I don’t normally do this, but as I was searching for something, anything to write about in sports, this came up, so I’m going to repost this blog:
Football in July? I was growing tired of Football – it just wasn’t fun anymore and I’d had enough!!! Really, the only thing keeping my interest has been Jerry’s becoming a coach. But then, Jerry had the good fortune to be selected as a coach for Team USA and I got to spend this past weekend in Canton, Ohio to watch the United States Senior Men’s National Football Team (Team USA) practice, play, and interact, and boy did I come away impressed and fired up for football again. But it really was about so much more than Football.
What is this Team USA? These players all have completed their collegiate careers over one year ago (that’s part of the rules), and there are some quality names including Dylan Favre – yep the nephew of one Brett Favre. Also former West Point player Trent Steelman (Tournament MVP), RB Aaron Wimberly out of Iowa State and 42 other players from Divisions 1, 2, and 3 (some from local Mount Union). And yes, there were a few players who actually had been to pro camps before.
Thursday I had the opportunity to have dinner with Jerry and the rest of the coaches including Head Coach Dan Hawkins (and Mrs. Hawkins), former Boise State, Colorado, and Montreal Head Coach. I also got to meet a former 49er assistant coach under Harbaugh and was a Head Coach at various places in CFB, and another who worked with June Jones at both Hawaii and SMU and yet another who is an Assistant AD at a D1 University!!! The stories they told were impressive about who they know and who they coached and where they’re going (many were leaving the next to coach clinics in Europe – particularly Sweden and Austria) was very interesting. I KNOW Jerry took a lot of that experience and learned from it.
Checking off a Bucket List Item. Visiting Pro Football’s Hall of Fame was something that I had always dreamed of doing, and getting to go on Friday certainly DID NOT disappoint. Going back through and being reminded of all the greatness that I witnessed and honoring those who came before my time. And while I was there in the bust room, I came across our old pal 3rd Stone’s cause celebre, Chris Hanberger.
What an incredible place, going into rooms and areas that I’ve only seen on TV – the busts room is incredible, and many of the exhibits are really cool. I learned a lot about Football. It was really cool to see the room in which they had all the old league exhibits like the AAFC, AFL, WFL, and the USFL. In still another room, I got to see exhibits from the enshrinement class of 2015. Yet another was strictly about Super Bowl History including a very big theatre and behind a glass encasement was an actual Vince Lombardi trophy.
Positivity. But what the best part of the day brought was the unofficial gathering of all the players from all the teams to have the “swap meet” where hats, jerseys, t-shirts, and everything else including blow up Kangaroos with Australian flags were traded amongst players, coaches, and yes even families, from the seven countries. Jerry came away with stuff from Brazil, Australia, and Japan. I tried to trade for a very cool Australian ballcap, but they were having none of that, which surprised the hell out of me.
But the trading wasn’t really the point of the Swap Meet to me – it was watching young men and women from seven nations (France, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, and the USA) actually sit in the same room and enjoy each other’s company. No politics, no bullshit, just good times with one thing in common – FOOTBALL. Players, coaches, and families shaking hands, hugging, exchanging gear, cheering for each other, partying, you name it.
We adults always screw shit up because we get all hung up on our differences but at that moment I realized that maybe the future isn’t as bleak as I think. Maybe our generation screwed things up and the kids are coming together and moving forward much more positively than we ever dared.
The Championship Game. There was the pomp and circumstance of a championship game with dignitaries and all, and finally they got down to it. Saturday night, in the literal shadows of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, #1 ranked Team USA played #2 ranked Japan. Y’all know how it went, Team USA won the Gold Medal 59-12, which was very surprising considering the experience, depth, speed, and ability of Japan who played a strong 1st quarter. Both teams ran very wide open offenses. For a more detailed report on the game, here is the link.
But here again, it wasn’t JUST about the game. As I sat in the front row, the Australian team came down and sat around me and just started playing a ukulele, singing American hit songs, most notably “Ain’t no mountain high enough.” They cheered on the American team and one player in particular who they befriended and “adopted.” Meanwhile, the Brazilians were in the top row trying desperately to start the wave, the French were on the other side cheering on the Japanese. The Mexican contingent were out there celebrating their Bronze medal win.
Then with just minutes left in the game the five teams not playing gathered in one corner of the stadium and suddenly things got loud – it was as if a bunch of soccer fans had gotten together. Players from those five teams just gathered started shouting and singing, and swinging their flags, and just having an overall good time. Dancing and carrying on. Finally, the game ended, the five teams marched in, the all-tourney team was announced, and the medals were presented. It was almost surreal to see your own kid be presented with a Gold Medal – this was so much beyond what I ever expected.
Life imitating art. At the end of the game and as ceremonies ended, I suddenly found myself being one of the last on the field. I wasn’t involved in any way except as a spectator and proud parent, yet here I was still soaking in a feeling that I can only describe as bittersweet. So very happy and proud for Jerry and all the players, yet knowing that for many, this may indeed be it. It brought me to remembering the Gene Hackman Quote at the end of “The Replacements” but edited for these kids:
“When Team USA left the stadium Saturday Night, there was no tickertape parade, no endorsement deals for sneakers or soda pop, or breakfast cereal. Just a locker to be cleaned out, a final quick party, and a ride home to catch. But what they didn’t know was that their lives had been changed forever because they had been part of something great. And greatness, no matter how brief, stays with a man. Every athlete dreams of a second chance, these men lived it.”
Saturday Night, for 45 young men, greatness was achieved and yeah, it will stay with them forever. It is my sincere hope and wish that for those who wish to continue to play ball that they find success via the NFL, Canada, Arena Leagues, or play overseas. If not, what a memory to have for a final game.
Memo to NFL Scouts: I’m simply a fan, but on that field over the past month there was talent. Go out and find these guys and give em a shot. Invite them to camp.
To the bittersweet end. But before that flight home which was just mere four hours after the ceremonies ended and three hours before the buses left for the Cleveland Airport, everybody got together one last time for one last party which lasted until literally they boarded the buses. At one point, SportsCenter showed a highlight of the USA/Japan game and it got the kids excited – their hard work had paid off and was recognized on a national level.
I got the impression that while everybody was ready to go home, though they weren’t quite ready to say goodbye either. Friendships and bonds were formed.
Conclusion. While people are just now starting to pay attention to Football as camps are getting ready to open in a week or so, I’ve been following football for almost a month now. As a Father, a football fan, a Veteran, and an American, this trip was truly something special on so many levels. The thrill of victory and the regaining of the love of the game while representing the USA. Football in July? Yes PLEASE!!!