Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The Elements of Football
With only a third of October in the record books, an early winter storm moved in late Thursday evening and dominated the scenario in the three-town, two-state itinerary I threw together. First there were the snow flurries and blustery cold wind in Burlington and Byron, Wyoming. Saturday afternoon in Fromberg, Montana was the cherry on top of the sundae. I wondered if I would even complete the typical one-hour drive as the falling snow went from light flurries to heavy flakes between my home in Powell and the gridiron in Fromberg. By the time I reached the Falcons' home field, there was about five inches of wet snow covering the turf—complete with coaches and other staffers who were hand-shovelling the snow covering the yard line and sideline markings.
Beginning Friday afternoon in Burlington, it was a battle of 1A powerhouses (the smallest schools) between the Burlington Huskies and the Panthers of Cokeville. Given Cokeville's extreme location (on the Idaho border), it's usually a long road trip for their away games. I'm guessing the travel to Burlington was easily over six hours. Despite such disadvantages, the Panthers are always in the hunt of the 1A state title—often the victor. In contrast, Burlington has struggled over the years when it comes to games with Cokeville, but on this past Friday the difference was Burlington's successful PAT conversion following their only touchdown while Cokeville came up empty-handed after their single touchdown.
* * * * *
Typically I don't drive home after Friday night football games, but Rocky Mountain High School in nearby Byron, Wyoming is the one exception because it is only 15 miles from home. It's been 11 years since I first attended a football game at Rocky—where this modest project all started. On this particular night, I was curious to see Wind River play again after attending one of their home games earlier this season.
In what was probably attributed to the foul weather conditions, attendance was poor compared to other games I've attended in the past. Most notable however is little has changed in this small football venue—especially the lights. They seem dimmer than ever. From a photographer's perspective, I'm guessing Rocky's lights are at least three f-stops dimmer than the average illuminated gridiron. Imagine going to a well-lit football field wearing sunglasses.
In the darkness of the last quarter I decided to put away the camera and have the quintessential small town football experience—watching the game from the inside of my truck. As the engine idled away providing ample heat in the cab, the cold wind continued to blow across Rocky's muted gridiron.
The game's outcome wasn't a big surprise. Wind River easily won, although it wasn't until the second half that they finally controlled the game. The last time I looked on the scoreboard from the truck it was 36-6 with 11:52 remaining in the game.
As I drove back to Powell, I fantasized about spearheading an effort to raise money for the installation of bright and modern lights at Rocky Mountain. Given what other people spend to attend big-time college or professional games, I reckon I'm good for the first $100 toward such a cause. Are there any other takers out there?
* * * * *
Traveling to Fromberg on Saturday, my intentions earlier in the week were two-fold as I planned for a game between the neighboring schools/towns of Fromberg and Bridger—less than ten miles apart from each other.
First, I wanted to see if Bridger was as good as their record indicated.
Secondly, I suspected that this meeting on the gridiron might have been rather historic given that for several years the two have played together as an eight-man co-op. And when not sharing a team, Bridger was playing eight-man while Fromberg competed at the six-man level.
When I awoke on Saturday morning to a couple of inches of snow on the ground and more falling, I considered the two games from the day before at Burlington and Byron to be good enough and I'd simply stay home. Fortunately, I reconsidered the possibility that the game in Fromberg might look something akin to what was out my window. My only fear was driving the 60-some miles and discovering upon arrival that the game was cancelled.
In deciding to live life on the edge and completing the drive to Fromberg, I learned that Bridger is indeed a solid six-man football team and will likely go deep in the playoffs. My guess is they can play at the same level as Hysham, West Yellowstone, Geraldine and Lambert. It might come down to the team that can stay injury-free during the playoffs.
Finally, the snow. It was awesome. Never have I witnessed a football game under such conditions... much less photograph it. Fortunately the game-ending injury to Fromberg's Andrew Wallman won't be the lasting memory from that day for everyone involved. Knowing he will only miss a few practices, perhaps both teams will look beyond the victory or defeat and simply remember the game for it's pure sense of frolic and romp on the snow-covered gridiron.