Fall football....jitters before the game, anticipation of the first hit, the deadness in your gut when you loose...the hopelessness of it all...the thrill of victory and sheer pandemic joy of a victory...the pandemonium on the bus back to the school...these are things this old man can only remember from those early days in the eighties...when Rush and the Police and AC/DC was the music of choice and boys hair was parted in the middle and girls had hair was simply...well...big...the days of my youth, the days that only come again now and then in my dreams...
But then once in a lifetime you get to live it again...this is my story.
As many of you know, although I am huge supporter of the Petrolia Pirates, my 2 boys play athletics for Wichita Christian Jr. High due to our being home schoolers...they will more than likely complete their high school studies there also.
Well, we have a pretty fair jr. high football team. Keep in mind in 6 man jr high it is not a 7th or 8 th grade team...it is simply jr. high. My oldest son is the QB...he just turned 15 a couple of weeks ago...he should be a freshman but we held him back because well, we had to deal with cancer one year. When he was 9 he was dx'ed with Burkitts Lymphoma Non Hodgkins cancer. He battled through one of the most grueling protocols one can endure in cancer treatment...he is now a five year survivor...5'6" 145lbs, a lean and wired typical adolescent boy who God has blessed with a tremendous amount of athletic ability. He also is the safety on our team and plays some linebacker depending on what defensive formation we are running. He is by any definition a fierce hitter...brutal at times...he lives life with a almost reckless abandon as one who has stared at death through the eyes of a 9 year old and saw death blink. My youngest is 13 years old. Although not as blessed athletically he is a gamer. Football has allowed him to no longer stand in his brothers shadow...he is our starting end on offense and defense. He is not a real fast kid bit he just catches anything you throw to him. He has hands that are so deadly that you wonder sometimes how did he catch that ball. He has also discovered on defense that technique can make up for what you lack athletically. he is averaging 6 solo tackles a game. He no longer stands in the shadow of his big brother...he stands next to him...just like he did when Mike fought cancer...holding his hand as the chemo would go into his veins...playing game boy with him at 3:00 in the morning when because of Nausea Mike could not sleep...crying when we would finally make him go home because of his own emotional health. Yes, he stands alongside of him...even a little taller and a little bigger physically than big brother. They are both growing up.
Our team is a mixture of several real good athletes and some kids that just bring a ton of heart. We won our first 2 games by a combined score of 102 - 26...we were 2-0 and thought no one could beat us. Bryson reminded these young boys that you can be beat...we then went 2-1. Like many jr. high kids that play football, all of this was done without a lot of the emotion that comes with the game. They are just 11-15 year olds with most of them being around 13. They lack the testosterone levels to gain that 'killer' instinct...that sense that football is life...that nothing else matters...that you live and die on that field. They were boys playing football. Football is a man's sport.
But last night that all changed...last night these boys became men...they became football players...they became a football team...
Here is the story...we played Fort Worth Glenview Christian Academy. We are normally the smaller team...we are not very big but we do have a lot of speed and we can throw the ball...a rarity in jr. high football. Yet we are ALWAYS the smaller team. But this was just ridiculous. These kids were huge. They had a lineman that was 5'11" 245...a fullback who was 6'0" 195 and a tailback that was 6' 205. I am not kidding you...those are real numbers...we found out that the two backs were both held back a year and one may have been held back 2 years...that would make him 16. The game was pretty much as we expected. They ran the ball...up the middle, around the end...then up the middle. Their kids hit hard...I mean really hard...they scored on the opening drive...we came back and scored...they scored 2 more time before the first quarter. 21-6
We came back in the second quarter and something happened...our kids got mad...a light went on...they started hitting with a reckless abandon...gang tackling, smash mouth, leg chopping, helmet smashing tackles. The QB started hitting his receiver....it was brother to brother on middle routes so precise it looked like a High School team...we scored twice in the second...21-20 at the half. The second half can only be described as a war...a bloody, brutal, violent war. They would score, we would score, kids on both sides limping, crawling to huddles, blood, dirt, tears...mothers gasping in the stands wishing coach would take him out...dads assuring them it was ok but secretly wishing the same. The fourth quarter starts and the score is Glenview 33 - Wichita Christian 26....Glenview scores on the opening drive...41-26 with about 5 minutes left...rumor is that Wichita Christian QB may have a bruised if not cracked rib...the center is limping on what would prove to be a strained Hamstring (Remember, in 6 man he is a receiver also) Our stud running back has a twisted ankle...kids on both sides of the ball are weary...and their big guys just keep coming and hitting...but I noticed something after a brutal offensive series where we got the ball back on a turnover on downs...their big tailback who is also their linebacker runs to the water bucket..takes his helmet off and does not go back in...he appears to have quite a bit of blood on his face...
