Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The concession stand at Lake Zurich...

...High School wasn't exactly like the one in this scene from Seinfeld; the women working there were actually very nice. But there were a few ... similarities.

I arrived at the stadium -- The Home of the Bears! -- last Thursday afternoon and asked the guy taking tickets if there were any concessions (stupid question). "Yeah, do you see that white building down at the other end of the field?" He then practically winked at me. "Get the steak sandwich."

Now, as a rule of thumb, it's always a good practice to order what the locals recommend. And the steak sandwich at Mel Eide Field is no exception. Served on a toasted bun, if you like, and slathered with grilled onions (and cheese, if you want), it makes for an almost perfect pregame meal. But actually getting it, at least for me, was a little confusing.

I approached the first window with some hesitancy, like George Costanza, above. There were several actual windows open and a sign commanding, "FORM FIVE LINES." Since I was pretty much the first one there I closed my eyes and just walked forward until one of the ladies asked, "Can I help you?"

"Yeah, uh, steak sandwich please?"

"Sure thing, honey. Oh -- and go Cats!" (I was wearing a Northwestern cap.)

"Huh? Oh, yes, of course. And go Bears!" (It's another good practice to at least pretend to root for the home team.)

"What'd he say?" asked another lady. "He wants a beer? We don't sell beer."

"No, no, no," I said. "Uh, never mind. Just a bag of chips and water. Thank you."

The first woman then handed me a slip of paper with check marks next to "steak sandwich," "chips" and "water."

"You go to the next window to get your food."

"Oh, gotcha." I side-stepped my way over to the next window like George. The lady there handed me a bag of chips, a bottle of water and my steak sandwich wrapped in tin foil. But the sandwich felt a little light. I opened it up, like George opened his bag, and found there was just ... an empty bun!"

I must have looked up with an expression of tremendous disappointment because the lady looked back at me like my dog had just died. "You go down to the grill and hand the guys your bun and they'll give you the meat."

"Oh, got it. Thanks!"

I then side-stepped, again, a little farther, down to the guys manning the grill.

"You want me to toast that bun?"

"Uh, yeah, sure. Thanks."

"How about grilled onions?"

"Oh, yes, please!"

He didn't ask me if I wanted cheese, though, and I think that was an option. (I'll have to remember that next time.)

While waiting for the steak part of my steak sandwich (and it was a fairly long wait; who did this guy think he was, Charlie Trotter?) I reflected on the fact that the first two stations of this process were entirely "manned" by women while the last one was strictly men. And I thought about what a friend once told me: women cook inside and men cook outside. "That's just the way it is, Mike." And it's true: these guys would never trust a woman to work the grill part of this operation.

I finally got my steak sandwich with grilled onions (sans cheese) and took it over to the condiments table where I added some A 1 Sauce. I went over to a nearby picnic table and dined in the fading sunlight of a beautiful late summer's afternoon. It was delightful.

But soon it was time for the game!

Two phrases I kept running into at Lake Zurich were "WE ARE RELENTLESS!" and "BREACH THE WALL!" While the first is self-explanatory, the second was a bit of a puzzle for me. I had assumed it meant "Hold the Wall" or "Don't Allow Anyone Through This Wall" or something, but in Merriam-Webster.com it defines "breach" as "a hole or opening in something (such as a wall) made by breaking through it."

So I assume the Lake Zurich football players aren't protecting their wall so much as trying to break through the other team's wall. Make sense?

At any rate, the Bears proved relentless in their game against the visiting Blue Devils of Warren, allowing only seven points, en route to a 27-7 victory. Warren, which entered the game undefeated, scored its lone touchdown in the third period to break Lake Zurich's string of ten scoreless quarters this season. The  Bears defense is as good as you've heard and their offense isn't bad either. If you want to see them in action I'd recommend the Lake Forest (3-0) game at home on September 27. Should be a good test for both programs.

Friday night brought me out to Wheaton Warrenville South for the cross-town, intra-conference rivalry between the undefeated Tigers and the previously undefeated Falcons of Wheaton North.

Wheaton South, coming off their first losing season in forever, had already beaten Glenbard West and Maine South in Weeks One and Two. Could they extend their streak to three, over a North team that had defeated Cary-Grove and Geneva and featured Clayton Thorson at quarterback, possibly the best in the state?

Before I was to find out, I had to stop in at the bar at Arrowhead Golf Club on Butterfield Road, above, for a quick dinner of Korean pork soft-shelled tacos (with cole slaw). It was the only place to eat for miles around and -- good thing for me -- was absolutely delicious. (I may have to make a repeat performance when Naperville Central travels to play the Tigers on October 4.)

