YORKTOWN, N.Y. – When the now-retired Ron Santavicca took over as Yorktown High School’s head varsity football coach in 1987, he was faced with a dilemma: How to make the “Cornhuskers” intimidating.
“It’s kind of hard to relate to an ear of corn,” Santavicca said.
One of Santavicca’s first courses of action was to create a new identity for his football program, which had only achieved modest success before he arrived.
“They never really competed for any type of championship,” Santavicca said. “When I got there, the uniforms were silver helmets with a green script that said ‘Town’ on the helmet. They had silver pants with green stripes and had white jerseys with like six stripes on it: green, black, green, black. I mean, they were ugly.”
Santavicca had an idea: Instead of creating a new identity, why not just borrow the identity of one of the NFL’s most successful organizations? He approached the school district about switching the uniforms from green and white to black and silver. He proposed to not just borrow a color scheme from the Los Angeles Raiders, but also use their logo. The district fought Santavicca on including green on the uniforms, and he acquiesced, including a small stripe on the sleeve (which was eventually eliminated).
Yorktown struggled initially, winning just one game in Santavicca’s debut season. But the Huskers soon became a force to be reckoned with, playing in bowl games in 1988 and 1989. In 1990, Santavicca’s team, after an undefeated regular season, reached the section title game, where they were defeated by Ossining. They followed that up with solid and strong seasons in 1991 and 1992, setting the table for an unforgettable two-year run of back-to-back New York State championships—the only two in Yorktown’s history.
Santavicca felt the Raiders’ colors and logo—an eyepatch-wearing pirate with two swords crossed behind its head—were instrumental in the success his teams achieved. The players developed a mantra: “Black, silver, and nasty.”
“It just kind of helped the kids have a self-image of success,” Santavicca said. “And they felt when they went on the field, that they were a team that had power.”
So, how did Yorktown get away with using the Raiders logo? Did they get written permission? Did they pay a fee? Not quite.
“I had a friend who worked for the Raiders,” Santavicca said. “His name was Mike Ornstein. I said, ‘Can you ask [the team’s owner, Al] Davis?’ He said, ‘Davis won’t know. Just use it.’ So, we did.
“The kids wanted to come and play for the silver and black,” the coach added. “They want to wear that type of uniform. To me, it created an image of success. And that’s what I wanted the kids to feel. That they could be successful. If you’re going to play baseball, would you rather wear the Yankee pinstripes, or would you rather be a Philadelphia Phillie?”
Santavicca retired from Yorktown in 2004. When it comes to grading his 17-year experiment, he said, the proof is in the pudding.
“We played in 12 bowl games, we won nine of them, we played in the state championship,” Santavicca said. “If you look at that period time, when everything was black and silver, that might be the most successful period in the history of the school.”
Yorktown, which has since returned to a more traditional color scheme, has remained competitive. Its most successful post-Santavicca season came in 2017, when the Huskers won a section title and returned to the state championship game.