Their defense comes out slowly...our guys on the sidelines are jumping up and down...a feeling begins to take over in our stands...the QB is slapping his team mates on the helmet and pushing them...I hear his brother proclaim rather loudly.."I will not loose this game!!!!"
Them something akin to magic took place...that once in a lifetime kind of thing.
The QB fades back and hits his brother for a 25 yard slant...next play...40 yard connection to the wide out...TD!!!! But wait these are jr, high kids...they can't throw like that...they are just boys...but they did
We kick off...they fumble....next play...another 18 yard slant in the middle...then a 36 yard go route....TD....but boys cannot throw the ball like that....but they did
41-40 Glenview....3 mins left
They take the next drive and start running the big back up the middle...time is clicking...4th and 2 on our 16....we bust through...both my boys..HIT! Turnover on downs....1st and 10....we are going crazy....and then the first play we fumble...they get the ball back deep in our end of the field...My thoughts...what a game! I am proud...we almost did it....these boys did a great job against a much larger team...
But what I did not realize was that these were no longer boys...something had happened out there...something had changed for them all...the light had come on, they got it.
The next play was something I will never forget...my son, the cancer survivor hit the big tailback so hard in the backfield that I still shudder...the ball came out like a slick pig and one of our little guys...not even a starter, falls on it and I mean the place goes nuts.
16 seconds left...41-40 ball on our 35....QB in the shotgun...takes the snap....scrambles left, shucks one rusher....throws up a pass that defies description...our wide out beats his man on the go...runs under the ball right on the goaline...TD!!!!! TD!!!!! TD!!!!!
At that moment it hit me....my boys were winners....not because we won the game....but because we played the game....at that moment we celebrated our victory...not over Glenview...but over "cancer"...over being the 'little guys', over those things that seem impossible...(oh yea...one of our boys has had 2 open heart surgeries...another boy's estranged dad watched his son play ball for the first time)
I cried....like a little boy.
Final score 46-41 Wichita Christian. I met my boys on the field. They were both in tears....my son the QB said.. "Dad, I can't hardly breathe...my ribs...my knee" I helped him to the sideline where he fell down from mental and physical exaustion....my other son simply said though tears..."I was not going to loose tonight...not here...not now....*%$ No...." He was not even worried about being punished for the mild expletetive...and he will not be. I told them both I loved them...that I was so proud of them....all the boys and coaches were crying...the parents...It was gold...it was shear joy.
Our boys gathered for prayer...the coached talked...we blotted bloody knees and checked bruises and scrapes that will fade away knowing that we had made a memory that would not.
On the bus you could hear them...those of you who have played this game know what I am talking about...the voices were not pubescent and mild or even high pitched...they were manly...it was the sound of men...young men...but men none the less...they exclaimed "Yeah Baby!!!!" "We did it!" Bring on Bryson!" (Yes, we get Bryson again...we are rather looking forward to it) They sounded like that which they were ...VICTORS. Our coach looked at me and with a tear in his eye said..."They became football players tonight...this game will never be the same for them"
I listened then to the sound of boys who had become men...and I wiped away the tear of a man who was once again a boy...and for a little while...Heaven met me on Earth and God reminded me that it is life that holds all the answers...and it is life that asks all the questions...but it is our children in which the mystery is revealed.
Enjoy the game tonight...win or lose...boys will become men...and once again men will wish they were boys.
"So David chose 5 smooth stones...and he slung the stone and struck the giant...and the giant fell on his face"
1 Samuel 17:40;49