Pete Blieberg didn't sleep Monday night. He hasn't slept the night before the Empire Challenge for 20 years, which is understandable.
Blieberg is the senior game coordinator for the matchup of Long Island's senior football all-stars against their counterparts from New York City. It's a full-time job, and he loves it.
"I organize the selection of the coaches and then oversee the player selection meetings,'' Blieberg said. "Then we have four-day walk-through practices at local high schools in the city and on Long Island. And that's just the start.''
In between the selection of the teams and the final whistle, Blieberg does everything but wash the uniforms. His sons Alec and Derek take care of that.
He schedules practice sites and times and coordinates the coaching staffs the week before the game. He sizes players for uniforms and sets up physicals.
"And he's here long after the fans leave and the players exit the locker rooms,'' Suffolk football chairman Hans Wiederkehr said. "No one knows how much effort goes on behind the scenes to make this game extraordinary.''
Blieberg, 56, was a middle school coach for Sachem before guiding the Kings Park varsity from 1986-91. He stopped roaming the sideline when he opted to move into administration.
"I miss coaching and I love being around the game of football, and this particular game carries so much more meaning than just a game,'' said Blieberg, the director of athletics for the Sachem School District. "This game is a symbol of hope. It's an opportunity to support the need to find a cure for cystic fibrosis and it's a chance to see our seniors play one more time.''
Only seven people have been involved with every Heroes Bowl since its inception in 1996 -- Blieberg, his two sons, founder Boomer Esiason, athletic trainers Jeff Corben and Chris Kalinoglu, and Brian Mulligan, the Jets' senior director of game operations and events.
Blieberg's sons have grown up with the game. Alec and Derek started as water boys at ages 7 and 5, respectively, in 1996, when it featured Nassau's all-stars versus Suffolk's. They graduated to equipment managers, and this year they designed the outrageous chrome-looking uniforms.
That surrogate family has come together to fight cystic fibrosis. In 20 years, the game has attracted more than 250,000 fans, raised more than $2 million and given more than 2,000 players lasting memories. It also helped launch 36 NFL careers. Ten of those players were at the pregame VIP party.
"It's cool for guys to see players like Clifton Smith of the Redskins and Morlon Greenwood of the Texans at this game,'' East Meadow coach Vinny Mascia said. "I've coached in it three times and it was a treat.''
So what was Blieberg's favorite memory?
"That's easy,'' he said. "When Gunnar Esiason took the field in 2009, it was very emotional. This game was created because of his father's love for him and his goal to cure cystic fibrosis.''
Gunnar Esiason of Friends Academy started at quarterback in 2009 when the unimaginable unfolded. The boy with cystic fibrosis was calling signals. It was a moment of vision, hope and joy. On the first play from scrimmage, Gunnar handed off to Hempstead's speedy Terrell Williams, who ran for a 77-yard touchdown to set the tone in Long Island's 31-14 win.
"Boomer wanted the best high school all-star game in the country,'' said Sal Ciampi, who coached Boomer at East Islip and coached in the first two Heroes Bowls. "He has certainly achieved that goal. I'm so proud of everything Boomer has done. And it's always been a first-class operation.''
And he has Blieberg to thank for that. Blieberg was running from one end of the stadium to the other getting things in order Tuesday nightas thunderstorms delayed the start.
"It's the one thing I haven't figured out how to control,'' he said, laughing.
He's done a great job with everything else.