Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Week One I saw...

...three games in two days. Last weekend it took me three days to see two games. Am I slipping?

Actually, the weather was the problem. I showed up for the Naperville Central - Wheaton Warrenville South game at Red Grange Field on Friday in full foul-weather gear. (I love writing Red Grange Field.) It was a beautiful night in Wheaton and everyone around me was clad in shorts and t-shirts. (Did I get a few strange looks? I always do.)

On Saturday I left my rain suit in the car and sat comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt through three quarters of the Mount Carmel - Loyola game. After it was finally postponed at about 5:30, though, I ran back to my convertible through a driving rainstorm. (At least I'd put the top up.)

But this is a good lead-in to the question I've been asked a lot lately: How did you get so nutty about high school football, anyway? And the answer, like many answers, is complicated. But two pieces of it have to do with:

1) Heredity, and

2) I'm not the only whack-job out there who follows high school football.

I may have alluded to my father in the (digital) pages of this blog before. An All-Conference basketball player at Fenwick in 1936-37 (honest -- my mother once showed me the newspaper clipping), he was a crazed sports fan all his life. And by sports, I mean, football, baseball and basketball. None of the rest really "counted."

Even though he boxed a little growing up (like everyone else in his generation), my father's interest faded after Muhammad Ali, or "Clay," as he insisted on calling him, retired. (Older readers may recall that legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell always referred to Ali as "Myoo-HAM-ed.")

And golf? Well, I guess you could call that a sport. My dad, like every other upwardly-mobile corporate executive in the 1960s and '70s (and he was nothing if not upwardly-mobile), tried his hand at the links with varying success (but no great passion). I imagine most of his time on the course was spent lamenting some game he could have been watching on TV.

And the rest of what any normal person would consider a sport? To my dad these were mostly distractions from the only three that really mattered. A conversation I overheard on Saturday at the Loyola game (Part I) reminded me of this. A young father in front of me was bragging to the older man next to him that his five-year old son was particularly good at soccer. "Soccer?" the old codger responded incredulously. "That's a Communist sport!"

No, while most people divided up the calendar into winter, spring, summer and fall, my dad thought of it more as basketball, baseball and football. Rinse and repeat.

And when he wasn't actually at a game, my father would typically be asleep on the couch in front of one on TV. But God help anyone who tried to change the channel. "Hey, I was watchin' that!" Really? With your eyes closed?

As I was donning my rain suit before the game on Friday night I recalled one time when my dad went into New York for a Giants football game. It was raining hard, but that never deterred my father. He had a rain suit, too, and was saying goodbye to my mother when she asked him, "How are you going to get anything out of your pockets with that thing on?" And, indeed, this particular rain suit was a one-piece and didn't have any access except for a zipper in the place you'd normally find a zipper. "I guess I'll just have to go in this way," my dad said as he stuck his hand in and tried fishing around for a pocket. My mom and I got quite a laugh from this and he played to the crowd a little by exaggerating how ridiculous it looked. But who cares? There's a game to go to!

(And it occurred to me as I was eating a Polish sausage with grilled onions at the Express Grill on Maxwell Street, above, on Saturday before the Mount Carmel - Loyola game: I'm becoming my father.)

I ambled up to the ticket window at Wheaton Warrenville South on Friday night covered head-to-toe in rubber, or is it plastic? (It's actually PVC.) At least the women there were too busy suppressing their laughter to ask me if I was a "senior." I'll take small victories where I can get them.

The actual game has been well reported by the Trib and the Sun-Times, but suffice it to say that even though the Tigers had a 7-0 lead at the half, I was sure Naperville Central would pull it out in the end. While both defenses were tough (the two best in the state?), the Redhawks just impressed me as the better team. If it weren't for a great punt return by South in the second quarter the contest may very well have been scoreless at the half. And if not for Central's two opening drive turnovers, I was convinced they'd be leading. But, woulda-coulda-shoulda, I suppose.

As I'm sure you've already read, Wheaton South quarterback Ryan Graham (whom I found out is NFL quarterback Kent Graham's nephew) scored the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

So now Naperville Central has beaten Neuqua Valley, which beat Naperville North, which beat Wheaton Warrenville South, which beat ... Naperville Central. I guess the DuPage Valley Conference is really up for grabs this year.

And now for point 2, from above.

As I was walking into the Mount Carmel - Loyola game on Saturday a guy asked me if it was okay where we left our cars. "Yeah," I told him. "I always park there. You must be from Carmel, huh?"

"No, I just like watching high school football games. I was at the St. Rita - Providence game last night."

Later, in the stands, I asked the guy next to me if he had a dog in the fight. "No," he responded. "I just like to watch high school football games. I was at the Glenbard West - Oak Park game last night."

And, honestly, I meet a lot of guys like that at these games. There's actually a whole colony of us who just hop from game to game. Why? Because we like watching high school football. But my question is, Why does that sound perfectly reasonable coming from somebody else and yet slightly deranged when I say it?

But back to the Mount Carmel - Loyola game. As I'm sure you know by now, it took two days to complete.

Just after the Ramblers scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter and kicked the extra point, the refs ran around saying, in effect, "No good; we blew the whistle before the ball was snapped. You'll all have to leave now on account of lightning."


But leave we did, for about a two-hour delay. And while I was sitting on the floor inside the school drinking a bottle of water, my brother from Minnesota called me. "I'm following you on Twitter. What's the latest down there?"

"I'm hearing they'll probably call the game at 5:30."

"I see it's 23-17. Did Loyola miss the extra point or something?"

I explained what happened and he said what I had been thinking. "What if that kid misses the extra point when play resumes? And what if the game ends, 24-23, Carmel? That would stink!"

And I thought, How 'bout it? How does a ref take points off the board?

But, again, as you know, Rambler kicker Mike Kurzydlowski made the PAT the next day to win the game.

So now Loyola has beaten Mount Carmel, while the Caravan has defeated St. Rita. (Starting to sound familiar?) I wonder if the Mustangs can knock off the Ramblers at home in Week Nine. That would really confuse things.

Lastly, the game was about turnovers -- at least six, by my count -- two for Loyola and four for Mount Carmel. One of my Twitter followers asked me, "Hey, I heard a Mark Dowdle had an interception. Is he Charlie's brother?"

"No," I said. "But I think their fathers are cousins. You have to understand something: every third kid at Loyola is named Dowdle. "

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