Monday, November 17, 2008
Good fortune has a way of humbling us. It comes despite our weaknesses and sins (just ask the inmate who won the lottery), cannot be predicted, and departs as quickly as it came. So good fortune should be savored and never taken for granted. I had two bits of good fortune this week. First Robbie's high school team won the state high school soccer championship. Like a wonderful set of bookends, Robbie won in his freshman year and now in his senior year. I had missed the first win which he shared with his brother Bryce because I was at my grandchild's birth. So I definitely valued this experience. Three decisive games led to the championship and each had its moments reminding me of the significant traditions and connections soccer provides.
The quarterfinal game on Thursday afternoon featured our high school's soccer nemesis. Two years ago we lost to them in the quarterfinals and last year we lost to them in the finals in overtime when we were leading at half-time 2-0. So this game carried lots of baggage for our players and the fans. Everyone knew the history and everyone felt the pressure. In the tenth minute Robbie caught a rebound from a corner kick, settled it with his left, and shot it with his right before anyone had a chance to regroup. This was not the winning goal, but helped shake off the nerves. Nothing could be presumed. After all we had led last year for 70 minutes and ended up losing. Additionally, we had not been scored on by a state team this year, so it was poetic justice that this opponent who had plagued us for two years scored the first in-state goal against us. But that turned out to be just a minor blip. The final score was 4-1 in our favor. Despite the large, cheering crowds, you could still hear the collective sigh of relief.
The semi-final game on Friday night proved to be the true test of our mettle. It was also against the high school Robbie and two other Marquette players would have attended had they not opted for a Jesuit education. Homestead was made up of players Robbie had known for years and had played soccer with. Just before the game, some Homestead parents parked next to us. Their son Stephen had played soccer four years with Robbie, and we were good friends. Now we were on opposite sides of a contest whose prize could never be captured again by these seniors. We joked that after the game we probably would never speak to one another again. Then as the opening whistle blew what do you know? There was Stephen assigned to defend Robbie. What cruel irony! Two other players on Homestead had been on Robbie's first soccer team that Bruce coached. They and Stephen proved to be most formidable as we struggled to find the back of the net. Andrew was their strong and steady center midfielder and Kevin was their unbelievably mighty goalkeeper. In the end we had twenty-three shots on goal including a point-blank shot by Robbie that Kevin somehow managed to deflect.
Our inability to finish had never been more frustrating and more significant. It was win or go home. As the shots flew and either caromed off the posts and crossbar or arched just wide or high or found Kevin's sure hands, the tension in the stands increased to the point where the concentrated energy might have been affecting the earth's rotation. Time certainly did seem to stand still except on the scoreboard where it ticked relentlessly to 80:00. By the end of regulation we were tied 0-0, so we entered an overtime of two 10-minute halves cursing the déjà vu of this moment (different school, same scenario). In Wisconsin overtime ends with a golden goal, which is how we lost in the finals last year. Remarkably in the ninth minute we got a corner kick and scored on a header by Brian that squeaked past Kevin his club teammate. The eruption from all that released tension certainly helped warm our spirits despite the 32 degrees and brief snow (yes I said snow) showers. The victory still felt bittersweet as I looked out over the field of dejected Homestead players – boys I had known since they were five or six. Their dreams of victory were no less ardent than ours. I saw Stephen's parents right after the game and we gave one another hugs. Stephen had done an excellent job of defending Robbie. He should be commended. I also saw Andrew's dad the next day at the finals, and although he was disappointed, he recognized what an amazing game both teams had played. We both knew that Robbie and Andrew, whose soccer friendship began when they were five, would meet on the playing field again either as opponents, teammates, or fans.
The championship turned out to be against the team we had beaten in Robbie's freshman year. They were not as formidable as Homestead, and to some extent the outcome was rarely in question. It didn't change the fact that no one could exhale until the final whistle. In the championship game in 2005 Robbie had scored the last goal and this year he also scored the last goal. We won 5-0 and all five goals were scored by seniors, a fitting end to a fabulous season. Bryce had designed some scarves two years ago, and I had just enough left to give every player. Although I feared jinxing the outcome, I brought them to the game. After the whistle the boys shook hands with the opposing team and then ran across the field and slid on the grass to the student section. Then they collected their scarves, their medals, and the coveted state trophy. Across the scarves is the motto "We are Marquette" which the boys proudly displayed during their various photo ops. This was an amazing and joyful accomplishment, but as these players and fans move forward in life such overwhelming success will come rarely and should be treated with respect without any sense of entitlement. The game against Homestead showed that "grit and will" have to be part of any success, but they don't insure victory. Anyone seeing that semi-final game would agree that both teams exhibited the kind of mental and physical strength necessary for champions.
And as to my second bit of good fortune, I found at my local Pick 'n Save grocery store knit gloves at ten pair for $10. Robbie has his first league game next weekend and the weather report is for freezing rain. My soccer emergency box was down to three pair of gloves, so I was delighted to replenish for such a bargain price. I took every pair in navy blue, black, and forest green. I suspect the seventeen pair I collected won't last until spring since they evaporate into the same alternate universe that missing socks inhabit. But I can't think about that now. I just wear a satisfied Cheshire Cat grin for finding cheap gloves and whenever I think about those boys sliding across the turf.