MISSION — The Mission Veterans Patriots football team has captured the attention and imagination of a city with a rich football history. When a city associated with names like Tom Landry, Lupe Rodriguez, Frank Hernandez and Koy Detmer are mentioned, championship football is the expectation.
As the clock hit triple zeros in the Patriots’ 62-55 victory over previously undefeated Corpus Christi Veterans last Saturday in San Antonio, the city erupted. Residents drove down Conway Avenue, known as the dividing line between the Mission High and Mission Veterans school zones, honking their horns in ecstasy. For one night, the Eagles-Patriots rivalry didn’t matter. Mission was one again.
“It felt nostalgic. It’s what the city used to be before we grew,” said Mission resident Rick Venecia, general manager of Brick Fire Pizza and More. “Back in the early ‘90s, a lot of this wasn’t here. After Mission (High) football games, people used to run down Conway (Avenue) and honk their horns after they won. It takes you back. A lot us were that age when we saw this first hand back in the day.”
Head coach David Gilpin’s phone was flooded with messages and missed calls after the game Saturday. Gilpin was especially swimming in congratulatory wishes from family, close friends and casual acquaintances earlier this week. Monday was Gilpin’s birthday.
“You want to talk about someone humbled,” Gilpin said. “I was in tears reading something my son (quarterback) Landry (Gilpin) wrote to me and what our ex-players sent to me as well. Monday was such a special day because we had so many people reach out and say nice things about the impact I made in their lives. My birthday present was the best feeling in the world because they made me feel good. I told Landry later that he broke me. This was my senior son saying these things. What a powerful feeling.”
Football fans from across the Valley have called Mission CISD’s central office inquiring about ticket availability for Mission Veterans’ first-ever fourth-round matchup against San Antonio Wagner. Kickoff is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at The Alamodome in San Antonio.
“Everybody’s coming together,” Mission CISD athletic director Leticia Ibarra said. “We might have two high schools, but people from our neighboring districts from Sharyland, La Joya, Weslaco and Mercedes have called in about tickets to the game. I get goose bumps just talking about it. Our parents, the booster club, our campus, the community, we’re supporting them because they’ve supported us.”
Venecia’s restaurant is a sponsor of the Mission CISD athletic department. Venecia also had the opportunity to coach Patriots wide receivers Mikey Garcia and A.J. Gonzaque when they were much younger. Venecia coached Garcia in flag football and a five-year-old Gonzaque in soccer.
“They’re our kids, for lack of a better term,” Venecia said. “The players and their families are a part of our family. We want to be a part of their lives. When this team is done, they’re going to go on their way and we’re still going to be there for them. And it’s not just (Mission) Vets. That goes for Mission High, Sharyland (High) and (Sharyland) Pioneer. They’re all our kids.”
Mission Veterans fans packed the school’s gymnasium for a pep rally Thursday night before the team travels to San Antonio today. Regardless of how Saturday’s game ends, Gilpin wants his kids to have a measured perspective about the most successful playoff run in school history.
“All our guys, especially the seniors, get to go out the right way,” Gilpin said. “Hopefully, they made and will make more memories that they’ll hold onto, but this is not the highlight of their lives. I’ve told them that high school football is not the end-all, be-all in your life. Your marriage, the birth of your children, graduation from college or a job promotion are highlights in their lives. I want them to look back on and remember fondly the special time we had, but I don’t want it to be their best time.”