22 Nov 2006
Thank you for high school football.
Thank you for long bus rides to gridirons nestled in cornfields, abutted on all sides by tenements and housing projects, or wedged into the neighborhoods of sleepy suburban towns.
Thank you for rivalries that date back before the interstate plowed through, when the developments along the county route were pig farms, to when boys graduated and got jobs at the mill and girls graduated and married the boys. Thank you for old timers who wrap themselves in blankets on frigid mornings, sip spiked coffee, and remember when they crashed through the banner and ran onto the same field 50 years ago.
Thank you for Flood Right, Ace Gut-20, Double Hawk, C-Curl, a play drawn up by an offensive coordinator/history teacher while his class struggled through a test on the Reconstruction.
Thank you for the Division I-AA scout halfway up the bleachers with binoculars at the 40-yard line. Thank you for getting him to notice that the junior defensive end has sprouted, that he's 6-foot-3, weighs about 230 pounds, and can run sideline-to-sideline to make a tackle. That young man will play four years of college football, earn a degree in physical therapy, and make a living helping accident victims. Today's the day he starts to earn the partial scholarship that makes it possible.
Thank you for the alumni breakfast at Fischer's Pub on Thanksgiving morning, where the guys from the 1967 team still meet to talk about their undefeated season. Uncle Johnnie promptly christens the taps at 8:00 AM, the exact moment the state declares it legal.
Thank you for the parade, Main Street closed down, the color guard and band turning right and heading down Chestnut Avenue., past the hardware store and the Lutheran church on their way to the game. Behind them rides the court, runners up in rented Chevy convertibles, the king and queen in a drop-top Rolls Royce so valuable that the dealership sent their own driver. Behind them, the floats: Mr. Carbone's shop class one-upped Mr. Stubbs' this year, taking the "Slice of Heaven" theme and building elaborate pearly gates, resting atop a golden staircase, resting atop a flatbed that was turned into a cloud by the spirit committee with the help of 400 packages of cotton gauze.
Thank you for the starting quarterback, earning a B+ in honors calculus, getting looks from Division II schools, working at the local bakery 20 hours a week to pay the insurance on his 14-year old Honda Accord. Thank you for his father, third-team all state in 1979 and 1980. For his kid sister, who registered her third shutout of the year as goalie for the soccer team and is president of the sophomore class. For his girlfriend, who got a 2150 on her SAT and is getting ready to play Mamma Rose in the school play. And for mom and grandma, who made bacon, eggs and hashbrowns for 60 players and their families on the morning of the game.
Thank you for teachers, who stay late to tutor running backs with learning disabilities, who stand on the sidelines as security guards, who buy sweatshirts and coupon books from boosters, who chaperone pep rallies and bonfires and Homecoming dances, and who support the teams just by showing up and cheering. Thank you for band booster dads who load bass drums and tubas into SUVs. For little brothers who sprint onto the field with water bottles. For the boys in second period health, who paint their bodies no matter how cold the weather. For the concession ladies under the stands, prepping your stomach for turkey and stuffing with sausage sandwiches so spicy that they burn the corners of your lips.
Thank you for communities that care. For young men and women who strive for greatness. For schools that teach more than facts. For families and friends who still value gathering together on icy afternoons to clap and cheer and hug and sing the alma mater, to remember the past, to cherish one another, to feast, and to pray.
Thank you for our country and our freedom and our heritage. Thank you for the rituals that bring us together. Thank you for high school football.
Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.