Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Blog: Rob Roots for His Alma Mater, and Only One Is Beaten
Barry and I are graduates of Bloomfield High School in New Jersey. Bloomfield was no football powerhouse when I played in the early 1980s, and had never won a state playoff game until this year. When the team reached the 2012 finals, played at MetLife Stadium in early December, I had to go.|
Making it even better, Bloomfield’s opponent was neighboring Montclair High School, a rival school for 80 years and Bloomfield’s traditional Thanksgiving Day opponent. In fact, Montclair had just beaten Bloomfield 14-7 on Thanksgiving, and now they were meeting again just two weeks later.
Even better than that, the team’s head coach for the past 22 years is a fellow who likely doesn’t know how much I cherish my memories of high school football. Mike Carter was fresh out of college, working as a part-time football assistant, when I was on the team. Mike, along with other young coaches working at Bloomfield at the time, was like “one of the guys.” Truth be told, I was too small and too slow to be playing high school football, but I was too dumb not to play. Mike and the other young coaches were the ones who believed in me, who spent their time in the weight room with me and helped me believe in myself.
Alumni of both schools were asked to wear their old letterman jackets. Yes, I wore mine. No, it didn't fit. The game was well played, exciting and went into double overtime. We lost, 16-13. On my way out of the stadium, I heard someone behind me say, "Class of ’84? I thought I was old from the class of ’96!" When I turned around, I found myself talking to a guy from the rival school, also wearing his letterman jacket. We talked briefly about what a great game it was. He introduced me to his wife, then we went our separate ways.
It occurred to me that I have read more than a few stories lately about fights breaking out in the parking lots of stadiums between rival fans. Fans have been beaten unconscious and even shot by opposing fans. I simply can't understand this. I had watched a great game, cheered my team, and felt bad that we had lost. But it never occurred to me to fight a man I had never met before because my team lost a football game.
This was what it’s supposed to be all about: Two schools with a long tradition and fierce rivalry playing on the biggest stage. Dedicated young men giving everything they had and leaving it all on the field. A coach on the sidelines who was just a kid like me all of those years ago, chasing the biggest prize of his career. And two former athletes who had never met before, taking a moment to appreciate what they had just witnessed and what used to be. I love football.