I’m probably a lot like you in that I hate to lose.
Be it Monopoly, cribbage or an informal game of touch football in the backyard, I’ll do just about anything short of cheating to notch the old W.
Two perfect examples – Shelby and Oakridge – of this come from this past weekend.
I had every intention of writing this week’s column about having four Muskegon-area teams back in the state finals, which would have been reminiscent of 2008, when four teams from Muskegon County – Muskegon, Muskegon Catholic, Oakridge and Montague – took half of the state’s eight division football titles.
I had few doubts that at least three of the four teams would survive the state semifinal round this past weekend and advance to Ford Field. Had they done so, this week’s headlines would’ve been nothing but feel-good, isn’t-Muskegon-so-great-at-football invective, causing many to once again wonder, ‘What the heck are you feeding those kids in Muskegon?’
With the way all four teams have been playing, I truly was expecting all of them to advance.
But life, in the form of Menominee and Clinton, got in the way.
And the Tigers and Eagles didn’t just lose, they both lost bad, Shelby 49-3, and Oakridge 59-28.
Consider this: Oakridge has lost just three games over the past two seasons, just eight over the past four. Yet, despite that success, the only thing those kids will remember will be how they made it so close to the state title game (well, that and Shelby’s last second win over the Eagles in Week 6; that one is going to burn for a long, long time).
I’m not sure what happened to the Eagles last weekend up there in the Yooper Dome, but one thing is sure: Something – the long drive, the strange surroundings, the loss of running back Dan Shoop in Week 8 – caused the squad to be distracted come game time.
Now, I was at the Shelby /Clinton game, so I feel a lot more comfortable dissecting that contest. It was pretty simple: the Tigers had just about everything go wrong over the first 10 minutes of the game, and before you knew it, the state-final berth was, for all intents and purposes, lost to the brutal winter wind blasting out of the north.
I’ve gotten the chance to see Shelby play six times this season, and while there was some luck involved in the team making it to the state semifinal game for the second-straight season, for the most part, the Tigers were cruising toward their first state-final game in school history.
It was my first time seeing Clinton, of course, but I wasn’t overly impressed. Had David Guerra’s 85-yard kick-off return in the first quarter not been called back, had Andy Fortier’s first pass not been picked off and returned for a touchdown, had a Tiger defender made the tackle on Clinton’s risky punt fake, well, clearly the game would have gone differently.
I have no doubt in my mind Shelby has the more explosive players, had the more schematically potent offense, between the two teams. I’ll even go so far as to say the Tigers would beat Clinton 7-out-of-10 times the teams face each other.
Saturday just wasn’t the Tigers’ day.
The problem is, the shock of making it so close to your goal only to come up short is often tougher to swallow than failing to live up to any goals at all. And now, instead of pride in what they’ve accomplished, players on Shelby and Oakridge’s football teams will feel a bitter sting where good feelings should reside. It will be even tougher for the seniors to stomach. For most, it was the final time they’ll ever don a helmet and cleats and play organized football. Thus, their final memory of the game they loved so much will be tainted with disappointment.
Know this, though, players who lost last weekend: the bad feelings will fade as the years tick by, and at some point later on down the road, you’ll realize what an amazing thing of which you had a chance to play a part. Instead of focusing on the feeling that you lost something on the fields of your state semifinal games, you’ll instead focus on all the relationships you made and strengthened, all the experiences you shared with your teammates, all of the memories you will recount again and again (and again) when you see each other.
And it is then that you’ll realize that no loss, no matter how bad, can take those things away from you.
Congrats Shelby Tigers and Oakridge Eagles on the great seasons.