Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Friday Night Lights

October is a wonderful month for many reasons. The change of seasons, colorful foliage and, of course Halloween are just some of the benefits enjoyed by our tenth month.

Another reason, and one of my favorites, is football season.

I enjoy football at all levels. I, of course, put aside my requisite 2 to 3 hours every Sunday to follow the Vikings. Although, sometimes I only use about 1 hour to actually watch the game and fill the rest of the time with a nap.

On Saturdays I like to spend the day in the yard or garage listening to multiple college football games on the radio.

But the best football, in my mind, is played on Friday night. I love high school football games. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to play football in high school. Along with all of the bruises and sore muscles, I received many memories and enjoyed many friendships from those four years long ago.

Our high school football teams had our up and down years, but I valued each year equally high. My high school was rather small compared to most. My graduating class had an enrollment of thirty. With such a small talent pool to choose from, our teams gave our athletes their money's worth of playing time.

Our numbers would fluctuate so much that we would switch back and forth from 11-man to 9-man football every other year. One year we even played an 8-man game. In my sophomore year, our team was still in rebuilding mode and suffered more injuries than usual. On the last game of the season we travelled to our opponent's field with thirteen players to play an eleven man game. So simple math will tell you that all but two players started and played on offence and defence. And out of the two players left on the sidelines, only one of them could play because the other freshman forgot his hip pads at home. Luckily, he didn't have to play. But we did have one injury in that game that required our last eligible player to enter the battle. Across the field, the other team lined up with around thirty extra players. They had plenty but wouldn't loan any to us. We did pretty well that game but still lost 6 to 0.

I was lucky enough to avoid any serious injury during my playing days. I did receive an opponent's helmet to my chin which required some stitches, but that just gave me a scar to prove to my kids that I actually played back then.

Back then, playing sports was pretty nerve wracking for me. I had certain rituals for good luck. I wore the same t-shirt under my uniform for every practice and game for four years. It was an orange t-shirt with a Kit-Kat candy bar logo on the front. And occasionally, I would let Mom wash it when it stood in the corner by itself.

Because I would get so nervous before games, I would fail to enjoy them much. I concentrated too much on what I was supposed to do, that I wouldn't stop and take it all in. I hardly ever celebrated on the field and rarely heard the crowd cheer when we made a good play.

So these days, I am making up for lost time. When I take Number One Son and Sweet Pea to our local high school stadium, I try to notice everything that is going on.

The first experience that brings back the glory days for me is hearing the pep band play as we walk across the parking lot.

The closer we get to the gate, the smell of concession stand popcorn reaches our noses. That mixes with the smell of newly mowed grass from the football field. Sometimes I stop and inhale deeply through my nostrils in an attempt to turn back time.

Once in the stands, I survey the entire field of green with precisely spaced white yard lines and numbers marking where rows of players do their pre-game calisthenics. They do the same jumping jacks and stretches that I did so long ago.

The noises of the game also bring back memories. A rumble of anticipation comes from the fans visiting in the stands. The cheerleaders shout out their routines mixing with the regular cadence of the players' warm up exercises. And then the silence before the national anthem, setting the stage for a rousing cheer to start off the contest.

Once the game starts, I observe that things look much different in the stands than I remember them on the field. Plays look much less confusing from up here. Today's players also seem to be faster than in my day. Regardless of today's changes, the game is still pretty much the same. The teams and stadiums are bigger. And so is my enjoyment of the game, because I enjoy the little things that go along with the game much more. Little things that I was too nervous to enjoy before.

I haven't kept in touch very well with many of my teammates over the years. But the feeling of being brothers on a team, united in one goal hasn't dimmed in me. When I do correspond with teammates of old, the past rushes back to me and is as vivid as when I first experienced it.
Here we are in our senior football yearbook photo. Quite the menacing group in our home orange jerseys. #34 was an all-state running back for us that year. #23 was a state champion wrestler. #56 is a great dad to three girls. #51 owns his own ice cream business out west and is still the school record holder in the discus. #66 has travelled the world with the Air Force. He is currently stationed in North Carolina. And #82 is still a dork.


Corrie Howe said...

I love fall for all the same reasons. As soon as it gets a little crisp in the air and the certain smell and sounds that come with fall, I remember high school and college football games I attended. We take our kids as well to the local high school games.

pixie said...

Hmmm... should I guess which number you are??

I was in sports in high school and college too, but it's so different enjoying them with kids. They see the whole event with fresh, unjaded eyes that makes it so fun.

James (SeattleDad) said...

We played 8 man football in HS and were terrible. Getting shelacked all over the place. I once got knocked out and played for 3 plays unconscoious.

It is stories such as those that had convinced my wife Lukas will not play the game.

Time will tell.

#82 huh? Wonder who that is?

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I'm a 40 year old dad of two. My wonderful wife, Lady Di, and I try to keep the kids from blowing things up here in central Minnesota.