When senior football reaches the end zone

November 06, 1999|By Rob Kasper

YESTERDAY afternoon, as the sun was shining and the leaves were falling, I watched one of my kids, a senior, play his last high-school football game. Many parents will find themselves experiencing such "senior moments" this weekend as area high-school football teams finish off their seasons.

For me, it was one of those rare enjoyable moments in a parent's life, and I savored it. Never mind that years ago I had advised the kid to play soccer, not football. The kid ignored my advice, and as a result, for the last six years, as he worked his way through middle school and high school, I have been a football dad.

The tableau of a high-school football game, with its milling crowd and teams in brightly colored uniforms, is dramatic. It feels like a scene from "Our Town," especially if one of your kids is playing.

If you don't have a kid on a team, high-school football is probably not the defining event of your autumn social calendar. But if you do, it is. Moreover, once you have squirmed on those bleachers, paced those sidelines and wolfed down those cold hot dogs, you know that these games provide an exciting break from the humdrum routine that is adulthood.

At our house this week, for instance, I heard stories of the rituals that marked the final days of football practice. As is the custom, the senior players expressed their jubilation over the end of rigorous football practices by picking up the sled -- a heavy, metal apparatus used by coaches to teach blocking techniques -- carrying it across the campus and depositing it in a traffic circle.

Lately, the team had been playing well. But several years ago -- when these muscled seniors were mere lanky middle schoolers -- victories were rare.

I remember one game when the only way our team could stop the other team from scoring was to hope the opposing lineman would forget to wear his mouth guard. The opposing team would march toward the goal line, and then, just as it was about to score a touchdown, one of the lineman would forget to put in his mouthpiece.

The ref, who felt strongly that players should wear their mouthpieces, spotted the offense, and penalized the team 5 yards. This happened twice and nullified one or two touchdowns. Eventually, the opposing coach either replaced the forgetful lineman or taped the kid's mouthpiece in place. I forget which. I do remember they beat us. Everybody beat us that year. As we used to say, our team was "victory free."

For the past two seasons, life on the gridiron had been much better. The high-school varsity team won many more games than it lost, and had been in contention for the league title.

This fall, as I watched these guys execute sophisticated defensive schemes, I couldn't help but think that they had come a long way from the days when their best defense was a forgotten mouthpiece.

While there were several star players on the team who probably will play football in college, I will be surprised if my son does. I don't think he is big enough. There are not too many 166-pound defensive linemen in college football. But, as my kid often reminds me, I am often wrong. He is more stalwart than star, yet he had some big moments this year. He recovered a few fumbles, made a few solid tackles. He enjoyed playing the game. And he made his dad feel proud.

On the grand scale of life, yesterday's "final" game was not that momentous. Other sporting events, including endless numbers of wrestling matches, loom in the kid's future. Moreover, the kid's younger brother also plays football. So in the coming years, there are many more hours on the sidelines left in my life.

Yet I felt a wave of nostalgia yesterday as I watched my kid and his fellow seniors -- Robert, Clay, Paul, Andy, Jon, Ben, Chaz, Nnamdi, Donnell and Lee -- jog toward the field for their last high-school football game. It was another reminder that our boys are becoming men. It was a small moment in life, but a good one.

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