In the next two days, everybody on the 12 Iowa high school football teams playing for championships is about to play the biggest game of their young lives. For 99 percent of those participating, it will be the biggest game they will ever play in. Everything they have worked for athletically for months – and even years – will come down to four more quarters.
After the game – after all the physical and emotional energy has been expended – there will be a release of emotions unlike they have ever felt before. One team and one fan base will feel the highest of highs and the other side will feel the lowest lows.
I was down on the field for all of the finals in 2010, and several since then, and couldn’t help but get caught up in the emotion every time. I did have connections with the teams I was following, but even after the games that involved other teams, the conflicting waves of joy and sadness inside the UNI-Dome were overwhelming.
I was at one of the Earlham playoff games this season with Kristen and near the end I said something about how hard it is on the kids to lose at this point in the season.
She asked me, “Do guys cry when they lose?”
I quickly reminded her how wet my shoulder got when I was hugging her after her team lost the softball title game two years ago.
“Well, yeah, but guys?”
I told her yes, guys have feelings, too. We just don’t generally like anyone to know it.
Madrid lost a championship in 2010 in one of the most compelling, gut wrenching games I have ever seen. This is what I wrote then:
Seeing uncontrollable tears flowing from several individuals on a team defined by its toughness and that had been so physically dominant all season may have seemed strange to some, but it served as a reminder that these are just kids playing a powerfully emotive game. These young men who play high school football are asked to give much of themselves and get nothing in return but the joy of playing. And in cases like this when all the joy has been sucked out of it, all that’s left is raw pain.
And Tiger Coach Randy Hinkel told me later:
“One thing I try to remind people is that when you invest a lot into something and it fails, it hurts more than if you didn’t. But these kids—and not necessarily our kids, but across the gamut—when they don’t achieve and they threw everything into it, it hurts. You see more emotion out of the kids that have invested the most.”
Yes. The game of football is a huge investment, and it hurts to lose. And it’s okay to let it out. As bad as losing feels, winning feels that good. It’s just much more fun to let those emotions loose.
Good luck to all the teams. To the winners – enjoy the moment. To the others – it’s okay to feel bad for a while. Then get back to work.