These days I find myself enjoying high school football much more than pro or college. The pro game has always been about the money, but when you see the best playing any sport it can be worth watching. Yet I seldom watch a game in real time anymore, preferring to record and just fast forward through most of it.
I started to lose interest in the Cowboys when Jerry Jones kicked Tom Landry to the curb. It was time for Tom to hang it up, but it should have been handled better. When Jones decided he could do it all and didn’t need Jimmy Johnson around, that pretty much finished the Cowboys for me. I’ve always liked Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Just the fans, the tradition; it feels like it means so much to everyone connected in some way to those teams. I’ve always liked the Kansas City Chiefs, even going back to the old days when they were the Dallas Texans (yes, I am that old…). The Hunt family is a class act and now they have Patrick Mahomes at QB. He’s about the only great thing that’s come out of Texas Tech football since the good ol’ boys ran off Mike Leach. So I do like watching Mahomes and the Chiefs. But that’s about it for me and pro football.
Big money has ruined the college game. It’s always been dirty and never really been about student-athletes. But at least we could pretend it was somehow amateur; played for the love of the sport, one’s school and fellow students; grateful alumni and adoring fans. Traditions, tail-gating, rivalries, memories, beautiful autumn days when your team won and nothing else mattered at that moment. But now, all of that is officially gone. Drowned beneath multi-million dollar coaching contracts, transfer portals, conference realignment, NIL deals for the players and its own success as reality television entertainment.
So last Friday night, I went to a local high school football game. Texas high school football is a big deal and produces players for college programs all over the nation. This game was 5A Div II and that’s a pretty good brand of football, just a step behind 5A Div I and a larger step behind the big 6A schools. But it’s still top-notch football. The kids played hard and seemed to genuinely care about their teammates and even their opponents. The coaches were hands on, encouraging the players, concerned about those who got injured, whether their own or the other team’s. The fans were enthusiastic but mostly well-behaved. The players; black, white and brown; all stood at attention when the national anthem was played. It was a closely contested game and our team won on a late touchdown and then a fourth down stop to end the game. Winning made it better, but it would have been a great night even if the other team had won. The players, the coaches, the fans, the bands, the cheerleaders, the drill teams; everyone was involved; and the communities were all made better by what went on that night.
And that sort of thing goes on all across this nation on Friday nights. Yes, I know that players get hurt, not everyone wins and sometimes it’s just not a good experience for some folks. Human beings have a way of messing up anything if you give them enough time and the motivation to do so. Yet still there remains something of value when young people get involved in sports; whether on the field, in the band, on the sidelines or in the stands. We can only hope and pray (silently, of course) that such events survive the current tides of cultural change.
"I remember in September when the final stumps were drawn
And the shouts of crowds now silent when the boisterous cheer had gone.
Let us O Lord above us remember simple things
When all are dead to love us...Oh, the Captains and the Kings."
- Brendan Behan