As great as playing for a championship can be, walking into the stadium this morning knowing it’s going to be the last go-around means so much to the older players on area football teams.
The Marblehead-Swamspcott rivalry was certainly enhanced by playing for the NEC title in recent seasons, but you can’t say that Beverly-Salem has been hindered by not doing so. Over the years, there’s been as much passion in that game from Melikke Van Alstyne, Brad Skeffington and Brendan Flaherty as there would’ve been if the Lombardi Trophy itself were on the line.
The same can be said of every rivalry in the area. St. John’s Prep and Xaverian are just as intense when the title’s not up for grabs; Masconomet and North Andover lost no luster when they Knights changed leagues.
Think of the joy of Pingree, a prep school program playing on Turkey Day for the first time this morning against unbeaten and Super Bowl bound Bishop Fenwick. The kids at Fenwick went from being scheduled to play Pope John, to not playing at all, to playing against Minnechaug, to again not playing at all. Finally finding out they had a Thanksgiving Day game after all might as well have been a gift from Santa Claus for the kids on Margin Street.
Playoff berths and trophies are tangible. High school football, at its best and at its core, is intangible.
Sometimes we lose track of that. Recruiting battles, rankings, debates over the merits of playoff systems and all-star selections, and hot button terminology can dominate football discussion.
Those things seem important.
What’s important is the bond between players who have grown up together. The importance of Thanksgiving to kids that have gone through the highs and lows of any season and are sharing the field for the last time can’t be explained in words.