After attending my first game at Merrill Field in Harlan in 2010, I decided I was going to give my best effort to get to a game there every year. It’s a terrific facility, the atmosphere is great, the football is always fierce, the concession stands are second to none, and the drive is reasonable. So Quinn and I will road trip west this Friday.
I spoke with Coach Curt Bladt several times that fall and one of my favorite quotes was when he was telling me how he motivates his players every season. He said with a laugh, “We just have to remind the kids that everybody hates us.”
I don’t think that most football fans outside of Harlan really hate the Cyclones, but I know how rivalries work and how parents/fans can get pretty tired of getting drubbed year after year by the same team. So if folks don’t exactly hate Harlan, I can understand how some have perhaps built up an unhealthy frustration over the past few decades. Okay – and some people do hate them.
Those folks might be feeling a distorted satisfaction this year with the Cyclones having dropped three games in a row. I read somewhere last week when they lost their second straight game that they hadn’t done that since the early ‘70s, so I’m going out on a limb and saying that they have never lost three in a row under Coach Bladt. (Sorry for the lack of research, but this blog is for entertainment purposes only.)
Instead of being resentful of the dynasty programs for their success and reveling in their down years as a chance to beat them, haters should raise their own bar, understand what got the great teams to that level, and help their kids figure out how to get there themselves. When the great programs like Harlan, Madrid, Decorah, Solon, etc. practice, they are working to make themselves better – they’re not worried about what anybody else is doing. Most coaches certainly understand that, but fans and parents should also heed the “hateless” philosophy. Hate is a drain; optimism builds.
I hope Harlan turns things around quickly, because a year without a deep playoff run by the Cyclones is like a day without sunshine. And maybe that turnaround will start Friday in Harlan against Atlantic. Whatever happens, Quinn and I will be there to soak in everything that is Harlan football and enjoy way too many of the freshly-baked concession stand cookies.