In Our Own Backyard….The game is on!It was the day of the Big Game. As we drove through the Minneapolis campus of our old alma mater, the University of Minnesota, last Saturday morning, it would have been hard to overlook the fact that it was Homecoming.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
It was the day of the Big Game. As we drove through the Minneapolis campus of our old alma mater, the University of Minnesota, last Saturday morning, it would have been hard to overlook the fact that it was Homecoming. Despite the fact that it was only 9 in the morning, fans were flooding down the sidewalks, bundled in stocking caps and jackets, clutching steaming cardboard cups of coffee and decked out in every conceivable form of maroon and gold.
As we drove past, we could spot the eager gleam in their eyes and the look of anticipation on their faces as they surged toward the football stadium, eager to get the big day started. We stopped at a little restaurant in Dinkytown to grab breakfast, and it was filled with students – some of them with large groups of friends and some with their parents in tow, who were no doubt in town for the Homecoming game.
Ken and I reminisced about the days when we, too, were students there and part of the eager throng headed toward (at that time) Memorial Stadium, where head coach Murray Warmath led the Golden Gophers.
As we drove by the new TCF stadium last Saturday morning, we could hear the University band practicing on the plaza and tailgaters lined every parking lot along the avenue. There’s excitement and tradition to football games, to be sure, and last Saturday morning promised to be a memorable one.
But it wasn’t the Gopher game we were going to that morning – but the St. Louis Park fourth-graders versus Hopkins instead.
We left the campus of the University of Minnesota behind in our rear view mirror and continued west to St. Louis Park. It was a gloomy, drizzly morning, and though the forecast of a day-long downpour had not yet materialized, we were anxious to see the game get under way before anything prevented it.
It was the last game of the season, and our grandson Ethan was just completing his first year of football. Several of the other players on the team had already been playing for a couple of years, so he was at a bit of a disadvantage – particularly since this was the first year the team was allowed to tackle.
Though Ethan is tall and slender and athletically talented, he has a tender soul and a sensitive spirit and we weren’t certain just how he would fare in a sport that relied on knocking heads and slamming bodies to succeed. He had scored a few touchdowns early in the season, and apparently that was enough to spur him on despite the unaccustomed roughness of the sport.
We stationed ourselves on the sidelines and picked out his jersey in the huddle. I snapped off a whole round of photos, just because I was so excited to see his last name on the back of a football jersey!
When the play began, a squad of players from Ethan’s St. Louis Park team loped out onto the field, and search though we might, we did not see Ethan among them. He was still on the sidelines with a handful of others, clapping his hands for every bit of yardage his teammates gained and encouraging them when Hopkins scored a touchdown against them.
When the coach changed up the players, once again Ethan was not among them. His dad explained that they had an odd number of players on the squad so some of the kids only got to play every third shift.
When the moment finally came when he hit the field, however, I was as excited as if it was Ray Parson, or Barry Mayer, or Jeff Wright, or any of the other Golden Gophers who played back when I was in college….
I watched most of the rest of the game through the lens of my camera, following Ethan around and snapping photos of him as he went. At first, he was simply in on a little pushing and shoving, and I wondered once again if his heart was really in it. It almost seemed as though he was avoiding the center of the action, where the majority of the physical play was taking place.
Toward the end of the game, Hopkins was moving the ball steadily down the field and it appeared they were going to score yet another touchdown. Ethan was playing defensive back and, as such, was a ways back from the line of scrimmage. I had just raised my camera to take a shot of him when he suddenly leaped forward out of the sight of the lens. I panned in the direction he’d disappeared, and he had both arms around the shoulders of the ball carrier and was hanging on for dear life. Both of them struggled for several steps before Ethan wrestled him to the ground. The other player outweighed Ethan by 15 pounds or so, and as he went down Ethan’s legs flew up in the air so he was almost perpendicular to the ground. In the end, the two lay in a tangled heap – but the ball was dead and Ethan had made one heck of a tackle!
The game was soon over and, unfortunately, St. Louis Park didn’t go on to win that day – but then, neither did the Gophers!