It was a bull rush of epic proportions. A stampede seldom seen. An onslaught of humanity that caused Tri-City Medical Center officials to reluctantly wave a white flag.
“With the number of people that kept showing up they finally gave up and let everybody in,’’ Oceanside High’s John Carroll said.
Carroll, the dean of San Diego County’s prep football coaches, looks forward to Monday’s CIF-San Diego Section Open Division title game against Mission Hills. The Pirates are in their 10th straight championship tilt, which is almost as amazing as their coach, one John Carroll.
It was a month ago that Carroll couldn’t stiff-arm something that landed him in Tri-City. An artery leading to his brain was malfunctioning, something his teams rarely do. He was sprinted to the hospital, and after some anxious moments, was inundated with phone calls, e-mails, texts and cards.
And a stream of concerned friends traipsing to Tri-City, dearly wanting to see their man, The Man, in person.
“It was an introspective time,’’ Carroll said, his voice not quite returned to bull-horn volume. “On a personal level, to know that there were so many people reaching out and sending their prayers and well wishes. When I was in the hospital, I think those people got worn out by the number of people coming by.’’
That the Pirates are again vying for a oversized trophy isn’t news. It’s old hat, but it never gets old.
“It’s pretty amazing,’’ Carroll, 56, said. “You look at it: our 16th title game and 10 in a row. It’s just incredible.
“I think all that success gets lost sometimes with the expectations that come with being Oceanside. But wait a minute. In the history of high school football only Oakland’ s De La Salle has won like that.’’
The Pirates’ victories since Oct. 29 have come with Carroll contributing on a part-time basis. He’s relinquished his teaching duties and appears at practice when his body allows. Game nights mean chilling in the press box and away from the water cooler.
That included last week’s epic semifinal win over Eastlake, when Oceanside erased a 30-7 halftime deficit to prevail, 33-30.
“It was a phenomenal experience and I’m glad I got a chance to watch it,’’ Carroll said. “I wish I had been on sidelines to feel the emotion, but I’ve got to kept my stress level down.’’
Keeping up with Carroll’s trophy count is challenging. But appreciating what keeps him going, isn’t. Like all good coaches, it’s about connecting with players, and not the hardware, which means the most.
“You don’t sign up for coaching to sit in the press box and not have the interaction and feel that emotional intensity,’’ said Carroll, who’s in his 25th year at Oceanside. ”It’s those joys and highs that you get.
“It’s not the X’s and O’s and the wins, even though they are so important. What you strive for is the relationships. That’s what motivates most coaches that do it for a while.’’
Many of those he shares bonds with appear this time of year.
“We have a ton of kids coming back — all the kids in college and in the NFL,’’ Carroll said. “That’s what you do it for.’’
But this year, others did it for him. His staff responded, with Rick Girardi, Carroll’s longtime assistant, among those keeping the Pirates’ train on track.
“I’ve got to give them all praise,’’ Carroll said. “They have really stepped up.’’
So did the team’s senior leaders, after Oceanside’s Rock of Gibraltar had to ease off the pedal.
“When the cat’s away the mice will play,’’ Carroll said. “Especially when you’re a head coach who’s very involved and an extravert like myself and all the ramifications that go with that. Then all of sudden you wind up with kids having to step up like that and do things a little differently.’’
There’s nothing odd about Oceanside seeing a final as it aims for its 13th CIF title. What’s askew is Carroll not being near the chains. But that doesn’t trump the pleasure that accompanies being a beloved coach.
“Under the circumstances, I can tell you, it’s not fun being in a limited capacity,’’ Carroll said. “But it’s fun to watch the kids and the kids are having fun. But I miss being with them right now.’’
Carroll will be their eye in the sky come Monday, while they remain close to his heart.
Jay Paris can be heard talking Chargers football on 1090 AM on Monday and Friday mornings. He’s also the Wednesday morning co-host of “Hacksaw and Company.” He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @jparis_sports.