When Mike Roe walked into an Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles office six or so years ago to register for a vanity license plate, nobody asked for an explanation when he told them he wanted 12 TO 7.
Not that he would have minded sharing the story.
"I have to explain it to a lot of people who don't know what it means," Roe said. "Many, many times. As soon as I tell them, everybody remembers."
On Oct. 21, 2011, undefeated Wheeler faced unbeaten Andrean in the opening round of a Class 2A sectional. While both teams were 9-0, the 59ers had played a much tougher schedule, defeating Merrillville and rolling through the 4A-laden Northwest Crossroads Conference with just a couple close games. They were widely considered a contender for state and Wheeler, which dressed about half as many players, would barely be a bump on the road to Indianapolis.
"Honestly, I was hoping not to get beat by 50," said Roe, whose son, Nick, was an offensive lineman on the team. "My son wasn't rah rah. At the team dinner that Thursday, it was just go play and see what happens. Looking at the guys, they were business as usual. Coach (Dan) Klimczak talked to the kids before the game and I remember him saying, when we kick their (butt). He had every one of those kids convinced they were going to win."
Sure enough, they did by a score of, well, you know. It may have been the biggest high school football upset I've ever seen. If nothing else, it was the most improbable. The first two sentences of my story, as Wheeler middle school coach Tim Hogan reminded me Tuesday, read: It was Wheeler against the world Friday at Fr. Vincent Eckert Field. The world lost.
"You talk about it being an upset, to this day, those kids will say it wasn't an upset," Roe said. "They were going out to win. It was surreal. That game, amongst Wheeler fans, people with kids playing, was the greatest football game ever played."
Wheeler had 20 yards of offense, minus-18 with no first downs in the second half, but eight turnovers doomed the favored 59ers. The loss still serves as a source of consternation and motivation to then-Andrean coach Phil Mason, who is now at Michigan City.
"Those were not turnovers, those were takeaways," Roe said. "They made a big deal about turnovers. We took it away, those kids, that coaching staff."
Roe was a member of the school's Quarterback Club. He put up the end zone camera before games to video the action. That night, he was on the sideline. He also recalls being the last person to leave the field.
"I didn't want to leave. I sat there and soaked it up," Roe said. "My parents are big high school sports fans. I went to Lake Central and they've been going to games for 40 years. My mom said it was the single most thrilling game she's ever seen. I've been to the Olympics, the NCAA Final Four, the Indianapolis 500, NCAA wrestling championships. It's still the most exciting event I've ever been to. I loved it because everybody was saying Wheeler was a paper tiger."
Wheeler went on to win its second sectional before falling to Bremen in the regional. The teams met again in the first round the following season and Andrean won 63-13. Six years later, the 2011 team remains near and dear to Roe's heart. Jake Gore, who had the clinching interception, will always be good old No. 7. Fill-in quarterback Robert Hurd is good old No. 30 and the list goes on.
"We talk about it all the time when we get together," Roe said. "We treated those kids like they were members of the '85 Bears. They always will be, for something they did as kids."
You might think the license plate thing would fade with time, but it hasn't. Framed by October 21, 2011 on the top and Wheeler, Andrean on the bottom, it's been switched from Roe's van to a different vehicle. While he doesn't have kids in the program anymore, Roe builds stands for end zone cameras and still operates Wheeler's.
For the first time since that memorable night, he will return to 5959 Broadway on Friday as the Bearcats face Andrean in a Class 3A sectional semifinal. It won't take long for the memories to come flooding back.
"It still happens," Roe said. "That's what you can do when you get kids to believe in a game plan."