In case anyone needs to know, an icy rain lashed sideways through the night on November 14th, 2009. It started early in the weekend and never let up; nevertheless, the game would be played.
The heater roared on the yellow buses. The players did their best to keep dry and warm for the two hour drive to the first round district playoff match-up against the #2 seed in the region. At one point of the season, our opponent stalked out to an 8-0 start and was ranked 5th in the state. Their coach was quoted in the paper as saying he didn't worry about running the same plays over and over, or being predictable...because he ran the same stuff a few years prior when they won it all. He makes a point. When you execute better than the other guy, you'll win most of your games by just doing what you train your guys to do.
A hiccup in week nine kept them from being the #1 seed, so they drew us--a first round tune-up. Time to get back to basics for a long playoff run.
A #15 seed.
We didn't know any better. We thought we preparing to play a game against a perennial high school football powerhouse--and that they were preparing for us. We didn't realize they were impatient. We didn't realize that they couldn't wait to start preparing for the next opponent.
But we learned that when we stepped off the bus, because that is exactly what was said to us.
Climbing down from the dim and warm interior of the bus, the players worried about the field conditions as they gathered their bags. Pulling rain hoodies over their heads to shield their eyes, they squinted into the steady gale. The stadium lights, imposing and bright, radiated a blur of white from the steady wash thrumming without end. From the distance at which we unloaded, the light glittered along the field-turned-wetlands.
Fortunately, their fields drain well. While not exactly a quagmire, the grass was heavy, and slow, and sated with fate. Some of our parents braved the weather, but not many. Our local press didn't even send somebody to cover the playoff game.
We were running late. Our normal routine might need to be adjusted.
As our kids hauled their gear into a low building behind the home stands, the coaches walked the field to assess it--which, on that night, is kind of funny to think about now.
In the process, we watched some of the opponent's players run light sprints across the width of the field as they checked their footing and ability to make cuts. They had not lost on this field in over two years. The officials asked us if we could hurry things along. The wind kicked up, and the darkness was thick with waves of rain. It was the kind of rain a boy imagines in his dreams--a tumultuous sea fat with lightning strikes, yet the boy tarries on with his wooden sword and teddy bear, chasing pirates and gathering gold.
We were soaked. Everything was soaked. My hands pruned and rainwater iced and fell from my beard in small rivulets. Some men just said the hell with it--no sense in trying to stay dry. The rain fell faster and swirled in what seemed like small twisting clouds--and the game hadn't even started yet.
While our kids hustled their gear on after the long ride up the Pennsylvania turnpike, their head coach greeted our head coach at midfield in denim jeans, Timberland boots, and raincoat half zipped, the hood flipped back from head. I'd never seen someone so casual in a storm or before a game. Was it confidence? Was it just the way he was? But after only a moment of small talk he asked something and I had my answer.
He asked if we brought any film of the next opponent so he could get it from us after the game--and save him the trip tomorrow. Seriously. He asked us for the film for his next game.
While I could go on and paint the details of how the game played out, this is the end of the story, the slice of life, because the devil in the detail here is arrogance.
He knows how the game ended. I know how the game ended. And none of us will forget.
And that is not arrogance. That is as real as the weather on the night of November 14th, 2009.
It rained cold and hard and sideways. And it never let up. And neither did we.