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It’s after 2 a.m., I should be in bed, and yet I can’t stop thinking about tonight’s Broad Run-Stone Bridge game.
It’s not because of who won – I live a mile from each and think the world of both coaches. But I’m smiling because the area finally got to see what really good high school football is all about.
Andy Hayes over at GameDay and I once had a conversation about the “good old days” when we grew up and a good high school game was packed with people in every seat and lined up around the fence three deep. It was a game where both sides shouted their lungs out, all fans were in a perpetual state of nervousness, and when the final gun sounded, one team celebrated. The other side was on the edge of tears.
This area hasn’t really seen that. Yeah, there have been state championships, and there have been a few games where the crowds have been intense – Phoebus-Stone Bridge in 2007 and the last three Broad Run-Briar Woods games come to mind – but they didn’t quite pack the energy seen tonight.
The best high school game I ever saw was in 1980, when Giles County beat Park View 33-32 for the state title. Two hours before the game, the parking lots were packed. It was bitter cold, but nobody kept their hands in their pocket. Park View had a great player in Allen Pinkett, who scored all 32 of Park View’s points, but it wasn’t individual performance that made it a great game. It was the atmosphere, the tension in the air, the realization that just about every other play was crucial to winning.
Friday night at Stone Bridge, all the elements were there. Thirty minutes before kickoff, every seat was taken, and areas around the track between the field and stands were like a mosh pit. The piano chords of Van Halen’s “Right Now” blared as Broad Run came out on the field, only then to morph into Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as Stone Bridge jogged through the smoke of its dry ice machine to join the party.
This was despite something like the 15th of 16 days where it has rained. Bananas, sugar cane and tobacco could have probably grown in the humid, dank climate. All day long, the most common question on Twitter was “are they going to play tonight?” And yet everyone came, and everyone came ready to cut loose.
The only thing that kept the contest from being the best I’d ever seen was the first half. Stone Bridge didn’t show up. At one point, I was concerned for Coach Mickey Thompson’s health, because I’d never seen one of his teams play so flat and make so many mistakes. I was pretty sure something inside him was going to burst in frustration as it became 24-0 at halftime, and could have been worse.
The second half redeemed all that. It began with an atmosphere created when two full sides of fans started screaming. From the field, it’s electric, it gives you goosebumps, and it’s something you don’t forget. The energy ramped up with each drive as Stone Bridge would inch closer, its side yelling louder amid the bobbing cutout of Charlie Sheen’s face signifying his catchword phrase of “winning.”
Unfortunately, as one team surges, the other’s fans panic. While Stone Bridge grew louder with each drive, Broad Run’s sound grew softer. No longer were the faithful chanting “over-rated”. They were going from “there’s no way” to “I hope it doesn’t…” to “oh no,” or some equally declarative word.
Television announcers like to say senseless things like “it’s a shame one of these teams have to lose”, but this was a game where it would have been a shame if it were decided on a fluke play. It was destined to go into overtime, and that’s where it ended up, decided on the game’s final kick.
Stone Bridge fans rushed the field after the game, while Broad Run players ranged from crushed to angry in their reaction. There is an element in today’s politically correct society that would probably prefer the Stone Bridge students stay off the field, and that everyone finish the game, shake hands, and act as if it didn’t matter who won, it was all how you played the game.
That’s nice to think, but it DOES matter who won, and that postgame reaction added to what made it a great contest. If you get into any sport, you need to experience the thrill of victory – it doesn’t come along often – as well as the crushing agony of defeat.
I found myself thinking of how many years ago the Washington Redskins led the Dallas Cowboys on a Monday night 23-3 at halftime, and lost 31-30. I didn’t get over that one for a week, and the fact I still remember it so vividly 20 years later is a testament to the emotional mark it left. So as I walked down the track and saw crying cheerleaders and frustrated Broad Run players, my heart went out to them. It is the nature of the sport.
My greatest joy, however, came an hour afterward. My daughter is a junior at Stone Bridge, and I may be the only Dad on the planet who forces his child to go to high school football games. I believe it is part of growing up and part of the high school experience, and when I hear she doesn’t want to go to a game because Stone Bridge beats teams 50-3 and it’s boring, I don’t want to hear it.
“One day,” I’ve told her, “You’ll see a REAL game.” And then, maybe, she’ll understand why the old man still follows high school football this many decades later.
When she got home, she immediately came back to my study where I was typing out a story on the game. “THAT was awesome,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It was so much fun…”
Awesome, indeed. And it was not about the winning. Or the game strategy. Or the players and coaches.
It was about the atmosphere: Stone Bridge and Broad Run created a great one tonight, and played the game the way it was meant to be played.
Those of us who got to experience it all walked away winners.