Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis visiting his hometown, Aliquippa, Pa.
The Heart Of Football Beats In Aliquippa
Over five decades of economic decline and racial conflict, a Western Pennsylvania mill town has found unity and hope on the football field
By S.L. Price
Sports llustrated’s ‘Vault’
Jan 31, 2011 Issue – The fear came for Willie Walker that November. He was not expecting it. Evening had dropped early and hard, as it does in Western Pennsylvania in the fall, but these were streets he had known forever. Hours had passed since the 2004 regional championship game had ended down in Pittsburgh; the adrenaline and bravado on the ride home had long since burned off, replaced by grief, then mere regret. They had lost. The Aliquippa High football team, for all its history of success, had been beaten. Now, in the backseat, Walker felt a numbness settling in. Losing happens. You move on. You start thinking about what’s next.
Walker was a senior. Just seven months until graduation, and he’d be able to say it: He had survived. The town hadn’t killed, hadn’t crippled, hadn’t defeated him, though God knows it had tried. His life had been a cliché of criminal pathology: father long dead, mother struggling with crack addiction, days of hunger, corners promising casual violence. Aliquippa’s streets are, as one of Walker’s coaches put it, "a spiderweb" capable of ensnaring the most innocent, and though Walker never lost sight of his prize—college somewhere, anywhere—he was hardly innocent. No, for a time he had leaped into the web, daring it to grab hold.