I savor every chance I get to watch my son play football — not that I “know” a whole lot about the game, technically, but I love the sport itself. I love the struggle, the stick-to-it-iveness that separates the men from the boys, figuratively speaking.
Last night, I saw the first steps into adulthood for both my son and his team as a whole. It’d been a few weeks in coming, and you could see the foreshadowing of it in their (admittedly few) practices, but last night in their game against the Buccaneers, it all started to come together.
First, let me comment on the game as a whole. As is expected for little league football, there were a great many youthful “mistakes”, but on the whole both teams played well. The Buccs scored against the Packers early on, but the Packers held them when they went for a two point conversion. The score stayed 0 – 6 until deep into the fourth quarter, when a young Packer broke away from the… ummm… pack, and sprinted for the end zone. Like the Packers before them, the Buccs were able to stave off the point-after. The game came to an end of regular play with the score tied 6 – 6.
That’s when the Packers really showed up. The officials asked both head coaches if they wanted to take the tie or duke it out in overtime. With the time being after 9pm, the Buccs coach gave the expected response — a tie. But when he asked the Packers, every last player said they wanted to take it to overtime. Every. Last. One. The head coach tried to sway them to take the tie — it was late, they were tired, they could lose, etc — but they would not be deterred. They wanted that win.
What happened next is the stuff of Friday night legends (albeit on a Thursday night). The two teams faced off over the next four — four — overtimes before the Buccs drove one down the Packers’ throats. The Packers denied the Buccs their point-after, bringing up one last chance for the Pack to turn everything around.
The first hike saw the Packers cut the distance to the goal by half. The next took the ball within spitting distance. Third down, and the Packers answered the Buccs touchdown, re-tying the game at 12 – 12.
Less than a minute later, the Packers did something that neither team had been able to do all night. They got the extra point. Final score, Packers 13 – Buccaneers 12.
I couldn’t have been prouder for my son’s team, driving against fatigue and frustration to snatch victory out of the jaws of “good enough”. It was an amazing moment, but I’ll be honest, my proudest moment a full quarter before.
If I’ve harped on Caleb for anything this season, it would be him not driving through the offensive line. He’s a small guy, and at defensive tackle he’s often head and shoulders smaller than the guy he’s matched up with. Rather than using his size (or lack thereof) to his advantage, he has the habit of patty-caking with his counterpart, coming up just long enough to push off of the player and dart back from the line, running along the backside of the pile toward whoever has the ball. This often puts him in chase mode, never quite getting to the ball carrier before somebody else brings him down.
But on this particular play, a little bit of magic happened. Buccs center hikes the ball, and Caleb drives forward, likely expecting to patty-cake his match-up… only to find that he wasn’t there! The Buccs player had botched his assignment. To his credit, Caleb didn’t hesitate — he drove straight forward through the hole, catching the quarterback around the waist and pulling him down with him in a picture-perfect sack!
To say he was walking on clouds the rest of the game would be an understatement. You couldn’t slap the smile off his face. Even those times when he wasn’t overtly grinning, he had a look of contentment that could easily have passed for a grin. Battered and bruised though he was, I can tell you that he was feeling no pain.
Last night was a big night for the Packers, and an even bigger night for my son. But if I may be so bold, I think the night meant the most to me, because for the first time that I can remember, I saw my son push past his insecurities, exceed his limits, and lay claim to something that he simply would not be denied.