Thursday, December 29, 2005

Abandoned


1 December 2002

When I come across a high school football field during the off season I always think about the ghosts that dwell there—the ghosts born from glorious victories and heartbreaking defeats. Often I find myself pausing to hear the faint cheers and moans from seasons past echoing off of the mountains in the distance. Sometimes I find myself reliving a play of my past—where I actually re-run that same route on the same location of the field just as it happened way back when.

During these visits, I sometimes see the field as an abandoned relic while other times it is the stage that has been set for a late-season playoff game where winter’s hand is introduced as a major element in the outcome of an upcoming contest. Regardless, sooner or later all gridirons are abandoned until the next season.

In the course of a year I’ve been fascinated with a gridiron’s diet of activity—a few great feasts and then a long famine until the next season commences. The feasts are seven days (at best) consisting of the rich autumn settings provided by Friday nights or Saturday afternoons. The famines that follow are clearly defined by the long, cold winters without a single event. Even the practice field sees more activity during the season although it is bland in comparison to the savory offerings of game day.

The off-seasons only bring the occasional lone visitor like myself stopping in to rekindle a memory or two from the previous or past seasons much like an individual stopping in at a church during the middle of the weekday because they feel as though Sunday won’t come soon enough. And certainly many of these gridirons set in the more scenic areas of Wyoming and Montana could be thought of as sanctuaries or alters to the game. If Notre Dame Stadium is the St. Peter’s of gridiron football, then any of the fields in towns like Alberton, Custer or Highwood are the little wayside chapels found in the wilderness.

This morning while walking the field in Powell, I considered the lifelong memories fields like this have provided over the years. Like a graveyard, it seems so abandoned—so forgotten and overlooked despite the space it takes up. How can something so instrumental—so focused upon in a community during any given autumn weekend become so abolished in appearance? Given all the memories generated at such a facility, it seems realistic that those who consider themselves retired from the game would feel obligated to drop in on a gridiron in their retirement—kind of like a brotherhood to the game or maintaining a vigil for a sick loved one in the hospital.

On this cold, early December day—with another season just completed—I stood in the south end zone of Powell’s gridiron (as a former player myself) listening for the thundering cleats, the popping of shoulder pads, the cheers of the home crowd or the commanding cries of a quarterback and wondering if my visit has made any difference in this gridiron’s seemingly inanimate but sometimes glorious existence. I imagine all the other fields I’ve been to on those glorious game days and what they are like now, so much further away and beyond my reach they seem—how would I see them in their winter solitude?

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