The locker room was strewn with bodies, camped out before the first varsity football game of the year. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was playing at an eardrum shattering level.
A junior in high school playing in my first varsity game, I was walking around, just trying to find my thigh pads.
I asked a friend where they might be.
“Shhhhh,” scolded one of the seniors who looked rather comatose as he soaked in one of the most classic rock tunes of all time. “Have you no respect? Are you a nonbeliever?”
What the heck was he talking about?
As the “rookies” from Columbus North and Columbus East experience their first varsity action, and therefore environment, on Friday and Saturday of this week, they will enter a whole, new world. It is a special place, where kids basically rule.
Oh sure, the coaches put in the plays, set up training schedules, kick your butt if you are late to practice.
But this pregame ritual, where you get ready to go to battle with your teammates, is one of a kind. And it’s all yours.
I know television always is credited with making football our nation’s No. 1 sport, but anyone who has been touched by the football game-day experience, whether that means playing, cheering, coaching, whatever, is moved forever.
At any North practice, coach Tim Bless yells to his players, “You get to play the greatest game in the world.”
Those who have experienced it know that a player has to navigate a lot more than the opponents when facing varsity fire the first time.
Here are just a few things that will happen this weekend.
One of your teammates will lock his keys in his car. Yes, there will be those savored moments of finishing off a song in the school parking lot, and then oops, the door slams. The experienced players on the team will have a coat-hanger handy.
One of your teammates will forget his spikes (“I thought my mom put them in my bag.”). Coach will find a spare pair, but they will be two sizes too big.
Somebody will show up with their home jersey when you are on the road. How can that possibly happen? Trust me, it will.
Somebody will lose their helmet. “But coach, they all look alike.”
A mouth guard mysteriously will disappear. “Ewww, now I have to use that sophomore’s mouth guard.”
One of the players will come out of the bathroom and the locker room will be empty. Everyone will be on the field.
Perhaps the best part of game day is the ritual that is developed by the personalities who make up the squad. Perhaps it starts with chilli for breakfast or doing donuts with the car in a parking lot. Maybe it means taking the laces out of your spikes and then threading them back in again. Maybe it means a nap.
Music is a huge part of the day. It could start with one song (mellow) at home in the morning, another in the car (hyped) and a third in the locker room (super intense head banger). Or the moods could go the opposite way. Don’t be surprised if your teammates pick a kind of theme song that is played each week right before zero hour.
Some teams like to beat the heck out of each other in the locker room pregame. Others like to bring their pulse to a stop before exploding into an opening-kickoff frenzy.
Whatever transpires, it becomes the team’s identity. Even those rookies are brought into the mix and the heart beats as one.
It won’t be long before the rookies become veterans. And they are asking, “Are you a non-believer?”
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.
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