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It’s beginning to look a lot like Friday Night Lights out at Collins High School.
The TV cameras are on the sidelines, reporters are sticking notepads and microphones into the faces of guys who barely shave and Coach Jerry Lucas is trying to keep everything in perspective, even if he’s not married to the principal and no auto dealer is looking over his shoulder or whispering into his ear (that we know of).
Thus is the world of teams playing for state football championships. We may not be Texas, friends, but this is Texas-sized terrific.
The Dillon Panthers’ Matt/Smash/Tim combo is being played with great precision these days by the Collins Titans’ Lawson/Dre/Logan, and we get the feeling that these three may not go down so easily in their final episode, either.
This is a big stage in life for about 50 kids who wear the teal and black, and even when they evolve to Dr. Scholl’s and bifocals, they won’t forget their roles in this teenaged drama.
Take it from a guy who attended a couple of Super Bowls that were decided in the last minute, there is no more dramatic and ineffable moment in life than a state high school championship.
Those Super Bowl guys, they get a chance to play in that game every season for a decade or so. Hasn’t Tom Brady played in about 20 Super Bowls? Joe Montana has more rings than Liberace (look it up).
(And, speaking of the most-hyped television show in history – that’s Dallas, not the Super Bowl, of course – we pause to pay reverence to the great Larry Hagman, best TV villain ever. If Hagman were as evil as J.R. Ewing, then he likely now would be residing somewhere very south of Southfork Ranch.)
But for high school players, there is perhaps one shining moment of grandeur in a lifetime, a place to build memories and script legend.
Thousands of boys have played football in Shelby County. Only three groups of them have played for state championships, and only one – the 1987 Shelby County Rockets – has brought home the big trophy.
Do you think the kids who lined up as extras and upstaged Boone County’s title show that day would trade that moment in the spotlight for anything? If you were a parent or friend or classmate of one of them, don’t you remember every second, every beat of your heart and every snapshot your brain’s hard drive can store?
Decades have passed since I saw Shelby County win a state basketball championship, but all the big games from that season and the seasons before it remain vivid to a pimply faced midget sitting in the bleachers. Can you imagine having been on the court?
Friday Night Lights transformed high school football from small-town sport to national theater. That Pulitzer-winning novel, its manicured movie version and the indelible Emmy-winning TV series portrayed high school athletes as the driven and focused kids that we expect them to be.
But even those who are the most driven don’t have the perspective of accomplishment. That can only come with time, a glance over the shoulder, an image framed by perspective.
For so many boys who played at Shelby County schools, football was a tease for generations. The late Bruce Daniel and Puss Greenwell put up conference championship teams at Shelbyville High School but never got on track to the finale.
At SCHS, there were some good records posted in the early days of the school, but when Dan Goble took over in 1969, there was much rebuilding to be done, starting right off with an 0-10 season, an agonizing saga I recorded dutifully in the pages of theShelby Sentinel.
But in two years Goble’s team did what many SCHS teams did – danced with greatness but didn’t get the date. The Rockets in 1972 went 9-1 but didn’t make the state playoffs because of a district loss to Meade County. That frustrating exit happened a lot around here before playoffs expanded to include, well, everyone: Good records often didn’t mean a postseason role.
And even when they did, good teams often didn’t win the prize they pursued.
In 1976 and 1977 Tom Becherer took the Rockets to the Class AAA final, losing the latter, 6-0, on a frigid, snowy day to Highlands, this week’s opponent. In 1993, six years after the championship, he took a better team there and lost a close game to Male.
There have been good teams after that, teams that won often, great offensive powers from SCHS that made regional finals earlier in this century. None of them got near this pinnacle.
And now, in Collins High School’s third year, there will be another chance to immerse in that ultimate moment, record those mental videos and store everlasting memories.
The engineers, bakers and touchdown makers who in 2010 fell on the western side of the great high school divide – or chose to cross it – are now the players of a transcendental moment in the history of our old county, a foundational event.
We don’t know what will happen Saturday in Bowling Green, but we are certain of this:
We won’t soon forget how it played out that Friday night under the lights.