The Play Of The Year

By Frank Workman | Nov 01, 2015

Another regular season of high school football ended this past weekend.  I made it to at least one game each Friday night, sometimes two.

My most memorable play of the year wasn’t a long pass or a blind-side sack.  It wasn’t a pick-six or a scoop-and-score. It didn’t happen on a goal-line stand or a wacky play with umpteen laterals.

It wasn’t even a scoring play that found its way into the box score.

But to me it epitomized everything I love about the sport that I’ve been attending since the late 1950’s.

I was helping out this one Friday night about a month ago, working on the chain gang, holding a down marker on the visiting team’s sideline.

(By the way……the game is SO much different down on the field than it is up in the stands.    It’s faster. No wonder officials need super-slow-motion replays to tell if the ground caused a fumble.  It’s louder down there. Coaches are constantly barking reminders to players on the field.  The subs behind the bench are exhorting their teammates on, bringing an added level of noise.  Players and officials are communicating with each other on every play.  And if a beefy lineman runs past you late in a game on a warm night, the game even smells different down on the field.)

On this particular night, the home team trailed by three points with just a couple of minutes remaining in the game.  But they were driving, across midfield, and with a breeze at their backs, they were a couple first downs away from field goal range.

The home team’s workhorse running back had carried the ball maybe twenty times already, in addition to catching a couple passes and doing all the kicking.

On the play in question, he came in motion to his left, toward our sideline, from his wingback position on the right side.

His team had already run this same play ten times or more, with some success.  Maybe it was the wind, maybe it was the rain, maybe it was just plain fatigue, but this time the pitch from the QB slipped through the workhorse’s hands and started bouncing our way to the sideline.

A mad scramble for the ball was on, and the workhorse had the best chance of recovering it and keeping his team’s chance for victory alive. If not, it would be game-over for the home team.

About five yards from the sideline, he made a dive for the precious pigskin on the wet turf.  But as footballs will do, it squirted out from underneath him, just to his right, and as he skidded to a stop at the feet of the opponent’s head coach, the visitors pounced on the ball, a foot away from the workhorse running back, assuring them the win.

The sideline erupted in jubilation. A hard-fought victory – sporting, if not artistic - had been won.

Teammates, those on the field and those on the sideline, all converged on the boy who recovered the fumble, jumping up and down in celebration.

Meanwhile, the workhorse running back remained in a heap on the field, inches from the epicenter of the other team’s celebration.  He seemed to be in no hurry to get up. He had to have been gassed.  Maybe he was looking for a hole to crawl into, thinking he’d messed up his team’s chance of gaining a rare win.

In the swirl of emotion and activity, that’s when Matt Leonard, Meadowdale’s head coach, made the play of the year.

He dropped onto his hands and knees, covering the prostrate body of the workhorse, protecting the player from inadvertent harm at the hands of his team which was oblivious to the presence of their worthy opponent.

After about ten seconds, Coach Leonard stood up.  He helped the workhorse to his feet, gave him a hug, looked him in the eye, and patted him on the helmet.

And I got to see it unfold from ten feet away.

For all the football games I’ve seen, over all the years, this play – this quick-thinking show of humanity and compassion from Coach Leonard encapsulated everything that is good, right, and decent about sports.

There's no question about it.

 

Frank the Man

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