The boys of fall
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Teddy quivered with energy.
“I just want the game to start,” he said.
The night before, as we all said our “thankfuls” at the dinner table – a custom our teenage boys, half-starved, often hurry through – he’d said, “I’m thankful that tomorrow night I have the biggest football game of my life.”
Until the previous week, the Roaring Fork Rams had been considered out of contention for the playoffs, though their coach urged them that it was still mathematically possible. Then they won their next game, and certain key teams lost theirs, and suddenly the Rams were up. Now they faced Aspen, a much bigger team, which had beaten them last year in a blowout; but Aspen had struggled recently, and lost to a team against whom the Rams had had an upset win. Whoever won this game would go to playoffs.
Senior Night ceremonies preceded the game. Teddy stood between Mike and me, our arms around him, as Roy, a freshman, darted up to join us. Around us were kids gathered around a theme of fall sports: football players, cheerleaders, a golfer, a sports filmmaker. Teddy has been in school with Kaleigh since kindergarten; Tucker since second grade; Trent, sixth. He played Pee Wee football with Tanner and Landin, was befriended by Felipe/Phil, Eduardo and Clay at freshman-year football camp. Teddy loved everything about football, even the long, hot two-a-days.
One by one, the students thanked their parents, teachers, friends. Teddy also thanked Roy, “who believed.”
To our right, a strong, kindly rancher clenched his jaw; on the left, a handsome young man thanked his smiling adoptive parents for taking him in from foster care.
The tears have already started, and graduation isn’t till May.
That night, under the Friday-night lights, with less than four minutes to go, the Rams were ahead; and then they weren’t. And then it was over.
Teddy stood speechless, in tears, as were the other seniors, and other players, too. Making the playoffs would be a lifetime sports highlight. For the seniors, high-school football was over.
It’s a sorrow many understand. On the following Monday morning at work, our office’s intern, Chris, said immediately, “Oh, yeah. I cried after my last soccer game, because I thought I might never play another real game. And I never did.”
My friend Laura recently watched her son’s soccer playoffs end.
“Within minutes of the final buzzer,” she emailed me, “Sam was surrounded by his cocoon of friends: Phil, Teddy, Hava, Clay and Trent …. I had to step back and let the love and companionship of his friends seep into the hollow left by losing his last high school soccer game. I could sense in each of them that gnawing sense that they will be facing a lot of lasts in the coming months.”
On Saturday morning, I washed Teddy’s muddy, reeking jersey and pants, and hung them up to air out, for the last time. On Sunday night he showed me a football documentary, an ode to its customs and hard work, loyalty and emotion, aired with the Kenny Chesney ballad, “The Boys of Fall.”
In the film a coach tells his team he’d “give anything” to jump in a uniform, too, and play that night’s game. “That feeling goes away, it goes away and it doesn’t come every Friday night. It comes when you get married, it comes when your child is born,” he says. “So you get it, but you just don’t get it every Friday night. You’re going to miss that feeling more than anything in the world.”
On Monday, Teddy handed in his uniform, pads and helmet, removing the decals to place on his books.
Time slips by, inexorably, and it is the way of everything to change. Yet that Saturday and Sunday, Teddy had had a great time duck hunting in Delta with Mike and Roy. Directly after the football game, the boys went off to Eduardo’s house, as Teddy later told me, “to celebrate our season.” I asked if there were tears, and he said, “No, we were done with that.”
– “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Saturday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.
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The Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy celebrated its 25th anniversary this month. The changes wrought by climate change mean the conservancy will have plenty of issues to work on in the next 25 years.