I watch film. Game film. To most people watching game film as a youth football coach is the equivalent of topping off your boat’s live well when you’re bass fishing with dynamite. But it can mean the difference between a play that wins the game and a play that loses it. Or a player that wins the game or loses it. And while it’s supposed to be fun and esteem building and all of that other stuff, it gets very serious when a coach realizes that thirty something players believe you should have all the answers and put their faith in you to get it right.
So I watch a lot of film.
Of course there is a flip side. The same eye for detail used to break down an opponent’s tendencies and weaknesses can make watching your game film uncomfortable. Every mistake moved from the reel of the projector to the reel of the mind. Every missed opportunity advertised for an audience of one. So, once the season is over, I don’t watch film. Maybe, I say to myself, when my son is thirty and I’m mostly dead and we need something to entertain ourselves during Thanksgiving I’ll drop the tape in and relive the past with a less accusing eye.
Problem is, my memory sucks. I can remember getting ready for the game against Southeast Louisiana. I remember the game plan. Press the offense. Overload with blitzes and force the action. Set the edge and take away the speed advantage- if New Orleans had anything, we reasoned, it was speed and it had to be negated. Defense always shines early in a tournament so don’t overload our guys with too much and let them play fast. The game? Just a blur.
So I put in the tape.
First thing that struck me- Southeast was bigger than we were. And faster. Then I remembered a conversation I had with my son during warm-ups.
Jack: “Here they come.”
Me: “No. Too big. That’s the 8th grade team getting off the field.”
Jack: “Then why are they warming up?”
Me: “Maybe they’re just being thorough.”
Second thing-the game was sloppy. We made too many mistakes. They made more. And that was the difference in the game. It was to be expected when kids had only played together for a week or two. We would see as the tournament progressed that the mistakes would be less frequent, their impacts tremendous.
Third- the game hinged on moments. Cliché, I know, but so true. In a one-and-done tournament you never know the moment that decides your fate, the one that sends you home or sends you on. We had a moment.
Southeast had not made a first down. Mid fourth quarter, down by six and at their own thirty they have their best offensive play of the game. The Hail Mary was picked by our all-everything safety and downed at our thirty. Three and out and we set up to punt.
Then, the moment.
The coaches put their heads together to strategize. Until then we had not punted, trusting our defense- who had not allowed a first down- to keep everything out front. I wanted to get the ball as far away from the other end zone as possible. The others wanted a shot at a first down. I begged not to give my guys a short field. They relented. Everyone’s eyes turned to the punter. The backup to the backup quarterback. Spotless jersey.
The punt was partially blocked. It should have been blocked into the end zone. Somebody got through but Elliott stood his ground and delivered. The prettiest 5 yard punt I’ve ever seen. I let down my guard and talked to the kid as a grownup as he left the field.
“Son, they couldn’t fit your balls in a dump truck!”
Final score: Northwest Louisiana 6. Southeast Louisiana 0. We lived to fight the next day. We didn’t know it at the time, but this game would turn out to be our toughest victory. Of course, none of the victories were easy.
The film doesn’t lie.
I watch the film and am reminded of things I had forgotten. A play. A conversation. A moment. Things that, at the time, I believed would be etched in my memory forever. Things so powerful I thought I’d never forget. And I think, what else have I lost? What other memories are my “tears in the rain?”
Maybe I shouldn’t trust my memory so much. Maybe there are memories so important they shouldn’t be entrusted to the same brain that forgets his kid’s lunches or to pay the water bill. Growing up my dad would be in the stands at our games or on vacation decked out like a Japanese tourist. Video camera. Nikon with telephoto lens and kung fu grip. Back then I thought he was trying to get out of riding Space Mountain at Disney World or coaching first base. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe he was making sure the memories stayed when his brain failed. That we’d always have those memories whether we were reminded of them or not. For my fortieth birthday he took all of my game films- the ones he recorded- and put them on DVD for me.
I should watch more film.
- The FBU National Championship, Part 1: Armageddon (hwrighttyndall.wordpress.com)