Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cadillac Remembers One-Of-a-Kind 1975 KISS Concert

Cadillac Remembers One-Of-a-Kind 1975 KISS Concert
www.chicagotribune.com

CADILLAC, Mich. - Cadillac High School football coach Dave Brines knew they had to do something. The year before, the Vikings had gone 9-0 and finished third in the state, part of a 16-game winning streak. Although they had lost a few players since that undefeated 1973 season, Brines and his assistant coach, Jim Neff, knew their 1974 team was solid. Still, they had lost their first two games, although by close margins.

"They weren't used to losing. They were pretty down mentally," Brines said.

His conclusion was, "The kids weren't having any fun."

A coaching meeting to address the problem launched a series of events that, with Neff's help, would bring outrageously costumed, fire-breathing rock band Kiss to Cadillac for a visit that would be talked about and revisited for decades.

During the coaching meeting, Neff suggested playing rock and roll music in the locker room as a way to loosen up the team and get them ready to play.

The suggestion was a 180 degree turn from Brines' approach.

"I wanted the locker room quiet. I wanted them to be serious and think about the game," Brines said.

But Brines trusted Neff, and knew he had a good football mind, and he went along with the suggestion.

While coming up with an idea of whose music to play, Neff thought of band he had seen open for the New York Dolls. Their name was Kiss. Their elaborate stage show featured shooting flames and special effects, and their raucous, high energy music was bound to get the team pumped up. In addition, their name, spelled out in all capital letters, was the same as their saying in football, "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Kiss.

"So I thought, this is the perfect band," Neff said.

Also, Brines instituted a change in the lineup as a solution for returning the team to its winning ways.

Brines pulled his son, Dave Brines, Jr. out as quarterback, and made him a tailback. He also put backup quarterback Mike "Red" Johnson in as starter.

"Now the rest of us coaches thought this was just crazy," Neff said. The entire coaching staff was Brines, Neff, and Kevin White, who would go on to become athletic director at Duke University. The coaches harbored fears Brines would be crushed by the larger players, and Johnson had a tendency to look shaky in practice.

Those fears were resolved, however, when Brines gained almost 1,000 yards in seven games and Johnson rose to the challenge with coolness likened to Joe Montana.

The Vikings again began winning games. Neff recalled that even on road games they would lug along one of the school's record players and the locker room would reverberate with one of Kiss's first few albums.

As the team went on to win game after game, Neff decided to let Kiss know about the team's success. He flipped over one the albums, jotted down the address of the management company, and wrote a letter recounting how the band's music played a role in getting them back on track.

The story of Cadillac's return to its winning ways struck a chord with the band. Neff recalls getting a phone call one evening from Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, who were backstage before a show.

"They were absolutely thrilled to hear what was going on," Neff said.

After Neff gave them the whole story, the pair asked the coach to call in after each game and let them know how the team did.


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