This past week has been one for the highlight reel in sports. Our favorite, Phil Mickelson, won the Masters Golf Championship, evidence that there is a certain cosmic justice in the universe.
In addition, we were invited to be present when Larry Miller’s jersey, # 9, was retired in the rafters of the Energy Solutions Arena during half-time at the Jazz game.
Both events had particular meaning for us.
But there’s one athletic contest that will not go down in history or even be recorded by avid sports writers. And it was the most inspiring.
It took place last Saturday. Here’s how it happened.
Necie, our only granddaughter, had a soccer game that morning, like every kid her age in the neighborhood. It is a rite of passage for children these days.
Her team, however, was decimated, due to illness and vacations. She was one player of only four. Besides Necie, there were Justice, Anna and Trevor. (No “Suzy” or “Bill” on the roster.) They were the core four, ribbons and pony tails flapping in the breeze, and smiling their first-grade, six-year-old smiles – not a single front tooth among them.
Their coach reviewed their game strategy, lined them up, and told them to play hard and have fun. The day looked promising.
Then the other team took the field. They were all boys…whose mouths revealed two rows each of adult teeth. This was obviously their first string, and the coach called them by name, like Santa’s roll call of his most infamous mutant reindeer: On Brutus! On Caius Cassius! Let’s go, Iago! Come on, Mephastophales!
I turned to Dennis and said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
The whistle blew, and the game began. Well, the Goths moved down the field like rotweilers with distemper. Our team ran, scrambled, and fell in futility, as the ball went swift and sure to the goal. Nothing but net.
Their fans roared their terrible roar, and gnashed their terrible teeth.
This burned about 25 seconds off the game clock. At this point, all our parents and grandparents were checking their watches, praying the playing time would expire and end the merciless massacre. We still had 44 ½ minutes to go.
We all shouted encouragement like, “Way to hang in there,” and “Shake if off,” and “You’ll get ‘em next time!”
Our guys would line up again, smile their toothless grins, and try to defend against the onslaught. Twenty seconds later the ball exploded into the center of the net. Our team’s defense was as porous as their teeth.
The fans on our side collectively contorted into the fetal position, as if each goal were a personal sucker-punch to the solar plexis, hoping the groans were not audible. We averted our eyes for the humiliation.
Once more, Necie, Justice, Anna and Trevor assembled, ready to play.
After six goals in rapid succession, their coach put in their B team, calling them individually to the line: Atilla, Taras Bulba, Vlad the Impaler, and Caligula.
We watched as their goals mounted. But interestingly, for every point they scored, our team lined up ready to play again. These kids were exhausted, thirsty, sucking wind – and there were no subs on the entire planet to provide respite.
Suddenly, there was a palpable shift in the momentum – not with the players, but with the crowd. We uncoiled from our contortions and began genuinely cheering these diminutive, intrepid gladiators.
Then came the miracle. Due to some cosmic anomaly, Anna was able to kick the ball into OUR net. The crowd went insane, standing, ovating. John Stockton’s winning, 3-point buzzer-beater paled by comparison.
It was now 12-1.
The team ramped up their efforts. Necie got her mojo. She defended. She deflected. She blocked. She intercepted. She had the tenacity of a pit bull, and thwarted their attempts to score once again…or it would have been 13-1. Ha! Not on Necie’s watch!
As a supreme humanitarian gesture, the time ran out. We mobbed the team; they were nearly carried off the field on our shoulders and crowned with laurel wreaths.
In an act of consummate sportsmanship, all the parents of both sides formed a victory arc de triumph for each of the players to run through…praise and glory all around.
There were no losers this day. There was no defeat. While we did not get the victory, we got the triumph. Their team won the game. Our team won the hearts.
I learned some important things that morning. Possibly the best lessons are taught before we have all our adult teeth. Maybe it isn’t about winning and the idea that anything less is losing. “Nice try” is just that – a nice try. To conquer, to dominate, just may not be the sole purpose of competition. Perhaps reciting the Olympic Creed is more authentic than chanting “We’re number one!”
Hmmm. I pondered the possibilities.
So, in light of my new enlightenment, I have decided to declare my New Year’s Resolutions. Yes, I do know it’s April. But I cannot be held accountable for commitments made under the influence of mainlining fruit cake and the annual holiday dietary glut. Nor should said resolutions be emblazoned on stone tablets carried down from Mt. Sinai to hold us hostage.
No. Resolutions should be seasonally adjusted, becoming the servants of one’s whims and caprice of the moment. Expediency must be the guiding principle.
Ergo, with the understanding that victory is not always triumph, here are my mid-term “gonna do’s,” designed solely to bring me joy.
1. Lower the level of my discourse.
2. Drink an entire bottle of Orange Crush without pausing to take a breath and belch the Gettysburg Address.
3. Eat cucumber sandwiches.
4. Invite myself to someone’s picnic in the park
5. Attend every garage sale and farmer’s market.
6. Redefine haute cuisine to include hot dogs at the ball park.
7. Stifle the groan when I arise after stooping to wipe a grandkid’s nose.
8. Start singing Christmas carols on the 4th of July.
9. Go hang gliding…and then –
10. Have a comprehensive psychological evaluation. (If I reversed the order of #9 and #10, I’d never go hang gliding.)
We’ll see what May brings.