Touchdowns, Teammates and Tragedy: A Coach’s Tale
I don’t really know why I decided to do it. One moment I was relaxing in the evening following a test for my chronic conditions class, and the next I was pacing up and down the sidelines of the intramural fields. Now honestly, I haven’t followed football in some years. The last time I watched a team through their season, Sam Bradford was on his way to a Heisman at OU. Yet, here I was: drawing up plays, developing schemes and handling our rotations. OK, maybe I wasn’t actually a mastermind behind our sets; I might have even not given our team anything of value other than high fives as four of our offensive players jogged off the field to let our defense take the field; I would even go as far as admitting that when I walked across MacArthur street that cool Monday evening, it was the first of my team’s games that I had made it to – and their first of the postseason
By the time I got to the intramural fields, my friends were all starting to warm up. They began to slip off their shoes and pull on their cleats. A few grabbed a couple of footballs which lay in a pile near the flags; however, I reached for something else on the ground. One of my friends, Nathan, had taken off the Trailblazers hat he bought in Portland while on a GO trip this summer. I lifted it off the ground by its bill and jammed it on my head.
“You look like you’re our coach!” said one of the guys, and the rest of our team joined him in laughing. So, there it was. I knew what I was doing for the rest of the night…
My inaugural game as a coach went about as well as one could wish when joining a playoff team. It was crucial that our group, “Where’s Mike’s Arm?,” win this game so that we could advance. As the team’s name denotes, Where’s Mike’s Arm? features my roommate and good friend Michael Wilson. With his slender build and distinct lack of a left arm below the elbow, he has astounded opposing teams and his comrades alike with his athletic talent and cool, collected demeanor. A true sports veteran, Mike has hit game-winning buzzerbeaters in playoff basketball and was a key piece in our 2015 C-league hoops championship. In the match before that evening’s, he logged a defensive touchdown when he returned an interception for six points. With a pumped-up group of players and Mike coming off a legendary performance, I knew nothing could stand in our way.
“Let’s just not lose sight of why we’re playing, boys,” said my friend, Matthew, as we gathered before the game, “…the money.”
We all laughed, and the players jogged to their positions on the field. The other team fought valiantly. Some may attribute our victory as a fluke due to the other team being short-handed, although in a different manner than we were, but in the end we sneaked by with a 7-point win. Where’s Mike’s Arm all celebrated together at the end of the game and turned our focus to the next round in the single-elimination bracket.
“I should actually dress up like I’m a coach next game,” I mentioned to Nathan as I returned his hat to him. “I think it would be really funny if I brought a clipboard and started drawing up plays, too.”
I didn’t really have time to go all-out like I had originally planned; the second round of playoffs was the next evening. I made do with what I had, and the night of the second game found me donning a button-up and frantically searching for the headset I intended to wear. I found them lying in one of the rarely used drawers of my desk in my apartment room. I picked them up, threaded the loose wire ends through my shirt so they didn’t show, placed the headphones over my ears and adjusted the microphone. It was game time.
As I neared the small set of bleachers between the two playing fields, I’m not sure the other spectators knew what to think of me. Half of them seemed to catch on immediately to my farce and smiled at me. The other half was caught somewhere in between the thin area between, “He’s not serious, is he?” and “Surely, he can’t be serious!?”. The reactions were well worth it and I took both the confusion and laughter in my stride as I began to bark a mixture of meaningless and painfully obvious instructions.
“We’re gonna score more points to win the game!” I stated as I pointed to a page upon which was written our team’s new motto, “money matters,” a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the antithesis of our motivations for playing flag football that season. We joined the huddle in the middle of the field along with the other team and the referees for the traditional prayer that signals the beginning of each of OBU’s intramural games. After the prayer ended we formed a quick huddle of our own and went over more of our strategy. The game kicked off shortly and our team began a closely contested battle.
“Coach! Hey coach!” some people shouted at me from the benches. “What’s the game plan?”
“Uh… we’re gonna try to go ahead and win,” was my only retort.
In the end the seed of my strategy didn’t come to fruition. Maybe it was old age taking its toll on the bodies of a team of mainly seniors who had lasted through several seasons of intramural sports; it could have been a miscommunication between my coaching and our players that brought my flawless win percentage to its end; but to be honest, we just got outplayed… and we were fine with it. We gathered together for one final huddle in the middle of the field to celebrate our experiences. Speech after speech came from our team members and supporters alike, some serious and others humorous. We knelt like that and continued with arms clasped around our shoulders and behind our backs for the greater part of half an hour. Countless chants of “money matters” sprouted up during our time in that circle and those exclamations brought forth our true motivation as we all joined in cheering together that night. There is something to be said for the brotherhood that exists during competition, be it on a field, court, diamond or track, but our actions in a field of play only tell part of the story. The rest exists after the game, either a win or a loss, when a group can gather together and celebrate the relationships they have made and the joys of playing alongside one another – regardless of whether friendship has been cultivated over years of life together or just a few weeks of acquaintance.