ARLINGTON - In the week leading up to Saturday's Class 6A Division II state championship game, Longview's longtime coach John King was paid a visit from an old friend.
Robert Bero, who was the head coach of the Lobos from 1988-1999, had a memento to pass along to King, hoping perhaps it'd be more of a good luck charm for King than it was for him.
A leather football lapel with a "37" on it that had been worn by a Longview fan, possibly a cheerleader, to the 1937 championship game was given to Bero before the 1997 state title game. It was one of many reminders that the Lobos' last state championship came in 1937 - 81 years ago.
King was too nervous to put the keepsake in his pocket before Saturday's game, so he pinned it to his bag and left it in his locker at AT&T Stadium. He was happily displaying it after Longview pulled off a comeback one-point victory to end the drought for one of Texas' most talent-rich programs.
"Guys like Robert Bero and others who have been part of this program since Longview High School integrated, this is important for all of those guys,"" an emotional King said. "They know what this program means to the town of Longview and how special it is."
Eighty-one years. More than eight decades of growing frustration from a passionate fan base that came out in full force Saturday night was all relieved when King's junior quarterback son, Haynes, took one final knee to set off a raucous celebration.
The Lobos had been close, losing in the final in 2008 and 2009 and then dropping the 2010 state semifinal to Denton Guyer, thanks to a miraculous last-second blocked punt.
"We've got a tremendous fan base and they're everywhere," John King said. "They love these Lobos. Everywhere you go in the city it's what they want to talk about is the Lobos. We've been close, and I know that frustration has grown through the years because we haven't been able to get it done. But I can tell you what, there won't be any more talk about us not being able to win the big one because the Lobos have bragging rights. We're state champs. Sixteen-and-oh. And if that ain't good enough for you..."
He left the rest to imagination to a chorus of laughter.
The Kings weren't the only emotional father and son on the field celebrating. After the final whistle sounded, senior linebacker Ja'Vontae Writt's father found his way on the field.
Writt's father was a linebacker and tight end for the 1997 Longview team that fell in the state final to Katy.
On Saturday, years of frustration, mixed with hope for his kid, got the best of both of them.
"We both was in tears," Ja'Vontae said. "It was a long hug. He raised me into the person I am now, and I'm thankful for that. They didn't win it, but because of him, we here now and we won. We won for him. I won for him. We got it."
Then, King got emotional when talking about why Saturday's game meant so much to not only him and his coaches and players, but to an entire city. He also touched on what makes the Longview job his dream destination, something he never imagined as a young coach first setting roots in the East Texas town.
"Let me tell you what my daddy told me my first year coaching: He told me, 'Son, you need to find some place to call home,'" King said, choking back tears. "And I thought, 'Nah, I want to be a head coach, I'm gonna bounce around and do this and that.' I hadn't been in Longview but about a month and I knew that's where I wanted to call home.
"There ain't another job that I want. There's no different kids I want to coach then those tough ass kids in Longview, Texas. I love 'em. I love what they're about. We got a lot of diversity on our football team. We got rich ones, poor ones, black ones, white ones, Hispanics. We got it all. And they walk through that fieldhouse and they bleed green. They walk out of that fieldhouse and these dudes will bleed green the rest of their lives. That's home. I'm proud to say that Longview, Texas, is my home."
And when King and those "tough ass kids" get home Saturday night or early Sunday morning, he might finally let loose.
"Let me tell you, when we get back to Gregg County, it's gonna be a party like they ain't never seen," King said with a wide grin, "and I may be leading the charge."