It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and the gun goes off

'77' is for Red Grange a Wheaton alum and NFL Hall of Famer
’77’ is for Red Grange a Wheaton alum and NFL Hall of Famer

The Tigers lost their playoff game Friday night and their season is over. I am sad. My son played his last game a couple of weeks ago when the regular season ended and is now waiting for wrestling season to begin this coming Monday. It will keep him busy and fully exercised during those lean months of little sunshine and bitter cold. It’ll give me and B something to do on Friday evening and Saturday. He wrestled last year and had a good freshman season.

If you have been following MtDC over the past several years or high school football seasons or however you want to count it, you know I am a passionate high school football fan – especially the Wheaton Warrenville South Tigers. Even before W got into high school, we were there on Friday nights. It was our Friday evening entertainment. B grew up in a small town in southwestern Ohio where her Tigers were legendary in the small school section of Ohio high school football in the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s. She played in the marching band in high school and marched Friday night in the late seventies before graduating and going off to college. Her dad played for the high school team in the forties and later at Miami University after his navy service at the end of WWII. When W was a little kid we went to watch my nephew play for the Ohio State Football Championship in Paul Brown Stadium in Massillon, Ohio. They won 26-0 and it was a good game, and it was worth every minute of the four-hour drive there and the four-hour dive home.

I guess that’s why I am so agitated this morning and was even more agitated last night. The Tigers began the season rated in the top twenty and knocked off the defending 7A state champion in the first game. In the second game, they defeated another state power. In the third game, the Tigers were up against the crosstown rival Wheaton North. In a hard fought game, the Tigers dominated the Falcons in every way. The Tigers had a bump in the road mid-season and lost a game to a team they should have defeated and were soundly defeated in the second to the last game of the year to last year’s 8A state championship runner up and possibly this year’s 8A state champion. Who knows? Regardless the Tigers finished 7-2 and qualified for the playoffs. They won last weekend and moved on to the second round.

The Tigers have been successful, very successful in the nineties and ever since. They’ve won three state championships and have been runners up twice since 2006. Pretty impressive. I suppose that is the problem. Often success breeds complacency. However, in this case, the program is not the program, the community is. The coach is dynamic and a true leader of men. He is able to get the most out of his players and get them to play as a team. Few players of the team’s players play beyond high school. Most former players simply move on to college and take their experience with them. The community is the problem; fans who believe that every year will end in a championship and expect to win every game. It is the fans. It is the high school students and their parents; and it’s the parents of former players and future players who pledge their allegiance – conditionally.

Last night was a home playoff game.

Last week, the Tigers played away in Southside Chicago. I missed the game but followed on Twitter. I felt guilty but I was overloaded (and still am) at work and a drive to downtown Chicago during Friday night rush hour for a 4:15 game is never a good idea. B and O left at 2:15 and barely got their in time for the game due to an awful accident ahead of them, which had snarled traffic for hours.

Nevertheless, I digress. Last night’s game was a home game. The stands should have been packed. It should have been standing room only, shouting room only, the fans should have been there. However, the stands were partially filled, maybe somewhere between 60 to 75 percent full. Sure, the weather was crappy – it was a blustery cold early November night. But, you can wear a coat, you can cover up in a blanket, and you can wear gloves. I don’t know why, but I believe the root cause is complacency. The opponent Downers Grove North was a number 8 seed – we were a number 5 seed, they’d lost four games, hadn’t really played any teams of the caliber the Tigers had, and they’d barely made the playoffs. There was a feeling, a sense of entitlement that they would win and play the following week against the winner of the St. Rita – Mount Carmel game. That game would be a tough one to win. The fans were looking down the road and couldn’t bothered to come out on a cold windy November Friday night to support the Tigers.

Maybe I’m overthinking, maybe I’m wrong, but the stands should have been packed to support the Tigers. That is why I am so agitated this morning, because the Tigers came up short and the crowd left them hanging.

The DGN team came to play and so did the Tigers. The Tigers scored on the first possession of the game and everything looked wonderful. Then, the Tigers were stymied. The starting running back injured his shoulder and the offense lost one its weapons, the DGN defense rose to the occasion and had an answer for everything The Tigers put up. Their offense chinked away at our defense and rolled up some yards before scoring and tying the game seven all in the second quarter. The game stayed tied at the half and through the third quarter. Finally, in the fourth quarter, the stalemate was broken – the DGN offense drove to the goal line, and The Tiger D stopped them on three successive plays, forcing them to kick a field goal and break the tie. DGN led 10-7 with a bit more than four minutes left in the game. The Tigers began their final drive deep in Tiger territory.

It was play or go home time and the Tiger O showed some spark and methodically moved the ball towards the goal. It seemed like the Tigers would pull it off and win the game. Then with less than a minute and a half left, everything went wrong, horribly wrong. The starting quarterback went down on a second down run play and had to come out. With third and eight on the DGN, thirty-yard line the backup quarterback came into run a play. During the play, the runner fumbled and a mad dash to cover it ensued. If the Tigers covered it, it would be fourth down. If DGN covered it, the game was over. Slowly the referees uncovered the pile and signaled – Tiger possession. Fourth down and eight with 1:07 remaining. However, it came at a cost – the running back was injured and hurt badly. Trainers huddled around him caring for him, his parents came on to the field, an ambulance was called, and a hush came over the crowd. The Tiger sideline took a knee and held hands praying and thinking of their fallen brother. The ambulance took forever to arrive and once it arrived, it took even longer to immobilize the player and prepare him for transport. As the stretcher wheeled off the field the crowd stood, respectfully applauded and the game resumed.

