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INSTANT REPLAY: North Van's Jerome Pathon and the River City Relay
Arguably the most bizarre – if not the most spectacular – touchdown in the entire 94-year history of the National Football League was a TD scored by a Canadian.
Not just any Canadian, mind you, but one from right here in North Vancouver.
It was 10 years ago on Dec. 21, 2003, that New Orleans Saints’ wide receiver, Jerome Pathon, a Carson Graham grad from 1993, dove into the end zone to complete an absolutely incredible 75-yard touchdown on the last play of a game against Jacksonville Jaguars. The TD became known as the River City Relay. You can still find it on the Internet by Googling “River City Relay” and “YouTube.”
New Orleans, with a won-lost record of 7-7, needed to win this road game in Jacksonville plus their final game of the season the following week at home versus Dallas (which they did win) in order to have a chance for a wildcard playoff berth. Jacksonville was 4-10 which certainly made it a winnable game for New Orleans.
However, with a mere seven seconds left in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville led 20-13. New Orleans did have possession of the ball but it was way back on their own 25-yard line. They needed a miracle touchdown in one play to get the game into overtime. And they got it.
But it’s how they got it and what happened next that will forever be ingrained in the memories of those who witnessed the game in person or on TV or who were on the field itself.
When the ball was snapped from the 25-yard line to begin the last-gasp play, quarterback Aaron Brooks dropped back to the 18 and heaved a pass to Donté Stallworth along the right sideline at the mid-field stripe. As he caught the ball, he spun 360 degrees and then ran left, picking up a couple of blocks including one from Jerome Pathon as the clock reached .00, making this the final play for certain.
At Jacksonville’s 33, Stallworth lateralled the ball to Michael Lewis running down the left sideline. Lewis was tripped up at the 25 but managed to hand the ball back to Deuce McAllister. McAllister was swarmed at the 20 but somehow was able to lob the ball back across the field. Whether he could actually see Pathon in the centre of the field or not is impossible to tell on the video but Pathon, in full stride, caught the hot potato 21 yards from the goal line and dashed for paydirt, taking advantage of a block by Brooks and then outsprinting the last Jaguar defender and diving across the line for an utterly astonishing major.
Just as astonishingly, placekicker John Carney – who had made 131 consecutive converts and had missed only once in 230 attempts over the previous 121 games during some 8+ seasons – then miss-kicked the convert that would have put the game into overtime.
New Orleans went from absolute elation to complete deflation instantly. Talk about a kick in the stomach.
Catching up with Jerome Pathon this week (that’s a pun folks), I learned just how it was that our local lad was able to finish off that magnificently bizarre play.
You see, Jerome – who celebrated his 38th birthday on Monday and will be back in town for Christmas by the time you read this – played a lot of soccer and competed in track and field (long and triple jump mostly) as well as football in the Gordon Sturtridge League and at Carson Graham while growing up in North Van.
But he also played two seasons of rugby at school while in Grade 9 and 10. He believes it was his experience on the rugby field that led to that New Orleans’ TD.
“I think it stems back to my days at Carson Graham and my short career as a rugby player,” he says. “Instincts really just kicked in. You know, as soon as I threw the block for Donté and realized he was going to get tackled, I got back up and just kind of trailed the play as a back would in rugby. I didn’t know where the ball was actually going to get to me but still to this day – and I’ve spoken to Deuce McAllister – I have no idea how he managed to see me because he was being tackled.
“When I caught the ball, I just looked directly straight ahead of me and gave everything I got to get to the end zone.”
That’s Jerome diving unmolested over the line for the TD in the photo accompanying this story. Did he hear Jaguar footsteps behind him or was the dive in celebration of the impossible?
“On the previous three downs that we had, we were just running verticals,” he explains. “I had run probably the equivalent of 400 yards before that play even happened. People don’t realize how exhausted we were, especially me. When I caught the ball, I had felt Aaron Brooks’ block. I didn’t know who else was behind me.
“And so,” he adds, laughing at the thought, “I didn’t want to be the guy who got tackled at the two-yard line. So I gave it everything I got. If the guy was going to tackle me, he was going to tackle me in the end zone. It wasn’t going to be on the two-yard line.”
Now there’s something else rather amazing about that long-ago contest. Only two North Shore-raised athletes have ever played in the NFL, Pathon and Sentinel’s Rob Meier, a two-way standout with the Spartans who went on to play 10 years with Jacksonville as a defensive tackle. Meier was playing the day of that River City Relay, though he wasn’t on the field when the touchdown was scored.
“Football players’ memories aren’t usually very good,” he quips over the phone from his home in Jacksonville on Sunday after taking part in the Jaguars’ annual alumni weekend, “but, yeah, I remember that play. It was pretty shocking.”
But there’s still more. Mitch Berger of North Delta also played in the game for New Orleans. It would take a bit of research, since Berger had a 14-year NFL career with seven different teams, but it’s possible that the River City Relay game is the only time three B.C. boys have ever played in the same NFL game.
You should also know that Berger was a major part of the game, kicking off to begin the game, punting three times and kicking off after the Saints’ first touchdown.
He was also the holder of the ball on the miss-kick.
This is episode 493 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.