"We'd just beaten Cambridge at Harvard Stadium to finish undefeated, and that's when we heard the news. It was horrendous; some of the kids had never been to a wake before," O'Leary recalled. "The way our staff handled that became more important than beating Brockton (in a rematch in the Super Bowl)."
St. John's also had the parent of a player pass away during the 1997 championship season. And of course, the Eagles staff did a remarkable job keeping things in perspective last year when Jared Coppola suffered a broken neck in a preseason scrimmage.
"Our record wasn't great (last fall), but that was one of the best coaching jobs we ever did," said O'Leary, who is now also the Prep's athletic director. "We've had some great moments and great games, but those reality checks along the way keep it in perspective. It's just a game."
The Eagles, led by the running of Konrad, returned to the Super Bowl in 1993 only to be upset by Peabody High.
Finally, in '97, O'Leary won a state title with what might be the best team ever seen on the North Shore. St. Pierre was the quarterback while Brian Lentz, Wayne Lucier and Zach Magliaro were outstanding, Hall of Fame-type players.
"That was a close knit team. One thing about the Prep and playing for Coach O'Leary is you're playing the big boys every week. There weren't any cupcakes on our schedule — and we dominated," said St. Pierre.
The biggest game, as usual, was against Xaverian on Thanksgiving. A tradition O'Leary helped start in 1992, it evolved into a Game of the Year affair and was perhaps never bigger than in '97.
In what was named No. 3 on the Salem News' list of the Greatest High School Games of the last 20 years, the Prep prevailed, 15-14, in front of some 10,000 fans at Cronin Stadium.