On October 20, 2004, I watched and announced as exciting a football game as I’ve ever seen: NRHEG and WEM were facing off for the Gopher Valley Conference crown.
We hadn’t beaten WEM since my first year here, in 1996. Anticipation was high, and the game didn’t disappoint. The hometown boys drove down as time was running down in the fourth quarter. The crowd got as loud as I’ve ever heard them as Bjorn Peterson found Carl Pederson in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with less than 30 seconds remaining. The defense held on to clinch the win and the conference title.
I can get pretty loud with the microphone. But I’m not sure how many people heard me for either the touchdown or the final score. The air was electric, and it’s one of those moments that will be engrained in many people’s minds forever.
Now think about Bjorn and Carl. Every youngster who enjoys sports envisions scenes like this. A walk-off hit. A great defensive stop. A buzzer-beater. Whatever else happened in their athletic careers, they had one of THOSE moments.
I don’t know how many hours I spent by my basketball hoop, pretending to be Larry Bird, hitting the winning bucket against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. I would watch Kirby Puckett play for the Twins and try to emulate his stance at the plate, hoping to have some pop like he did. Any Puckett fan also worked on jumping up walls to snatch back home run balls!
I did not have an illustrious athletic career by any stretch of the imagination. I was a pretty good defensive baseball player and a decent shooter in basketball, but my playing time decreased the older I got. I did get to have one of THOSE moments though.
I was about 13 or 14, and my baseball team was behind by three runs in the last inning. The bases were loaded with two outs when I strode to the plate. Now remember, I said I was a good defensive player in baseball; hitting was not my forte. I can only imagine my coach figured the game was over.
Somehow, I got a hold of a fastball and crushed it over the leftfielder’s head. I was pretty fast back in the day and was headed for third, having tied the game with my hit. As the throw came in, it flew over the third baseman’s head. I popped up immediately and headed for home and the go-ahead run.
A very good throw would have had a chance to get me. It was not even an average throw. The catcher tried to catch and swipe tag me, but never had the ball in his glove. He smacked me across the face, knocking me toward the plate, where I indeed scored. We held the other team in the bottom of the inning and celebrated a win.
And that’s my one big moment. I certainly never scored 50 points and made a huge steal as time expired in a state championship game, a la Carlie Wagner. I never hit two free throws at the end of a game to win like Lindsey Cornelius did many years ago. I never scored a touchdown in the seventh overtime like Jason Lennox did against GFW in 2003 to win a varsity event.
But you know the great thing? I’ve witnessed all of these moments. And while it’s tough to imagine what it must be like to be the hero of the moment, it’s also awfully cool to see those moments happen live.
And that’s what I love about sports, especially high school sports. You get to see the raw emotion up close and feel some ownership as a fan of that team. Let’s face it: we all feel like state champions in basketball, don’t we? And there’s nothing wrong with that, even though we never stepped foot on the court.
Our teams at NRHEG have some chances to be pretty darn good this year. The football team returns some key players and has some young kids ready to step into big roles. The volleyball team also returns plenty of experience. The wrestlers feel like they’re ready to make a big step this year.
Basketball should be fun again this year. I firmly believe both boys’ and girls’ teams have legitimate shots to play in the section finals and give themselves a chance to go to state. Along the way, who knows how many of THOSE moments we might see. Why not come out to some varsity events, just in case?
Word of the Week: This week’s word is puissance, which means power or strength, as in, “Panther athletes showed their puissance with winning records and deep playoff runs.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!