When you mention football, many Americans think of tough guys. A man's man playing through pain to make a play that can make or break your team and the game's final result. A guy that can give a hit and take a hit. You may not think of those tough football players displaying the sadness of a season that just ended though or winning or losing a tough playoff game. That is as much a part of the game as getting that touchdown or making that fourth and goal on defense.
In the last few weeks I have seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. All of that came in a span of only eight days. In the week before Thanksgiving, I saw our high school team, Lugoff-Elgin in South Carolina, battle back from 20 points down against Greer, a team with a great past and championship banners to boast, to win. To be on that field after the game as players and coaches from the winning team shed tears of joy. One coach who was off by himself was just taking in the scene as players hugged each other, parents and fans. I told the coach that that was an incredible game. All he could do was smile, and while holding back the tears and voice cracking reply, "I'm happy for those boys. They deserve it." As I walked around and told the players good job, one of the defensive stalwarts of the squad gave me a big ol' bear hug instead of a high five. While it caught me a little off guard, I embraced him and told him "great game."
While we were celebrating, Greer's players were mourning a season that just ended. Being the favored team with only one loss coming in, those players were crushed.
A few days later my son's pee wee football team had encountered the same fate as the tradition rich Greer did. We were behind by a couple of touchdowns and I knew we were going to lose. Last year my son didn't show any emotion after the playoff loss and as the final seconds ticked off, I wondered how he would take it this year. It didn't take long for me to see. As our team and the rest of the parents gathered at the back of one endzone, I noticed my son. Helmet still on, chinstrap still buckled, but with big ol' crocodile tears streaming down his cheek. As I made my way around and gave all the kids a pat on the back and told them "good game," the emotions of a dad came into play. It was hard for me not to get choked up too as I tried to console a nine year old that grew close to his teammates this season and how the harsh reality of a season coming to conclusion. After the post game talk by the coach, we made the sad walk over to turn in his jersey. Nothing is more sadder in our youth football program than seeing a bunch of kids make the walk over, with jersey in one hand and helmet in the other and turn it in. Then they make the walk to the parking lot with shoulder pads in tow and tears still streaming. Needless to say it was a long drive home. Once we got home, it didn't end there. He went to his room and cried for another 15 minutes. I did my best to console him as I asked him if he had fun this year, which he did. I asked him if he learned more about football this year, which he did. I told him the biggest, toughest football players from college to the pros felt the same way he did at that moment when their season ended also.
A few days later, our high school team season ended also. These high schoolers that I saw the week before celebrate, all too soon realized their season was over before they thought it should be. Despite making it to the third round of the South Carolina playoffs, and two games away from a state championship, a season of three months in the making was over. Big lineman pounding the turf in disappointment while shedding the big tears that my son shed a few days prior. Other players just standing by themselves or kneeling on the field displaying emotion that few allow to be seen. Senior players realizing they played their last game for Lugoff-Elgin High School. Parents who felt and showed the same emotions I did earlier in the week did the same on this frigid Friday night.
This past weekend, I saw that same emotion played out as South Carolina crowned state champions in all of their divisions. The same emotions as college football christened conference championships and lower levels had playoffs continue enroute to a national championship.
In an effort to instill just how much football is a team sport, my son's coach last year told them several times, "Believe in yourself. Believe in your teammates. Trust that they make the play, and they'll trust in you to make the play." I believe that this is what makes football such an emotional sport. You go through a season that can last three months, or more in higher levels. You are alongside of teammates who you entrust so much to and they do the same with you. This is the same group that you have sweat with, went into battle with, entrusted them to watch your back and you did the same for them.
It doesn't matter if you're in your 30's playing in the NFL or a nine year old kid. You share the same emotions of both good and bad. When the season is over, if you cared at all how the season went and if you care about your teammates, you can't help but shed a tear or two.