Column: It's not just a game
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of days thinking about the most memorable scene from Saturday night’s much-ballyhooed football tilt.
It wasn’t the 52-yard touchdown that was called back. Although seeing that yellow hanky at midfield triggered ominous music in my head. Think about that ribcage-rattling orchestral hit from “Inception.”
No, the visual I’ve been unable to get out of my head was Morrison High School seniors Danny Willis and Brock Deter, foreheads pressed together, the latter trying to control his emotions, his tears, as the former consoled him.
“You didn’t let anyone down,” Willis assured his teammate. “You worked as hard as you could. I love you, Brock. You’re my brother.”
The past 40 or so hours have given me a chance to take inventory of the number of times I had an exchange that emotionally taut with anyone who wasn’t a member of my family or a significant other.
I came up with a big, fat zero. That’s zero point zero for those scoring at home. And even desperate exchanges in my fleeting high school romance look silly now after I watched those Mustangs bear their souls Saturday night.
I didn’t play high school football. My 5-foot-8, 125-pound frame wouldn’t have been much of an asset for the Division-1 powerhouse Manitowoc Shipbuilders.
But I have to wonder what being one of them could’ve meant to me, even just as a fixture on the sideline.
Seeing how much that game meant to the Stangs and Comets on Saturday made me wish I’d simply filled a role as a third-string defensive back for the Ships, in the hopes I could have forged a bond with my fellow man.
Crazy to think we’re talking about what a game can do for kids. A game.
That concept came up like wildfire during the Penn State fallout – people arguing about the life lessons football teaches kids. An avid Score listener, I heard Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein poo poo on kids learning so much about life and relationships from a sport.
But it happens. During the tail end of their formative years, kids who play football are placed into an arena in which they only thrive only if they can hold their fellow man accountable.
In the literal sense, there’s the other 10 guys on their unit, whether offensive, defensive or special teams. Factor in the guys on the sideline, chomping at the bit to be counted upon to fill in and not miss a beat, should one of their teammates need spelling.
They must trust their coaches. Above all else, if they want to be successful, they have to refuse to settle for anything less than their best.
That’s why Mike Papoccia was a touch disenchanted with his Comets’ seemingly epic victory Saturday. There were points in the game when he looked out onto the field and saw his players being outworked.
That didn’t fly with him and, after the game, Newman senior Kyle Moore assured me it wouldn’t happen again.
While spending my summer immersing myself into the dark cloud that is concussions, I occasionally stepped back and wondered if I’d let my son play football.
I leaned toward “No,” but I’m still not sure. Watching that moment between Danny and Brock on Saturday pushed the meter’s arrow toward “Yes.”
My wife, Kayla, and I have talked about it a lot. And when the day comes for us to make a decision, that moment will be the defense’s star witness.
I predict “Yes” will have a pretty good shot, as I don’t foresee that moment being any less vivid.