Saturday, October 21, 2006

I don't even know what to say...

Last night was the annual "Backyard Brawl," the football game between two close schools and a heated rivalry. But that's not even the point. There was so much more there last night that I don't even know where to begin. And I just wish everyone else knew it, too.

I thought about addressing the fans. Because I know many of you don't get it. You don't see what really goes on, you don't understand the finer details that oil the team. But maybe you'd understand something else.

You know how you yell at the players and scream at the coach? I wonder if you'd really like to get a chance to be him, as you so often claim you'd do a better job of being. Would you like your job performance to be public record, judged by your neighbors, strangers, teenagers, and the community at large? Would you like your weekly goals to be weighed in the morning newspaper, announced for all to see that you either met them, or sadly fell short (again.) How would you like to go on a walk in your town, or step into the library, convenience store, or church, knowing that people will either pat you on the back for a job well done, or else give you a look of pity, or worse, tell you what you should have done instead. Would you be able to handle the pressure of knowing that behind your back, while you are making last-minute decisions, there are hundreds of people who think they know better, and if your decision makes a great play, you are a genius, but if it doesn't, you're the idiot. If you truly think you can do all this, then by all means please come to us for a job. We need good coaches and volunteers, and we'd love to have someone as knowledgeable as you on board.

I'm also thinking about the seniors. Last night was senior night. But 5 of those seniors were either sidelined for good, or playing hurt. Tight End and Linebacker - broken jaw. Offensive and Defensive Lineman - torn ACL. Running Back and Linebacker - staph infection in his heart. Quarterback and Defensive Back - turn knee, which he's played on as best he can until the doctors have finally said no more. Running Back and Defensive Back - twisted ankle that brings him out of the game after every play, but he keeps going back in.

Five seniors. Two captains, enormous talent. Enough that this was to be their year. Our year. Eisenhower's year. Instead, three of them are wondering why they had to face a players worst nightmare: not realizing a certain game or play will be your last. They might play college ball, if they can recover. But I'm sure they look for the recruiters or scouts who should have been watching THEM. Two of them are still trying to play, knowing they could be hurt worse, but knowing for them it's worse not to try. They wanted it that bad, they really did. Instead, they all have to watch helplessly while their younger teammates fight for them.

And I have to go into those younger teammates, because I think this is where most people misunderstand. We have still won five games this year. Two of the games we lost were so close that one less mistake would have made the win. And for any team, that's not bad. But for a team that is now composed of mostly freshman and sophomores, I think that's a heck of a good job.

You see, you may have watched our boys get plowed last night. We made mistakes, we got pushed around. It might have looked like we were 15 yr. old boys playing 18 yr. old men. And we were. You can only gain experience by time. You can only gain the reflexes you need by making the mistakes so you know what to look for. And you can only push as hard as your immature not-quite-developed bodies allow you to. And we did.

Those boys AREN'T seniors. They aren't even juniors, many of them. But they fought hard, all of them. And even though so many hearts were broken this year, there is a team out there that is preparing for next year, and the year after. A team that has now faced more adversity than most face in several years. A team that is playing crippled and has not given up in the fourth quarter for the first time in several years. A team that is learning, play by play, what it means to be a champion.

And I know you wanted it to be THIS year. I know some of you will only see our final record, which will most likely be 5-5. And you will think we haven't improved. But then you must be blind. To be able to win 5 games, most against teams with a better record than ours, with 5 of our seniors either out completely or playing hurt, is a WHOLE lot better than winning 5 games with all your starters in full health.

And then I want to address the Job thing. Not job as in a career, but Job as in the guy in the Bible. Because I feel that's what Boom must feel like this year. Game after game we watched as player after player was hurt. And some not even on the field. And last night was no exception. In fact, it was every mother's nightmare, and player's, too, I'm sure. And to top it off, because of politics I won't go into, there was no ambulance at the game and those 3-5 minutes must have been pure agony for our Wide Receiver and Defensive Back who has made some important plays.

