Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Great Losers

It is amazing how many winning football teams existed years ago.  Most people I know played on one.  Yes, it’s mathematically impossible, which makes it all the more impressive.  My high school football team was, evidently, the exception.  Our record was a poor 3-7.  When looking at the season from only the angel of win-loss with winning being everything, then we were a bad team.  After all, aren’t scoreboards and trophies what matter?
When I look back on the season, I do not focus on the statistic.  We were part of story in which we got to be characters of nobility and frailty.  My senior year, our team was ten points away from being conference champs.  This is because we lost most games by 2 points.  The game against Winnetonka, however, is by far my most memorable game of that season.
Winnetonka High School was not only our conference rival, but our town rival.  We even split a Junior High School.  Half the kids from Antioch Junior High migrated joyfully to our school, Oak Park, while the other half was forced to attend Winnetonka.   This made our rivalry all the more fun, because we knew where the other lived!
The projected “stars” for the game were Loren Hadley for our Oak Park Northmen and Eric Hoskins for the Winnetonka Griffons.   Both were top of the line running backs with good stats in their junior year.  It was only the second game of the season, so both teams had great hopes that our stars would lead us to glorious victory.
The  Griffons’ offense was a throwback to Knute Rockne.  They ran the Single Wing, which was an offense created to confuse the other team with spins, fakes, and reversals.  Other teams would over pursue a fake only to find that the real runner dashed the other direction.  This worked against us and the Griffons scored first.  By the end of the first half, we were down 7-21.  Our defense shut them out in the second half and our offense went to work.  Loren Hadley rushed for 198 yards that game and we scored two second half touchdowns.  When the clock ran out, we were tied 21-21.  The momentum changed in our direction, so we thought.
To break the tie, each team was given the ball at the ten yard line.  We had four downs to score.   All second half, Pat Ryan and I had the advantage over our opposing linemen.  The guard and tackle on the other side were as good as we were, but they had to go against an all-state lineman named Eric Cheeseborough, so it was rough going to our right side.  Unfortunately, when the receiver ran in with the play, he accidently switched the numbers.  We ran right into Cheeseborough, who stomped us.   We settled for a field goal by Joe Zuber, but that was fine.  We were ahead and our defense had shut down the Griffons all second half.
The first play, we stopped them for a loss.  Yeah, we were awesome.  The second play, the spinner back pitched the ball to Hoskins.  Our defensive end, Pat Ryan again, had the outside contain and kept Eric from getting around the end.  I was headed right for Eric’s numbers; I was going to smash him to the ground for a huge loss.  Victory was in hand.  Suddenly, Eric reared back and through the ball.  It was a sweep pass.   While Eric was a great running back, his passing was less than stellar.  The ball looked like he had punted it.  Surely this was going to be out of bounds beyond the end-zone.  Well it would have been if not for the Griffons’ Matt Williams, an all conference high jumper who soared up and snatched the ball.  We lost in overtime. 
To remember that game as a loss is to miss the point.  We were characters in an awesome story.  Our team participated in a game that grabbed the hearts of fans on both sides and took them for a ride of excitement. 
Now, if you think we were losers, I’ll add this to the story.   Two players on the field that night, one from each team, went on to play in the NFL.  From our team, eight of our starting eleven went to college with football scholarships.   The Griffons won the conference championship, while we were 3-7, but I consider it a very successful season.

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