It was a cold ass Friday night, 340 miles from home. Sitting in the stands before the rest of the traveling family of fans arrived, I sat there in solitude soaking this moment up. In 75 minutes I would watch our oldest boy, Avin, take the field as a High School Football player for the last time.
The seconds of Father Time come without care to how you feel. The inevitable was here; it was the end of an era.
it was bitter sweet.
I can't get over how quickly time has gone by. Shit, it feels like it was just a few years ago that I commended Avin's effort for trying out for flag football.. That was seventh grade, March 9, 2018...
Damn... what a blur.
Fast forward a quick 6 months later, he'd be at a new school and suited up to play tackle football for the first time as an 8th grade middle schooler.
Today, now a high school senior, he's nothing short of a grown ass man child.
Looking back over these years football has been at the forefront of our family's recreational efforts. We didn't grow up as a sports family so this was our baptism by fire. It's been a long haul. Lots of growth, tears, frustration, and joy scattered about this 100 yard grass field. This season has been the hardest of the four year football high school journey. Two back to back injuries compounded by finding one's way through a challenging culture, Avin stuck it out. We couldn't be happier he kept going even though he had countless reasons not to, and yet he did, and here we are.
As his caring Father my biggest concern was for the health of his knee. The doctor said that if he dislocated his knee one more time he would definitely need surgery. Such an injury would be one that he would carry for the rest of his life. He's going to be 18 in January and we as his parents cannot make all of his decisions forever; this was one we had to let go on. Whether it was due to working through an injury, finding his way amongst the challenging program culture, or really loud pot-stirring-parents, Avin didn't have a whole lot of play time. This was really hard to watch this season. If Avin was going to be on the sidelines not playing, as shitty as it was, we would be there in the stands waiting for his opportunities - with him. Although one of the bigger kids on the field, it was only during the last 3-4 minutes of the game when he would be called to play. It might have been the universe protecting him in some fashion, however he probably has less than 8 minutes of game time for the entire season. His giant heart was hurt more than needed, however, he didn't injure his knee; so that's a win. For the first time in years, or ever, the Panthers made it to the playoffs, and not only the playoffs, but the quarter final playoffs. Up until Friday, the boys had only lost one game for the season. Outside of the Pusch Ridge game, the boys experienced lopsided final game scores. Oftentimes they would be at more than half their high score before halftime.
It wouldn't be until the second to last game when the pucker factor really showed up! Panthers vs Payson was by far the most exciting game of the season. After a back and forth shootout, they hung on to win 26-24.
Next stop, Show Low High School.
Unlike our seasons before, the last game against Payson was the first game anyone wore hoodies.. some had blankets! I think the Universe and Mother Nature conspired against us because the temperature in Show Low cashed in on all good weather for the season with interest! Ready to play, it's now ugly ass kind of cold...
Only to get even colder throughout the game!
Thankfully someone had the forethought to get portable heaters and stagger them on opposite sides of the sidelines, centering the boys in the middle.
When the Panthers lined up before the snap it looked like a collection of horses breathing out flumes of hot breath as it fogged up against the 23 degree cold! At kickoff you could hear the clank/tap sound against a frozen ball. Damnit was it cold! The Panthers were the first to put up points! And from the get-go it shaped out to be a pretty good game! The biggest struggle was the Refs! Hot damn did they suck! There will always be someone to disagree with a call, but it was overwhelming how bad the calls were. Meanwhile all that could be heard was taunt-like roaring across the way from the home-side stands. With only one minute before the end of the first half the Panthers fought their way to the goal line ready to close the point gap! (At halftime the Panthers were to kickoff back to Show Low - regardless of a score) With this drive they could tighten up the score from 18-26, to 25-26. Very important! Not only that, they could carry a ton of momentum off into the locker room! In a mad rush to the line of scrimmage to beat the closing 6 seconds on the clock, the boys hiked the ball right as the clock hit 0:00! With a quick lob into the back of the end zone our QB finds a target! In a matter of a half second, that pass is scooped up by Show Low!
SHIT! Then steams ALLLLLL the way down to the end zone for a 109 yard touchdown! with ZERO seconds on the board!
SHIT! SHIT!! As the boys head into the locker room, halftime score is now 18-34...
man that sucked. :(
The refs had been so bad that before everyone headed into the locker room for halftime, the coaches gathered in a large team huddle discussing how the refs will not let them breathe and this is something to prepare for for the next half. Once out from halftime the boys were ready! They kicked a deep ball and then surprisingly created a fumble within 20 yards of the end zone! Four plays later we put 7 points on the board! Now it's only a one point game! Panthers still have a chance! Kickoff again! Like a locomotive running downhill!!