After the previous night's contest in Lake Zurich, where it was windy and chilly and rainy (and I was tired and the game was one-sided), it was a pleasure to watch a game at charming Red Grange Field. The place was packed, of course, the two guys I sat between were very friendly and the press box wasn't loud or obnoxious like most. The stadium was surrounded by trees, fans lined the field and smoke was in the air from the grills at the concession stand. It was the perfect setting for a game between two perennial DVC powers!

But once the game started it was all South. Quarterback Ryan Graham and running back Isaiah Campos led the attack for the Tigers, putting them up 17-0 after three quarters. Finally, after North's receivers dropped a ton of balls in their hands, Thorson engineered a drive to make the score 17-7 with 7:21 remaining in the game.

Oh, great! I thought. Here comes an onside kick.

But no. Despite needing two scores, North kicked it away and watched South proceed to eat up five minutes of the clock. When Thorson finally scampered in to make the score 17-13 time had completely run out. The refs didn't even allow for a point-after attempt. Game over; Wheaton South won. Strange, I thought.

The following afternoon was just about the perfect September day for a football game: low 70s and sunny. I headed out to Elmhurst and tiny IC Catholic Prep for the game against Aurora Central Catholic. But when I pulled up to the curb at 217 Cottage Hill Avenue, above, all I saw was this lone building. I drove around the block and suddenly realized, There's no football field here!

In a panic, I asked several people where on earth the gridiron was. (Once again, in case you don't believe me guys, sooner or later, you become your father.) A nice lady finally took pity on me and said, "They just built a new stadium; it's east of here."

"East of here," I repeated. "You mean, that way?" I pointed east.

"No, it's this way," she answered, pointing west. "I guess it's west of here."

Uh oh.

"It's near some train tracks."

Okay, I thought, that's a start. I quickly whipped out my new iPhone and showed her a map of Elmhurst. "Is that it?," I said, "Plunkett Park?"

"Yes! Plunkett Park! At least I think so..."

Aw Jeez, I thought. But time was running out; I had to make an executive decision -- Plunkett Park it is!

I found the stadium, finally, and walked up to the ticket booth. "One, please." The lady looked at me.

"Adult," I said. "I'm not a senior."

She looked relieved that she didn't have to ask me.

"What is a senior, anyway?" I asked.

"However you define it, I guess." I frowned, having missed an opportunity to save a few bucks. She sensed my disappointment. "It's for a good cause, though."

"You're right."

I proceeded in and a guy who looked like a coach abruptly stopped in mid-conversation, looked me right in the eye, smiled and said, "Welcome."

I quickly turned around to see who the devil he was talking to and realized it was ... me. "Oh ... thanks!" I replied.

You see, IC Prep is kind of like a small town. It has only about 320 students; so when a stranger like me (and they don't get any stranger) showed up, they must have recognized me right away as the first-time visitor that I was.

After the obligatory cheeseburger, chips and water purchase, I took my seat at about the 40-yard line. I counted about 40 kids suited up for IC and asked around if the school was divided up evenly between boys and girls. No one seemed to know for sure, but they all thought that was a fair assumption. If so, I thought, then 25 percent of the boys are on the football team. That's a lot!

The game was fun to watch, although the teams were small -- literally. The Knights of IC had only five players who weighed over 200 and only one that weighed over 250. Aurora Central had more players (I counted about 50) and at least 15 over 200 pounds. But they seemed a little smaller, a little slower, maybe not as talented as the two Wheaton schools the night before. (But, in fairness, not many teams are as good as the Tigers or the Falcons.)

It was a good game, but for the second day in a row, no one took my keen advice to attempt an onside kick with time running out.

Although Aurora Central drew first blood, IC led 21-7 with about 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Chargers cut the lead to 21-14, however, with 4:15 left in the game. "Onside kick?" I asked the three guys sitting to my right.

One of them looked up at me as if he had just smelled something foul. "No," they all shook their heads. Dumb ass, I imagined they were thinking.

But AC kicked it away and IC proceeded to march down the field, eating up about three minutes in the process (sound familiar?). Only a fumble in AC's end zone -- somehow -- stopped the drive and the Chargers took over on their own 20-yard line with less than a minute to go. It just wasn't enough time, though, and the game ended in a 21-14 IC victory.

As I walked out I lingered a little in front of the IC players as they celebrated their glorious triumph with a song or a chant or both (I couldn't tell). They looked like they had just won the state championship and I felt really glad for them. On my way to the car, which was parked on a side street, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling for IC and Elmhurst. The whole thing made me feel like I was an extra in an old Frank Capra movie.

I topped off the experience with a chocolate malt from Hamburger Heaven on York Street for the drive home in my convertible. I felt so good about IC that I decided to skip the snarky post I had been planning to write about the school's motto, The School for Independent Thinkers. (Since when do high schools have mottos?) It would have been from the perspective of a cranky Bill Maher-type fallen-away Catholic who is now an agnostic. But, for once in my life, I decided to forgo being a jerk. For now.

Next: My two games for Week Four.

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