Vidakovich column: Hold onto your hats
Epic. Unforgettable. The stuff of legends.
The last time I watched a football game this good in Glenwood, the field was not named after Nick Stubler. That’s because he was my PE teacher at Glenwood Springs High School and one of the assistant coaches on the football team at the time.
It was a chilly November Friday evening in the fall of 1978 and the undefeated Demons were taking dead aim at those undefeated Roaring Fork Rams from up the road in Carbondale. Leading up to the game, the Glenwood Post ran a two-page story on the contest that would decide the Northwestern League championship, titled “Hold onto Your Hats. It’s Demons vs Rams.”
During my high school years from 1976-79, it was the Roaring Fork Rams, not the Rifle Bears, who were our biggest rivals. Back then, we always beat the Bears so badly in both football and basketball, that they were pretty much an afterthought. Rather, it was the very mention of the Rams that drew the ire of those who wore red and white.
That November night of my senior year is still the biggest crowd I have ever witnessed at a Glenwood football game. The stands on both sides were packed and people were standing three-deep along the field. It was electric, but I guess when you are 17 years old, everything in life carries with it a bit more voltage.
The Demons coasted and won fairly easily that night and went on to claim the ’78 2A state championship. I didn’t think I would ever see a game again that was so memorable and of that magnitude.
If you missed the Demons and Rifle Bears putting on a heart-pounding display of playoff football on a sunny and pleasant Saturday afternoon in early May at, yes, Stubler Memorial Field, then I feel downright bad for you.
The edge of my seat is where I resided for the entirety of the game and the tense moments of sudden death. It’s only fitting that a game this good should have a brief encore. I wish somehow it never would have had to end, especially the way it did for this Glenwood alum.
Rifle 20, Glenwood 17, OT.
I stared at the scoreboard for awhile, hoping it might change and magically flip those numbers, but when I looked down and saw the Rifle players dancing and hugging near the south end zone, I feared the worst. This must be reality.
As I was leaving the field, I spotted senior Wheatley Nieslanik walking alone toward the Demon locker room. He would soon take off that red football jersey and helmet for the last time.
Wheatley’s a good kid, as I’m sure the rest of the Demons — and Bears — are. I got to coach his father in high school. He and his teammates will remember this game for the rest of their lives, but in a good way. Once the sting of defeat subsides, and it will take awhile, the lessons learned from a great game, great coaches and great season will far outweigh the trivial outcome on a scoreboard.
I think President Kennedy once said, “Victory has a hundred fathers, while defeat is always and orphan.” I know I felt a bit orphaned as I walked to my car on Saturday, and I know how those Demons must have felt. I have walked in those unforgiving shoes as a player and coach many times.
It’s more fun, but not nearly as rewarding, being a sportswriter. I’ve never lost a game. I’m undefeated.
But it’s not hold onto your hats to describe Saturday’s game, it’s now hats off to the Rifle Bears, who earned the right to take on The Classical Academy, one of the big boys from the Front Range next Saturday in Pueblo for the state title.
The Bears just need to keep in mind that old story about a youngster named David who went up against a heavyweight named Goliath.
David decked him.
I think the Bears will do the same.
Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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In a fraction of a second I went from a full sprint to skidding across the ground — pea-sized gravel gashing my knees and elbows, turning them into strawberry crisp.