I’ll come clean here – when the Oliver Ames High School football team clinched the Davenport Division title and a playoff berth over in Sharon on Thanksgiving Day with a win over the Eagles, I did not consider it a big deal.
I said so fairly loudly, in writing and verbally.
I believe strongly there should be still only one Hockomock League – not a Hockomock League Rex-Kelley Division (large schools) and a Davenport Division (small schools) – and the winner of the league should be the sole Hockomock participant in the Eastern Massachusetts playoffs.
(People in Easton and in the surrounding area hold strong views on this Hockomock two division business, and my Wednesday column will focus on the break up of the league and changes that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has made in the structure of the postseason.)
OA can beat any team in the Hockomock League – er, I mean, any team which was a member of what used to the Hockomock League. It doesn’t need to win a “small school” division to get into the playoffs.
I also considered it a bit surreal – a very tiny bit surreal – that a 6-4 Tiger team would be going on to the postseason.
And this has nothing to do with the players. They are outside of this, and they did what they had to do within circumstances and a system that they did not create.
Yet, also, I did say that if OA managed to beat a 10-0-0 Pembroke in the Eastern Massachusetts Div. IIIA semifinal, then that would be a big deal.
OA pulled off a shocker last Tuesday night, defeating the Titans, 20-12, and earning a meeting against 12-0-0 Concord-Carlisle in the EMass Div. IIIA Super Bowl the following Saturday morning at Gillette Stadium.
OA would run into a buzz saw and locomotive and churning machine in the Concord-Carlisle Patriots – which I dare say would rank at the top, or near the top, of all Eastern Mass high school football teams in all divisions this season.
Yes, the Tigers got thumped 42-9.
C-C was too big and too strong for OA. Still, despite the lopsided score, the Tigers were able to move the ball and get first downs – and I was impressed with OA’s toughness and speed. Also, OA turned the ball over four times, which you definitely cannot do against a team that has more size and strength than you.
Anyone who has competed with focus and intensity and passion in sports or business, or any sector, can tell you – and this applies to teams as well as individuals – that being on the bad end of a butt whooping can ultimately be a hugely positive and valuable experience; it is all about what frame of mind one has in regarding the loss, how that person responds to defeat, what is learned from the loss, and if and how that person uses the whooping as a source of motivation and a firing inspiration to improve.
(Consider in 1992, when No. 9 Boston College came in to South Bend, IN to face No. 8 Notre Dame. What a matchup, right? Not really; not at all. ND won 54-7. The following season, No. 17 BC was back in South Bend to play No. 1 and undefeated ND, which was coming off a huge upset win over Florida State. It looked like it would be more of the same. But it wasn't. BC kicker Dave Gordon kicked a field goal as the game clock hit 00:00 and the Eagles beat the Irish, 31-29 – in an upset for the ages.)
The OA players, and the team, can come out the 2011 season and the Pembroke win and Concord-Carlisle defeat with education and confidence, with a fervent and burning desire, to take it to a new level, to a level in which it can beat all Hockomock schools, in both divisions.
This post-season ride of a little more than a week, from Thanksgiving Day on, was fun and good overall for the football program and all of OA, and Easton. OA alums were getting fired up in person, on the phone, and online. Facebook was busy with OA fan support and wishes.
Thanks to developments in online communication, and the way , OA grads and Tiger fans across America were able to not only view and listen to the real-time play-by-play reporting and footage of the OA semifinal and Super Bowl game – but also to post comments on the electronic play-by-play tape as it rolled on their screens.
On Tuesday night, my sister, Suzy (OA ’84), was in front of her computer in her home in Evanston, IL , as was her OA classmate, Kristin (Hollis) Merriman, 2000 miles away in the San Francisco suburb of Mill Valley.
Both women were back at their computers on Saturday morning for the OA-CC tilt which, along with all of the Massachusetts high school Super Bowls, had far broader media coverage than the playoff games. Suzy picked up the Patch broadcast, and Kristin pulled up the ESPN Boston feed.
Another broadcast was offered through the Boston radio station WBZ 98.5 FM – via the regional airwaves and globally over the Internet.
I dare say that at the game at Gillette, there were former OA football players in the stands who had not been at an OA game in years. This is all good.
So many positives. How cool was it early on Friday night, while the OA team was having a pre-game pasta dinner in the OA cafeteria, Tiger coach Jim Artz, with his players around him, and as it had been arranged, made a call to an OA alum who was in his home in Florida. Who picked up the phone but Jim Craig (OA ’75), former OA Tiger athlete, Olympic gold medalist, and goalie for the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
Coach Artz had his phone connected to speakers in the cafeteria, and Jim gave the kids a pep talk. After the call and dinner, the OA players sat in the cafeteria and watched together on a big screen the Disney movie, Miracle, which tells the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
(There is a precedent in using Miracle to pump up teams. The 2004 Boston Red Sox watched the movie in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium prior to the ALCS 7th game; Theo Epstein also called Jim Craig on the phone about half hour prior to the game, and put Jim on the line with the Red Sox starting pitcher that night, Derek Lowe – and Jim offered some words of advice. The Alabama Crimson Tide football team watched Miracle the night prior to its 2010 BCS championship game win in the Rose Bowl over Texas.)
Central, of course, to the thrill of going to a Super Bowl is that the OA players and coaches had the experience of competing in Gillette Stadium. You know you just hold on to that tightly forever.
There were so many wonderful things, so much coming together, so much of a building of community spirit, that happened – and which would not have happened had OA not qualified for the postseason.