Gridiron Harmony: Winning Big & Sportsmanship
FALL BY THE WAYSIDE: fail to persist in an endeavor or undertaking: many readers will fall by the wayside as the terminology becomes more complicated.
Sometimes good sportsmanship is a dicey thing to define but, if you ever need to see an illustration of good sportsmanship in its purest form, Montana Class C six-man football will likely give you the most prolific demonstration.
I found myself wondering about it as I watched the six-man title game in Hot Springs this past weekend. With a halftime score advantage of 49-0 over their opponent from Big Sandy, the Savage Heat continued to play their starters for the entire game despite establishing an unquestionable superiority over the Pioneers early on. The bleeding finally stopped when the last seconds ticked off even though the scoreboard read 77-0. Thank goodness for the continuous running clock.
From the Montana High School Association Football Handbook: “In Classes A, B or C (8 and 6 player) football game, if at any time the score differential reaches 35 points or more, the clock will not be stopped when: A) The ball goes out-of-bounds. B) A forward pass is incomplete. C) A fair catch is made or awarded. D) A touchback occurs. E) A first down is declared. If the score differential falls below 35 points, normal timing procedures will be utilized.”
Even the Billings Gazette mentioned the lopsided score, citing it as the largest winning victory in a title game, previously held by Moore when they defeated Brady 63-13 in the 1984 six-man championship. However, it fell just shy of the 80 points scored in one contest when Geraldine needed all but one of those 80 points to defeat Custer 80-78 in the 2003 title game.
When I asked a couple of Big Sandy fans about it, they weren’t as resentful as I would have suspected. In fact, the few I spoke with with were downright understanding but, they all agreed that pulling their starters after a big lead would have been their choice had they been the Hot Springs coach—if nothing else to give the reserve players the opportunity to have played in a title game.
“It’s a coach’s prerogative,” cited one fan. “But, if I faced them another time and the tables were turned, I’d return today’s favor.”
I was tempted to ask one of the Savage Heat coaches what the motive was for leaving their starters in for the entire game with such a commanding lead but, I suspected that such a query would take away from a coach’s earned championship celebration. Simply put, it seemed like an unsportsmanlike question in the wake of such jubilation.
Ultimately my hope is that there was some hidden or unknown rationale for the apparent sportsmanship faux pas. Perhaps both coaches agreed before the game that no matter the outcome, they were going to play their starters the entire game because it would be their last (at least for the eight seniors from both teams who started). I’d like to believe that this rationale, although not obvious, was the factor in the overstated victory.
For all I know, there had been some trash talk going on between the two teams during the past week via an Internet chat room. That would certainly explain the game’s outcome as well.
Of course, some would say that such scores are often the nature of six-man football which I wouldn’t dispute. Yet, when an existing lopsided score becomes even more acute, it is often the result of the reserve teams adding their own tallies to the scoreboard.
Whatever the rationale behind the “piling on the points” by Hot Springs, I hope there was plenty of good intention behind it as opposed to the annihilation and humiliation of their opponent—which would be a contradiction to one of six-man football’s most outstanding attributes. Mind you, what often appears on the surface and the intentions underneath aren’t always the same, nor are they known by the average fan/spectator during such lopsided matches.
Small town high school football has always reminded me of the stories my father would tell when he played football in the early 1940s; a time when the game wasn’t hyped up, good sportsmanship was practiced by everyone who played, and there was an air of innocence to it—more so than today’s game. And back then, I’m told they didn’t have playoffs. So, after a 7-0 season all one could say was that their team went 7-0, period. There was nothing to prove beyond that.
Don’t get me wrong here: I look forward to the playoffs as much as anyone, but it is a bit disconcerting if their arrival somehow translates to a downgrade or dismissal of good sportsmanship.