Fourth and eight, 1:07 remaining, inside the thirty, and with the season on the line – the quarterback dropped back and completed the pass to the eleven. First down Tigers. The next play was an incomplete pass and with 50 seconds remaining, 11 yards to go, the quarterback dropped back, fired a pass into the end zone towards an open receiver, and just as the ball crossed the goal line in the air, a DGN defender leapt in front of the ball and intercepted the pass. Game over, or effectively game over.

You could feel the air rush out of the Tiger stands, and you could feel for the hearts of the Tiger players as they stared in disbelief into the dark November sky. Then the crowd began to pack up and file out. Never mind the 43 seconds remaining, or that the Tiger players stood on the sideline awaiting the final gun, the game was over and it was time to leave, to move on to the next activity, to get home and out of the cold. Why? I don’t know; I don’t have an answer. I stared in disbelief at the lack of commitment, the lack of respect these fans showed the Tiger team in their lowest moment. The end of the season; for the seniors it was the end of their football careers. I called out,

“Thank you for supporting your Tigers – Fair Weather fans – the game is not over.”

“Tiger fans stay ‘til the end, Fair Weather fans pack up and leave.”

Or, something along those lines. I got a few chuckles from behind me and a few looks from the folks filing out, but nothing changed. People left, the gun sounded, and the Tiger team filed out on to the field to shake hands and accept defeat. The team huddled together and waited before walking off the field for the final time through a small tunnel of parents and supporters. Most of the crowd was had left before the team walked off gracefully accepting defeat. Perhaps, it is the loneliest walk but they should have no regrets they had a great season, for many it was a great career, and now they can move forward with the rest of their lives – college, career, family, it all runs in a cycle. The end is always another beginning, a fresh start at something new.

I am still agitated, still angry, still frustrated by the crowd’s reaction to the interception and the end of the game, the end of the season. Instead of cheering the team at the end of the game for a great game and memorable season, they went elsewhere – maybe home, maybe a restaurant, maybe to the post-game party. Yet, wherever they went, they were not there for the players, the team. The Tigers will suit up again next fall, and every fall in the future – W will be on the sidelines wearing orange and black– he’ll be a junior. There’s a lot of time between now and then, time to grow, time to reflect, and for everything under the sun, there is a season.

Right now, it is the season of falling leaves. It is the season of grading papers, and tomorrow I turn 52 years young. I’ll be four times the age of my students, just over one time more than when I began teaching in 1999. Some might say, I am getting old and crotchety. Some might say, I am already old and crotchety. But, I do know, that if I remain silent, say nothing, no one will pause and reflect or think about their behavior, their part in the community.

Tomorrow, W is treating me to the Bears-Lions game on my birthday, and I have Monday off for Veterans Day. I’ll stay until the end of the Bears game, too. Even though, I am not a Bears fan, I’ll stay until the very end. I stayed until the end of the Ole Miss – Texas A&M game. Staying until the end is what Making the Days Count is all about, it’s making the moments worthwhile, about being present. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one rant at a time – even a worthwhile rant, or trivial rant. It depends upon your perspective, your point of view.

What’s your rant? 

7 thoughts on “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and the gun goes off

  1. Love this rant. That was one well written, and lenthgy post about high school football. I agree that these kids play hard, and win or lose, the community who supports them should stay in the stands and root them on to the end. I think people forget that these are still just kids. I also think that some people do get spoiled with all the winning. Sometimes losing does also teach lessons. Too bad the adults did not seem to learn anything. Win with humility, but also lose gracefully.

    1. Thanks, Phil….sometimes I can’t contain myself. My son mentioned he heard me holler from the stands on the sidelines and my chiropractor (a volunteer freshman football coach) noted the crowd was small and really didn’t rise to the occasion – so I wasn’t completely off the mark…… I learned more from losing than I did from winning… truth is were gonna lose more than we win, just look at batting averages and completion percentages…. gonna watch some good (maybe some bad, too) college football today and follow the teams we played in the regular season – four are left (three of whom we beat).. take care and have a great weekend!

  2. Oh, I don’t feel like ranting, I’m just glad those days of standing on the touchline are over. It was hockey for my daughter, and my abiding and miserable memories are of standing around for what felt like centuries in the freezing cold, unable, like those fortunate players, to move around and keep warm. I just don’t get it…… But yes, I agree that winners or losers, all the players deserve equal support for their efforts.

    1. sometimes a rant makes you feel better – there were more playoff games Saturday and one of my BOLD predictions is done, too. I spent most of the yesterday afternoon raking leaves and enjoying a mild November afternoon. Some teams will come over to the grandstands after the game and sing the school song – ours doesn’t – it’s the acknowledgement that we are behind you WIN or LOSE that is important. Thanks

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