Football season has just begun, which makes this a good time to reminisce about a group of decidedly undersize high school "athletes" who tried to wend their way through a season of promise 26 years ago in Phoenix. This isn't my typical column about politics or public policy, but you can glean some lessons about those things, just the same.
My sister cleaned out some storage areas recently and sent me boxes of things I had not seen since the '70s. Among them was a stack of scouting reports from that season, my senior year as a tackle for the mighty Mustangs. Each week, the coaches would write a message to us on the front of the report, then diagram the opponent's plays on the pages that followed. You don't have to know the scores to tell how we were doing. And you don't have to be a psychiatrist to gain insights into the hair-pulling struggles of our first-year coach. Here are the highlights:
Week 1: "This is the first game of the NEW ERA at North High School . . ."
This is also the first clue that we're in serious trouble. When a coach talks about starting a new era, you know the old one was pretty bad. When he capitalizes NEW ERA, it is code for "We haven't won a game in years."
Incidentally, this report has an interesting footnote. "The Sunnyslope coaches stated after watching our intra-squad game that we 'couldn't beat their JV.' What do you think?" I think I speak for most of my teammates when I say that I wasn't sure, but I at least would have liked to have tried.
Week 2: "The Falcons provide us with a great opportunity to even our record, but we must go out and hit people." Which, obviously, we hadn't done the week before. Incidentally, we actually did beat the Falcons, 6-0, thanks to a surprise thunderstorm that allowed us to run back the opening kickoff before making the field so muddy no one could move.
Week 3: "Remember that North has a territory! Don't let Phoenix Union leave without letting them know where they have been!" Given the fact we had yet to firmly establish the new era, I'm pretty sure they knew exactly where they had been.
Week 4: This is about the time in any venture that coaches, politicians, parents and others begin to divorce themselves from failure. If it isn't working, it must be someone else's fault. "Look at yourself from within. Did you give 100 percent on Friday night? Did you sell out yourself and your team? We supply you with everything . . . but guts!"
Week 5: The road from blame-casting to resignation is a short one. Now we are measuring success in baby steps. "Last year's North team . . . was able to move the ball on Maryvale. With a determined effort, we too can move the ball!" Thankfully, he didn't specify in which direction.
Week 6: Nothing softens a coaching staff like mass defections, and nothing makes kids quit like losing. "As you look around, you notice that some of the people who started with us have left. We want you to know that we consider each of you winners. We are keeping our heads high. Keep yours up, too."
Unless, of course, someone on the other team is about to knock it senseless.
He added this note of hope: "Over-confidence plays an important part in football games. We are quite sure that South will be over-confident against us."
Week 7: Optimism takes one last gasp of air. "Let's have a great week of practice and bring our enthusiasm to a high point on Thursday."
Week 8: By now, survival becomes the overriding goal. Forget Mr. Tough Guy. Our leaders take to groveling. "Remember, the coaches are here to stay! We will continue to work hard to achieve our goals for the season. We encourage you to do the same."
Week 9: Finally, with all hope gone, it is time to look on the bright side as the season ends. "We . . . feel that many things have been accomplished this year that are not reflected in the win-loss record. We realize that you have had some trying times this year. But remember that there standing beside you was your coach" (who was having the most trying time of all, considering he relies on this stuff for a paycheck). "If you need any type of help the remainder of the year regardless of what it is, each of the football coaches are available to help you."
Football is, of course, just a game. But it can teach us much about life. Politicians often go from boundless enthusiasm and talk of a new era to a more realistic measure of success once the limitations are clear. Parenthood often leads down a similar path. We reassess and adapt.
Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret News editorial page. E-mail: [email protected]