Our football season ended Friday night with a loss in the quarterfinals — in the last minute and a half. It was a heartbreaker. But there are no losers on this team.
The seniors have a four year record of 52-3. That’s a heckuva lot of wins. But the real wins aren’t what’s translated in the record books. The real wins are what’s translated in the boys’ hearts.
And boy, do these players have heart.
The love they shared on the field Friday and on hudl messages and tweets — it showcases the love they have forged through the highs and lows of this and every season they’ve played together.
You hear a lot about how football hardens bodies and builds work ethic.
But football also softens hearts. And breaks them. And Friday night’s loss broke so many hearts, including mine.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Because hearts that soften and hearts that break are hearts that feel and hearts that connect. And to me, the most powerful part of football is how it takes individuals and makes them not just teammates — which you hear a lot about — but more importantly family.
And this team is truly a family.
And the men showing these boys how to harden those muscles and hone their work ethic are also the ones showing them how to soften their hearts — to let in their feelings and let out their emotions.
These coaches are not afraid to yell at their players. Not in the least. But they also aren’t afraid to say “I love you” to the boys — and mean it.
And this weekend, I heard a whole bunch of hurting coaches tell their hurting players “I love you.” And I saw a whole lot of hurting players tell each other “I love you.”
I saw a lot of players huddled up, shoulder pad to shoulder pad with tears bunched up in eyes and streaming down cheeks.
Tears over loss, but also tears over love.
These boys are becoming men. The best sort of men. The men who aren’t afraid to fight hard yes, but to love hard too. Men who can lead through both triumph and adversity. And Friday night, they triumphed through their adversity and led one another — and the rest of us — through the first stages of grief.
And while we all grieve over this loss, it was ultimately just a game that we lost. And we have so much to be thankful for. And so many harder things we could be grieving…
Last weekend, a football coach in Indiana passed away after suffering a stroke in a playoff game.
Coach Bowsman had coached in his community for 20 years. He was head coach for the past 16. Through two decades of love and sacrifice, he built a football family that is now mourning a deep, true, and profound loss.
And this past week, Coach Bowsman continued his life of sacrifice through organ donation. On Wednesday, his football family lined the hospital hallways for an Honor Walk as he traveled one last time from ICU to the OR. And over the weekend, his football community (and nearly the entire state) burned stadium lights in his honor as his family held services and laid his body to rest.
Football goes so much farther than a win/loss record or memories of the glory days.
Football leaves a lasting impact far greater than most can imagine until we see and hear stories like these.
Those of us fortunate enough to be in a football family, we feel the impact of football on our lives all the time… in the form of a hug in the hallway, or a greeting in a grocery store, in the graduation celebrations of a struggling student athlete, or a text from a former player about the birth of a baby or the death of a parent. And sometimes you get a message about the death of a football family member.
When you are football family, the impact rarely goes unfelt.
And while we feel all the literal wins and losses, it’s the wins and losses in LIFE we feel most profoundly.
Football itself is ultimately just a game. But the family it builds… that’s real. And that’s what makes the game so very special.
Photo Creds: Russell Andrews, Marion Mills Webb, Randy Parker & Natalie Perkins