As lovers of sport, we all seem to have our favorite event. It might be The Super Bowl, Daytona 500, Masters, or The World Serious. If we’re slightly crazy about sport, maybe it’s more than one event. One of my favorite games to watch throughout the year is The Rose Bowl. Each New Year’s Day you’ll find me on the coach at 2:00 in the afternoon. One of the unique aspects of the game is when it begins. Being played in Southern California the game often begins under bright sunshine. Due to its afternoon start time, the Rose Bowl always concludes after dark under the lights. It always tickles me to watch highlights after the game. The first half is in bright sunlight and the second half in lit darkness. Our first playoff game was played in similar circumstances. We had a unique start time of 4:15, which meant we began with the sun still shining. By the time we ended, the lights had fully taken over. It turned into a great setting for our first playoff game.
Warming up our team was different in preparation for the playoff game. We began preparation for the game behind the end zone nearest the stadium entrance. During the first few minutes our kids where run through some stretching. About halfway through the stretches one of our coaches noticed we were in plain sight of our opponent. They were resting on the exterior of the fence, before entering the field to begin their warm-up. So, we took some extra time with stretching, slowing everything down. When our opponent for this playoff game entered the field, they walked down behind the opposite end zone to begin their warm-up process. After they became securely out of view, our preparation continued in full. Coach ran the kids through some new plays from the week of practice. Something new took place to end warm-ups, coach had our kids rest by cutting warm-ups short, having players sit and watch the game before us, conserving energy. Before long, it was time to play.
The playoff game saw my sideline role transition again. It had been a sunny day and was going to lead into a dry and cold night for football. Which meant we wouldn’t have the need to dry off footballs. Normally without ball boy duty, my responsibility would be flashing a place card, helping rely plays in from the sideline. Playing a team for the second time required mixing up our sideline activities. In changing things up, I was given a different place card from the one in earlier games. It was meant to be a decoy for any onlookers. A couple coaches had different place cards, so no one could tell which place card actually pertained to the play. There was truly no way of knowing if the plan was necessary. Like anything else, it probably didn’t go exactly how we had hoped. There were plays where mine forgot to be flashed, or too many coaches were gathered and my card couldn’t be seen. It worked on a handful of plays though. The decoy role lead to a relaxing sideline experience for me. Probably the most fun game from my perspective, because there wasn’t busy time pressure, it allowed me to take it all in.
Shadows crept across the field with the progression of our game. From the sideline, it almost felt like waiting in anticipation for the lights to take hold. We were involved in a competitive game for the first time in a while. Our opponent was moving the ball against our defense on the ground. Our linebackers were successfully getting into their backfield poised to make a tackle. But, those tackles were consistently being missed. Their running backs would slip through our players’ arms, breaking away with runs to the outside. Our defense seemed to be allowing more yards than before. It took well into the second half before we found some true containment of their running game. However, on the offensive side of the ball, things seemed to go relatively well.
Our offense seemed to shine with the bright lights. It kept us in the game, while the defense sputtered. The running game worked well. We ran off pretty large chunks of yard during this game. With our offensive line creating good holes for running backs to run through. Our quarterback continued the growth that has steadily progressed throughout the year. There seemed to be unmistakable confidence in his body language. Watching our running backs during this game became exciting. At times, the frustration of our opposing defense was evident. It’s been rare for me to view a run from behind this year. When one of our backs has broken a run to the outside along the sideline, it seems my position hasn’t allowed for a good view. That wasn’t the case during our first playoff game.
One of the best running plays left me viewing it from behind. As our back scampered down the near sideling, I watched in awe. It was probably our best athlete, as he broke off about a 30-yard run. Watching him work within a few yards of the boundary, as he slipped a couple tackles and juked past a defender. When the defender finally got a hold of him, our back was thrown to the ground. Frustration seemed to grip the tackler in that moment. But, then I witnessed something outstanding. His father is one of the coaches, he made a woo hoo exclamation, followed by encouraging his son to just get up. Our running back, who had just been unexplainably thrown to the ground, simply got up and jogged back to the huddle. He could have been visibly mad, but seemed to realize his play was doing the talking. His opponent had clearly reached a point of frustration following the run. Nothing more needed to be said.
The first playoff game was successful. We were in a competitive game for much of the time, but won going away. After the game, when both teams gathered on the field, one of our coaches talked about how rare it was to play football under the lights. It’s true most of these kids won’t experience high school football. This may be the only football game they ever play at night. If that is the case, hopefully they enjoyed the experience. It didn’t seem to simply be a football game played at night. The game was played in the uniqueness of day transitioning into night. As the lights took over for long shadows, our team took hold of the game. They continued playing together and our defense began stopping the opponents running game. In the end, we cruised to another victory. As the clean crisp fall air became wintery cold, our undefeated season remained in tacked. One more week of practice before playing for a championship.