Tonawanda News — Mike Miranto was born into the T-NT tradition. Before he ever put on a pair of shoulder pads or looked across the field at his Tonawanda opponents, his parents started to prepare him for what the T-NT rivalry is all about.
“I was born and raised in North Tonawanda. I can remember going to Vetter Stadium when it was behind Lowry Middle School — being there, all bundled up when I was 6 years old, watching guys like Treyvor Zayatz,” Miranto said. “Then later down the line he ended up being one of our coaches and he’s a guy I still enjoy seeing. I think that feeds into the whole mystique of the thing — just the way we’re brought up and how (the rivalry) is explained to us.”
Miranto, now associate head coach of the men’s basketball team at Daemen College, played in three T-NT games and was part of the last Lumberjacks squad to lose to Tonawanda back in 2000.
The streak has stretched to 13 years after a close 17-14 win by NT last season, but the tides are starting to turn. Miranto said that he and his teammates will gladly bear the cross of the last T-NT loss for the Jacks if they never lose again to Tonawanda.
“I was on the last team that lost to Tonawanda. That’s something that stings for me and the guys I played with on that team to this day,” he said. “But that’s a burden we’ll gladly carry if it means we never have to lose to them again.”
But something different is happening on Fletcher Street these days. The Tonawanda football program seems to have found new life and despite 13 straight losses, the school, players and the community are starting to believe the Warriors could win.
Steve Stich played in the 2009 and 2010 T-NT games, where his Warriors lost by a combined 103-7. He said the losses were tough to deal with, but he noticed right away when coach Rob Gross came in 2010 that things were changing.
Stich said Gross brought maturity to the program.
“He demands commitment from everybody,” Stich said. “That feeds through down to even the modified level. He’s here all the time, year round, doing whatever he can to get the program better, and getting the guys to believe in protecting the tradition the best they can.”
Coaching seems to be the recipe for success on both sides of the river. Miranto said that back when he played and throughout the 13-year streak, the Jacks have been able to win consistently because of good coaches.
“I think it started with the coaching staff at NT — guys like Eric Jantzi and Rick Tomm,” Miranto said. “They laid the foundation for the program to be successful, not only for the T-NT game but in every game they played. The size of the schools plays into it as far as NT being a little more successful in recent years, but that can be a negative too because every year for Tonawanda they’re trying to knock off the king of the mountain.
“It’s David-versus-Goliath every year for them and sometimes they can catch lightning in a bottle and knock you off. It’s really been a testament to the coaches and players that have come through in the last 12 years to not let that happen.”
Both sides agree that T-NT week, win or lose, is the most memorable moment of their high school careers. When the game starts records are thrown out and it’s two football teams with a lot of pride fighting to be a part of the rivalry’s storied history.
“The whole year is based on that game, to win that game. So much time and effort is put in the whole year leading up to the game,” said Kyle Gallivan, a member of 2010 and 2011 Tonawanda teams. “Gross is out there filming them every single week and he puts the most time into one game ever. It’s amazing how much effort he puts into it. It’s been going so long and it’s what everyone knows. It would be so different if there wasn’t a T-NT game. It’s why most of these guys come out here.”
The history of the rivalry and the tradition is what makes it so special for the players and both communities.
“When I played and the few years I coached at NT — I think the coaches do a tremendous job in explaining the history of it to the kids,” Miranto said. “When you’re a player and you pay attention to what these guys are saying and understand all the guys that came before you, I think it helps you get a real appreciation of just how big the rivalry is. Even in small communities like this it goes back so long and to be a part of that is something special and something to take a lot of pride in whether you win or lose.”
As far as the streak goes, Tonawanda proved last season that the T-NT Classic will be a competitive game going forward, Stich said. Now the Warriors have to finish the job and capture one of the biggest wins in school history.
“Last year the game was close right down to the end, and once you get a couple wins under your belt in the season you start getting confidence, no matter who you’re playing,” Stich said. “To finally win would be huge.”
“I remember last year people were saying the city was going to go crazy if Tonawanda won, especially the last game at (the old Clint Small Stadium),” he said. “Even now with the new field and the confidence it brings — it will bring more kids that want to play football at Tonawanda. It will be huge for everybody when they finally beat NT. After so long it would just be huge.”Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.