s 1 yard line, a score could clinch the victory. As the offense moved to huddle for the final play call, a coach’s huddle was already breaking on the sideline. And the play call was being run in by non-other than Tommy. He emerged from the huddle in the only dry, clean uniform on the field. It was easily assumed to be a magnanimous gesture from a well-respected head coach to allow this senior to be on the field for the last offensive play of the year.

The game was close but not out of reach, so when Tommy brought a play in that had him carrying the ball it was, to say the least, a surprise to the rest of the team.

The offensive huddle broke. The quarterback handed the ball to Tommy. He was hit at the line of scrimmage. He spun and dove for the end zone.

To this day, his career stat line reads: 1 carry, 1 yard, 1 touchdown.

A quick postscript to the story: After graduation, instead of going to college as most of his classmates did, Tommy enlisted in the Army. It was another thankless but necessary job, as the Vietnam War was still raging.

After his tour in the Army, Tommy spent the next 40 years raising money for nonprofits. When seen at the 50th reunion he looked remarkably the same. No taller, and just a pound or two over his playing weight.

He still had not grown into his oversized heart.

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