After making a play last night, his foot caught on the field, the field we were playing on because our own was deemed to dangerous with all the mud, and somehow (I'd have to ask if it was a tackle or what) his lower leg got snapped in two and was left dangling at a very wrong angle. Luckily I didn't see it since I don't do good with that kind of thing. But Boom was there holding his hand until they put him on the stretcher. The boy didn't make any sound at all, but squeezed his hand so hard Boom knew he in was in a lot of pain, to say the least. He'll be operated on this morning, and Boom said with that type of injury, he may not be back next year, his senior year. I hope for the players sake, and ours, that will not be the case. But either way, it seems unfair.

And all the while, and I have to ask, Why us? Why this many? Why this year, when things were looking so good?

And lastly, I want to address my husband, the coach. Many people don't understand football. They see it as a barbaric sport with brutal hitting and macho boys trying to prove themselves.

They would be wrong. It's so much more than that for most of them. For those who DO see it as just a game, they are the ones who don't try as hard, who don't put their heart on the line. But for most, football is where they learn who they are. Where they build confidence in themselves. Where they are accepted despite their weight or their looks. For some, it's the only place they feel like a family, or the only time they'll hear the words, "Good job. I'm proud of you."

To those who give me frowns when I explain that my husband couldn't watch the kids because of football, you have no idea what those boys mean to him, and how seriously he takes his job. You aren't there when he's spending hours breaking down film, grading plays, scouting other teams. You weren't there when he spent all night re-writing his playbook for a crippled team. You aren't there when the parents criticize, the fans boo, and reporters misprint quotes. And most importantly, you aren't there on the field when your leg is broken in the worst way, and your coach, your HEAD coach, cares enough to hold your hand and wait with you, cry for you, pray for you. You weren't there after the game when the coach broke down not because HE wanted the win, but because he knew how hard his boys fought, and he felt bad for them.

And last night. Last night his heart was broken. He came home and felt hopeless for the first time this season. This season of injuries and unfairness. He didn't cry. He didn't get mad. He was just defeated. And for the first time in the three years he's been head coach, I sit here crying for him. Because what can you say when the coach is down? Who's there to hold HIS hand? I wish I could do more than hug him. Wish I had words that actually fixed something instead of just soothed over the pain.

And I opened the paper this morning carefully, because I didn't want to read it this time. I wish I could avoid what I know is coming when we see people at church or out and about. Because try as they might, they won't understand. Not completely.

There are a few who understand. At least I hope so. Because it was their boy out there whose hand Boom held. It was their boy in the hospital whom he visited. It was their boy out there who he congratulated, or else comforted. I have heard them say good things about him. And I think, that even if they disagree with his calls sometimes, or if they think their kid should be out there instead of whoever is, I think that they still see his heart. Because that's what makes him a good coach.

It's not the plays, it's not getting to the playoff, it's not winning games. It's caring for the kids, genuinely caring. THAT'S what makes the difference between a good coach and most coaches. And I hope he knows that. I hope that as his heart heals, because eventually it must, he realizes that it doesn't matter what the others think. Those who have come close enough to him to see who he is, they will know. And the others, well, let them talk.

But I know. I know who you are, Boom. I know that you care. And to top it off, I think you ARE a good coach when it comes to playmaking. And you've learned, too. I have never been prouder of you than I have been this year. And though I would have loved to travel to the playoffs with you, I'm just as proud to have you hold you team together long enough to finish the season so no one else gets hurt. I don't know why you were dealt this card, but I admire the way you took it.

And I hope that counts for something.

********* Update on injured player **********

After talking with Boom and others today, it turns out the way the player broke his leg was because the cleats dug into the rather old and bad astro-turf, and when his body turned, his foot did not follow, which in turn cleanly snapped both his leg bones. Luckily it was a clean break, so no pins or anything were needed, but he WILL be in a cast for 4-6 months, and whether he’ll get to play next year or not is still in question. Also, it turns out the ambulance took around 15 minutes to get to the field, not a mere 3 or 5, which I estimated because I thought the time SEEMED long, but couldn’t possibly be that long, but it was. An excruciatingly long 15 minutes.

No comments: