Los Angeles Times

Friday nights, they'll pass you by

"It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of young men."

Vince Lombardi

God, I miss playing football.

It's been roughly 14 years since I last put on a pair of shoulder pads and snapped on a chin strap and I still miss it, probably always will, I imagine. I was never all that good, but for as mediocre as I was in my play, my passion for the sport was abundant.

I miss it even more around this time of year and I'll miss it a bit more around December when another high school season flies by once more, putting me farther and farther from my last and forcing me into seeing another class take its last snap.

I miss everything about it really.

I miss the practices and everything about them. Even all the running, all the sprints, all the scout team, all the things I couldn't wait to be done with, but now look back upon fondly.

I miss the bus rides to the game, the tension that built. It grew more and more as you got closer to the field and closer to game time. It built with every passing second, with every step toward the field.

I miss the feeling before the game out on the field. The music, the buzz in the stands, the crowd shuffling in.

I miss the cheerleaders and everyone in the stands, my family, my dad and my mom — just like yours she didn't know anything about the Xs and Os of the game, but they love us and they're there to cheer us whether we have splinters in our butts, are getting knocked down on them or scoring the game-winning touchdowns. I miss the feeling of knowing everyone was there to watch you and your team play and knowing that there were at least a few people, maybe even a special someone, who was there just for you.

I miss practicing and playing when I was hurt and feeling a sense of pride about it. Now, all the aches and pains just make me feel old.

Heck, I miss just how good water or an orange slice tasted at halftime.

I miss kickoffs, running full speed and hitting someone like they owed you money.

I miss blocking for my quarterback, yep, my quarterback, the guy you'd defend with your life, because that's what a good offensive lineman did.

I miss how good making a perfect tackle felt.

I miss the goofy kickers, my brothers on the line, the cocky wide receivers, the coach's kid, the hardnose running back, the hard-hitting linebacker. I miss them all.

I miss the wins and the losses. They shaped us all in one way or another.

I miss the pain, whether I was feeling it our dishing it out. It was the cost that you would gladly pay.

I miss the fact that it was a game that could be complicated by schemes and formations and audibles, but at the heart of it all it was so very simple. It's about hustle and loyalty and heart and sacrifice.

I miss how black and white it was. If you're on this team you're right and if you're on that team you're wrong. That's why if somebody messes with your teammate, you've got his back whether he was right or wrong.

I miss the ugliness of the snot bubbles and sweat and blood and the beauty of the girls on the sidelines, a perfect spiral and the feeling after a win.

More than anything, I miss the camaraderie that existed before, during and after the game and the feeling of a game under the Friday night lights that no word is good enough to describe.

And you'll miss it, too.

Football is a game that's played once a week cause it would likely kill you if they played it twice.

It's a game in which youth is the centerpiece. Rarely do you see an old-timers' game and if you do, they're wearing flags, not shoulder pads.

It is a sport that everyone watches. Just look to the sidelines and you'll see nearly every teacher at the school. They don't understand it and they don't get it, but people gather at a high school football game like no other sport.

But you'll get it. If you really give it everything you've got, you'll get it. You'll be a football player, not just somebody who puts on a jersey. If you're ready to go into the fight with your teammates, they'll be ready to fight next to you. And, together, you'll get it.

You'll get that it means something. It meant something before you, it means something now and it'll mean something long after it's passed you by.

Indeed, it really is more than wins and losses, though nothing feels better than a win and there are few things that feel as bad as a loss.

It's about 100 yards and 48 minutes of possibilities, it's about the magic that can happen on that field.

Heartbreak and complete euphoria happens on that field. Memories are made, dreams are realized and bones are broken. It's an event.

And should you achieve glory, it will stay with you, as greatness, no matter how brief, stays with a man forever — in his mind, his soul and his memories. But no matter if you go winless or undefeated, these are times you won't forget, if for nothing more than the fact that these are your times. It is your time for the taking, your time to go out and make your memories.

It goes fast. One day you'll wake up and it'll all be a memory. But today isn't that day.

When you step upon that field tonight, it is your time. Seize it.

That's just the way I see it, playing second string.

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