It’s been a few days now, but don’t for a second think the luster has worn off for anybody associated with the Racine Raiders.
When you win a national title for the 10th time, there’s plenty of shine to go around.
The Raiders, in their 70th season, added another big notch to their storied history Saturday night with a 27-18 victory over the West Sound Rebels in the Gridiron Developmental Football League’s Gridiron Bowl XIV national title game in Landover, Md.
With the victory, the Raiders closed their first year in the GDFL at a perfect 15-0, their first perfect season since 2014. Racine now has 667 total victories, and with its 10th title, both are the most of any minor league football team in history.
For lead broadcaster Don Wadewitz, who has been with the team for three of its national titles, the excitement before, during and now after the game has been palpable.
“It was amazing as the bus drove down High Street on the way back to the field on Sunday night to see so many cars in the parking lot and watch people running across to greet the bus,” he said Tuesday via email. “I think we were all in a bit of disbelief. We’d heard rumors that fans were planning to meet the bus at the field when we got back, so we decided to be proactive on social media and promote it.
“I don’t think we imagined the type of turnout we’d have. It really showed that the Raiders are your hometown team in Racine.”
Wadewitz shared some attendance numbers, both at the game and here in Racine, that showed that level of excitement around the team.
About 200 people showed up at Angry Brothers Pub and Grill for a viewing party, and there were more than 5,000 live views online of the game, he said. The game has since been viewed more than 1,200 times on replay, and Wadewitz estimated that 90% of those in attendance were Raiders fans.
“It’s been nearly a decade (since the last title), so there was a lot of hope heading into the season,” he said. “And to have it finish by securing the national title in Gridiron Bowl XIV was amazing for everyone.”
As for the game itself, the Raiders scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take control. Quarterback Andre Locke was named the Most Valuable Player after he rushed for two touchdowns and passed for a third.
Locke was 18-for-28 passing with 236 yards and rushed eight times for 34. Former All-Racine County player Joe Garcia led the receiving corps with six catches for 86 yards. Niko Lemke, who starred at UW-Whitewater, led the defensive effort with six tackles, including three for a loss, and three sacks.
Deep Raiders dedication both home and away
The trip east was the team’s second straight, which led to another long trek there and back to bring the title home.
But the organization of all volunteers did just that, Wadewitz said, all with their eyes on the championship.
“To play back-to-back games, 12 hours from home, which means about 14 hours total for each trip with the various stops, left everyone a bit drained,” Wadewitz said. “It was definitely a grind, but everyone understood it was short term and what was at stake.
“The grind is why you enjoy the win so much though. We still talk about having to make trips to Detroit in four of five weeks many years ago, and that ended in disappointment. We’ll be talking about these trips and the awesome result for decades to come.”
And it’s the journey that means so much to everyone at all levels of the organization, Wadewitz said.
“To know you played some role in helping an organization reach the pinnacle is a great feeling that can never be taken away from you,” he said. “It even means more doing it with the Racine Raiders, because nobody is getting paid. We’re all out here doing this for the love of the community, the love of the game, or both, and that makes winning a championship with the Racine Raiders even more special.”
And that luster that can never be taken away.
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