SHIT! Show Low BLASTS!!! through our defense scoring another touchdown on the kick off drive!
Damn!.. another two point split... Panthers respond in a matter of minutes again with a drive to the end zone!! Doing so all while combating shitty calls and no calls from the refs! Finally! Again! Another touchdown!!! YES! down to a one point game! We still got this! Without fail! The next set of downs Show Low makes their way back to the end zone and scores again.... ugh!
Good lord this is exhausting?!
Show Low's saving grace was leveraging their MASSSSSIVE players! Pretty much their entire lineup were just seniors. Here at the end of the game I captured Show Low's seniors walk their home field one last time.
Look at their #76! The child is a Goliath! Show Low's throwing game was total shit, so to make up for this they ran the hell out of the ball. The running back (appropriately so) would hide behind #76 as he plowed huge ass holes in our defense creating freeways to run through. Sucked ass bad! It made the beat down literally feel like a beat down. Within the last four minutes of game play there has been: 1 interception 1 fumble 5 touchdowns
This game was a shootout!
Somewhere along the way however, the momentum grossly shifted. Show Low would end up scoring 28 points alone in just the third quarter. It was a perfect storm of exhaustion, ref stealing momentum, and bad defense and offensive calls from our Panther sidelines. It was hard to watch.
The endless punishment would continue.
Now with only 6 minutes or so of the game left, Show Low would score again, making the score 68 to 35. There was no coming back from this kind of landslide. Rather than just kick the extra point to make it 69 to 35, in a dick move, Show Low went for a 2 point conversion. Success... 70-35. Total dick move... As hopefully anticipated, they called Avin in to play the final minutes. Avin hadn't played in the last three games! Thankfully they called him in for a chance to contribute.
Within two or three downs, the game would come to an end... with a final score of 77-42, Show Low for the win.
We've got a hell of a QB!! The boy can throw! It was all just more than the Panthers could hang on to. Before heading out, they all bundled together for final words, ending as the most successful High School Football team in Panther history.
Watching this unfold brought me right back to 2018..
4 years and 1 day to be exact!
2018, the year Avin and his middle school teammates took the Panthers all the way to the championship beating their rivals in an incredible clutch game. #77 is a champion! Again, Father time reminds me that he doesn't care how I feel. The last 1,461 days have come and gone... and the sad thing is that I've still not caught my breath. For now, I'll just cherish the moments as they come and lean into them as long as I can.
Our schedule did not allow for the whole family to attend Show Low. Tristan also had a playoff flag football weekend that following Saturday and Chas needed to stay home to get him there. She and T did watch the game from the YouTube live stream though. :) So we all were still there in spirit together. Afterwards, emotions could be felt everywhere as the team consoled their loss while seniors buried their heads into each other saying thanks. I didn't talk much and just watched. Avin was appropriately quiet and made his rounds to the people he was closest with. Here for years now, this bunch of three boys have always been sideline wingmen to each other.
Practically grown ass men now.
Means a lot to have watched them. Being there solo allowed me to not get caught into conversation as I embraced the final moments watching the flicker of the football candle burn itself out. I felt like I was on the Titanic, it was cold, emotional and chaotic in its own right. (no death of course) It was a sad scene really. Once a roaring field of potential, now filled with the quiet somber of athletes and their families. Avin said his goodbyes and wandered quietly off on his own back to the locker room.
I stood there center field and just soaked it up.. I took a number of pictures during this final flicker. Puts a knot in my throat as I recall this. The candle went down fighting. As he rounded the corner, it burned out. All that was left was the dancing smoke as the wick cooled off frozen in the frigid temperatures. Left to my own quiet emotions of these last moments, off in the distance, the uprights of an empty field stand waiting for the next generation of athletes to bless its presence.
Below me, hard ground covered in tough frozen strands of grass pelted in the carnage of cleated feet now gone.
It's the end of an era.
and I miss it already. Lost in thought, deep into the horizon I waited for the families to come. It was just me, the cold bleachers and my camera. As if the painted sky followed me from our practice field from last week, just 340 miles north to this very moment... Should Tristan choose to follow in his brother's footsteps, this will be my last Friday-night-lights, sky. Have a grateful weekend!