On Friday night, I worked at a high school football game between Hamilton and Morrisville-Eaton for possession of The Jug. (No, not the Old Stone Jug – although the ironies of Hamilton playing for something known simply as The Jug are too plentiful to write down.) The traditional matchup pitted two rivals against each other in the 2005 season-opener, and while the Emerald Knights jumped out an seemingly insurmountable lead by halftime, the Warriors (kudos if you know which team is which) stormed back to almost pull off one of the best comebacks I’d ever seen.
Now, you must be asking yourself why I’m telling you this – and it’s not because of the knifing incident that appears elsewhere in this week’s Maroon-News.
Quite simply, it was the most fun that I had ever had watching a football game – whether it be professional, collegiate, Pop Warner or two-hand touch. But at the time, I wasn’t quite sure why I enjoyed the game so much. Because it became close at the end? Because the fan support was tremendous? Because I was getting paid to watch it? Then it hit me – it was entirely the kids playing the game.
As a constant refresher of ESPN.com, I know all about the goings on around the National Football League. Most of those happenings, however, have less to do with football than they have to do with agents, money and push-ups in the driveway. I feel like I know every single thing (football-related and not) about every single player, and most of that information I could probably live without.
But watching Hamilton and Morrisville on the field, I couldn’t name even a single player on either team. If the player was good enough to be recognized, I may have remembered his number the next time he touched the ball. I didn’t know anything about any of these players – and that’s just the way I liked it. When Johnny sacked the opposing quarterback, I saw the genuine enthusiasm for helping his team – and not the instant public recognition that sack number 10 invoked a huge escalator clause in his new contract.
In an age of instant information and 24-hour sports news networks, every minute detail of every athlete is uncovered and exploited for as long as the sun shines (and even when it doesn’t). At a certain point, it became not about the sport itself but about the athletes who participated in it, and there has been a steady decline in public perception of star athletes ever since.
High school football, and to a lesser extent collegiate football – getting below the 1-A level, at least – is satisfyingly absent of such self-absorption and attention. Some skilled players in the Hamilton-Morrisville game played on both offense and defense, something that is rarely ever seen in the professional ranks (unless the player wants attention, of course). The players that took the field did so because they wanted to, not because their contract stipulated they had to or they wanted to showboat for the Time Warner cameras.
No egos, no Sharpies, no nonsense. Just two teams, their boisterous fans, and The Jug. In the end, everything was put on the line for a little old piece of pottery that probably couldn’t fetch $10 at a flea market. But sometimes, even the strangest things can take on enormous value. Watching a high school football game can be a good example of that.