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Reliving the dream through ’05 Bears

Opening the box was more exciting than shredding my way to any Christmas gift. Inside was my first pair of football cleats.New football cleats would become a longtime symbol of hope for me throughout my younger years.I got my first pair of cleats the summer before my seventh-grade year, and all I knew is that I wanted to play football more than anything. Slipping those cleats on meant that I was finally a football player.A couple of years later I entered high school, and the thrill was more powerful than a date with a cheerleader.At a little more than 6-foot and a bony 115 pounds, there were willows more menacing than me.Everything about football was overpowering. The smell of the August grass, the cool air of fall, the snapping of chin straps, lacing of cleats, the camaraderie of teammates. Everything.I may have been a thin as a machete, but nothing was going to stop me from playing high school football.A year earlier, the 1973 Rifle Bears won the football state championship.That was my dream. To hoist the trophy, to feel the glory of winning it all, was what I thought about. It was a big dream for a small-town kid. I always dreamed big. Winning a football championship seemed to be a dream of virtually everyone who took the field. It remains that way today.Last year, I watched the 2004 Rifle Bears win the state championship.I watched them live my dream.When I was a freshman, the Bears went to the semifinals before losing. For the next three years, I played in every game for the Bears, and always dreamed of playing on Saturday.Around here, football is played on Friday night, except when the playoffs arrive. Only playoff teams play under the sun on Saturday.For three seasons, I dreamed, and for three seasons I never laced up my cleats and touched the playing field on Saturday.It always tormented me.Last year, a new group of Bears did the improbable and won a state title. They saw the ultimate dream of high school sports realized.This Saturday, the 2005 Bears are trying to duplicate the feat.Last year, the Bears, wearing the same blue and gold that I once donned, played on a slippery and sloppy field, and beat the Sterling Tigers 7-6. Those winning players hoisted the gold ball and celebrated a feeling they will never forget.It’s a scene that I dreamed about experiencing every time I took the field. It’s a scene that so few get to experience.Those 2004 Bears lived my dream.Football is a sport that humbles you, even shames you on occasion. The highs are Everest-like and the lows are bottomless. In football, there’s only one game a week. So much practice for just one game. When Monday rolls around, it’s back to the practice field preparing for the next game. Another week’s worth of practice for three hours under the lights.Every year I dreamed that things would be different. Every summer I cracked open another box and gazed at my new cleats with the hope that this would be the year. This would be our season. This would be our time. This would be the year my dream of playing on Saturday would be realized. This would be the year I might hoist the gold ball.But it would take more than a new pair of cleats for the dream to come true.For my final three years, my season would end on the final Friday night of the regular season. Every year, as I pulled my cleats off for the final time, I would agonize over what happened. I was haunted by never playing on Saturday.Last year, watching these youngsters rejoice and revel in a state title, I was envious of them. But for all my envy, there was a little jealousy, too.That was my dream they were living.On Saturday, the 2005 Bears will take on the Florence Huskies in a battle for high school football’s ultimate prize. Win or lose, they, too, will be living my dream.I will watch, and I will envy them like I did the 2004 group, and yes, there will be a twinge of jealousy.But mostly, I will be happy for them like I was for the 2004 Bears.I will be happy for all those youngsters who get to live their dream.Dale Shrull is the managing editor of the Post Independent.


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