Years ago a friend handed me H.G. Bissinger's well-written book "Friday Night Lights." I read it over a decade ago, I think, and then tonight I watched -for the second time- Peter Berg's film of the same name.
It's a reminder of how we lose our perspective -too often- when it comes to sports. Adults behaving like brats if their team isn't winning.
It's a reminder about how we learn some important lessons while playing team sports. The coach's speech at half-time of the championship game is worth the price of admission. Coach Gary Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton, talks about perfection having nothing to do with winning and losing, but knowing yourself...loving the people around you...and living the moment. For good or bad those of us who have played sports continue to hear the voices of our coaches in our head long after we have moved into adulthood.
And the film is a reminder of how short the season is...adolescence... high school...football or basketball or cross country or wrestling. Just how brief and intense that whole chapter in life is.
The film ends with several of the players, dressed in street clothes with their gym bags over their shoulders, making their way to their cars. The parking lot is nearly empty. The coaches are already thinking about another season. The high school seniors look over at a group of ten or twelve year olds playing touch football.
I found myself remembering my two years playing high school football. Okay, I've got to be honest...one of my old teammates -now living in California- reads this blog. I practiced, I survived two-a-days, I played here and there, but usually I held down the bench. Leo would tell you that: I played left bench. My buddy says he remembers how much fun I was to have around. How I had something smart and funny to say. I remember being slow. I remember being small...I was a 165 pound guard going up against players over half again as heavy.
I've got to tell you, though, I have these memories. And they are precious to me.
I remember John Stasko, an upperclassman, who was made of steel.
I remember Craig Demeyer, our quarterback, who was bright and classy and rather reserved.
I remember Gary Trost, who was short and squat, and refused to give an inch.
I remember Mike, thin and small, who refused to give up and ended up being a good football player with a heart as big as an orange, fall sky.
I remember sweating through two-a-days in the August heat, running our laps on a cinder track laid down around a makeshift football field at John Glenn High School.
I remember our coach screaming at us...and pushing us too hard.
I remember the day in practice the second string quarterback was working our second offensive team. He wasn't paying attention and walked up to the take his place under center. Except he wasn't under the center...he had mistakenly walked up behind the right guard. Pressed his hands up against the butt of the lineman who was down in his stance. The player raised up slowly, looked back at Larry who had his hands on his butt, and said something like, "What are you doing back there?" We all came up out of our stance and screamed and hooted.
I remember Randy Williams rumbling down the sideline at New Carlisle to score a touchdown. (Randy was so slow that his Dad -with a cigar in his mouth- beat his own son to the end zone! The old man -must have been nearly 50- sprinted parallel to the field, behind the bench, all the way.)
I remember riding on the bus home after we had defeated our arch-rival, North Liberty, for the first time. The football is still in the trophy case. The final score was 14-7, I think. We nearly took the bus apart on the ride back to the school. North Liberty High School is no more...but it was a victory that marked some kind of turning point. Before that win we were hopeless...after the victory we believed there might be hope for us.
I remember late in one game, against South Central, getting into the game and driving my man back and into the ground. Again and again. He was perplexed. Wondering why I was pounding him with such intensity since the game was no longer a contest. But it felt good to hit my man and drive him back.
And then it was done. Over.
There is one picture of me in my uniform running onto the field with my teammates. I know where to find it in our yearbook.
The season ends and we walk away. And we don't even know, at 17 or 18, what we are leaving behind. We find our way to our cars, or we throw our gym bag over our shoulders, and we shout some last, friendly insults in the direction of our friends. We think tomorrow will be the same as yesterday. But it won't be. Tomorrow will never be exactly the way this season...has been.
We were so young...innocent...mean...stupid...cocky...eager...and beautiful.
Interesting, isn't it, how we take the seasons for granted? Push our way through them...endure them...complain about them. Then, when they are behind us, there is a yearning, now and again, to go back. To find yourself on that bus feeling alive and giddy...14-7...again.