Friday Night Lights: The Playoffs

Minerva Lions — 2011 NBC Champs / Photo courtesy of Liz Smith, 2011

Situated halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh lies a sleepy little village called Minerva, OH. And it’s pretty safe to say that inside this tiny speck on the map there isn’t much going on. Most of the year it is fairly quiet. Until football season that is.

Between the months of August and November Minerva and all of the surrounding specks on the map turn into quite different places. We may not have the ocean, the mountains, 365 days of sunshine or celebrities on parade — though we do have several zoos… But that’s another post for another day.

One thing we do have is high school football.

It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t from here just what all the fuss is about. But I can tell you that it’s about community and pride and the spirit of competition. It’s about cramming as many of your friends and neighbors and maybe your not-so-friendly neighbors into the bleachers on a crisp, Friday night and sharing an experience. Enjoying, for once, what it means to have everything in common… if only for a few hours.

In this place we love our team whether they are good or bad… but even more so when they’re good. And this year, in Minerva, the team is good. Really good. After completing a thrilling 10-0 season and securing the 2011 Northeastern Buckeye Conference Championship, they made history one week ago today by winning our first playoff game EVER. Our team has gone to the playoffs plenty of times, but we’ve never known what it’s like to go on after that. And while that may not seem like a very big deal to you… trust me, around here… IT’S A BIG DAMN DEAL.

Tonight, for the first time in the history of small town Minerva Lions football, we will get our chance…

The following is something that I wrote three years ago, during my first football season after moving back “home” from New Mexico. I honestly don’t know that I can capture the emotion of it any better than I did in my original Friday Night Lights piece. For those of you who don’t quite “get it” when it comes to small mid-western towns OR football… please tune in on Monday when I’ll have something different to offer.

But for all of you who do get it and who will be cheering from the stands right beside me… Enjoy… Post this to your Facebook page… Email it to your friends… But most importantly… GO LIONS!!

Photo courtesy of Liz Smith, 2011

Friday Night Lights

The season is so brief, maybe that’s what makes it so special. In northeastern Ohio, football is king. After all, The Pro Football Hall of Fame is only 20 miles away from my little hometown. Professionally speaking, we may have one of the worst teams in the NFL… but that doesn’t stop us from loving the sport. It may infuriate us and cause people to occasionally fly into fits of rage and throw things… but that’s OK. It just demonstrates how much we care.

However on Fridays, we tend to forget how terrible our pro team is and turn our attention to a different set of heroes: The local high school football teams. They don’t play for fame or money… they play for their schools, their towns, their classmates and teammates. And more importantly… they play with their hearts.

There is something magical in the air on Fridays. It’s as if the whole community is anxiously awaiting the upcoming battle that will happen later in the evening beneath the bright stadium lights. Businesses show their support by placing signs in their windows and merchants display and sell all sorts of items that carry the local mascot. Homes are adorned in bright school colors with flags and banners. Students wear jerseys, t-shirts and face paint to demonstrate their allegiance. And by early afternoon the pep-rallies are in full-swing.

At 7 p.m. it’s as if there is nowhere else in the world to be than at the stadium. The town is empty and the only sound you’ll hear for miles is that of the marching band and the voice of the announcer. The stands are packed and so are the fences that surround the field. Everyone has found a spot to settle in and watch their favorite high school hero for the next several hours. The younger kids run through the crowds tossing the football, no doubt imagining the day when they will be on that field and all eyes will be fixed on them. The adults are likely arguing about the official’s call or even more likely reminiscing about their own glory days… when they too were charged with the energy of youth, fueled by endless possibilities.

It lasts for just 10 weeks, a little longer if you’re lucky. And in that brief time the world around us will transform from the warmth of summer, through the brilliance of autumn and into the colder grasp of winter. The grass on the field turns brown and frosted, the bleachers stand cold and empty, the loud speaker is silenced and the Friday night lights go out. All grows quiet as the world retreats indoors and a few stray snowflakes start to fall across the faded white lines of a vacant field.

Until next year…