August 04, 2007

Thrown for Such a Loss

THE MANCHESTER WOLVES' season was not supposed to end this way. An experienced playoff team that outplayed and outfoxed and outgunned its rivals through the waning weeks of the season was not supposed to lose to a relatively untested squad that it outplayed and outfoxed throughout Friday night's game. But the unthinkable happened and Manchester fell to the Central Valley Coyotes, of Fresno, Calif., in a heartbreaker of a game that was lost as time ran out.

Perhaps the hardest part about the loss was that Manchester beat themselves. In the aggregate, Manchester outplayed its opponents from Fresno. The team pulled off key defensive stops in the second half, the offense generally played well and so did the special teams. But Manchester, despite generally leading the game by one to two touchdowns throughout, just couldn't put the game away when it needed to do so. That gave Fresno the opening to come back and win with a last-second field goal that flew straight and true and beat the Wolves 42-41.

It is hard to determine where the blame, if any, should be laid. Our quarterback, Mark Radlinski, threw two crucial interceptions as we were within striking distance of Fresno's goal line -- and one of them was a true lulu, an amazingly horrible pass right into the waiting arms of a defender. But there was also a fumble and a missed extra point and an on-side kick that we should have recovered but didn't. Wherever the blame lies, it is hard to be too upset about it, because I know the team even now is beating itself up over its loss more than any of its fans can ever do. Plus, it's a local team filled with hard-working guys who make a nominal wage and play for the love of the game, and that salves a lot. That alone makes it easy to forgive.

It can be tough to forgive when your team blows it, and when the stakes are high I fully admit I do not easily forgive when things go down in flames. I will never, for instance, forgive former Pittsburgh Steelers Kordell Stewart or Tommy Maddox for their failures over the years. That's not to say I think they are bad people, of course, and when I speak of not forgiving it is not a personal thing. Rather, it is more in line with military discipline, where failure is not an option and the punishment is being relieved of command (or worse).

I have no doubt Messrs Stewart and Maddox are wonderful and God-fearing people, but in both cases I felt they had forfeited their rights to wear the Steelers uniform long before they eventually left the team. Coach Lloyd Carr, of the University of Michigan, is a similar case; his continued failure to win crucial bowl games, and his recent failures to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, cannot be easily washed away. His only saving grace is the national championship Michigan won in 1997. It's one thing when you're making $250 a game but when you're making seven or even eight figures a season, the bars are necessarily far higher.

On the other hand, though, continued success must be commensurately rewarded. Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu and Bill Cowher will always be in my good book football-wise for their accomplishments as Steelers. I don't care if Roethlisberger leads the Steelers to a 2-14 season this year; for two years, he gave me hope and in one year he gave me a Super Bowl victory. At Michigan, old-school quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive coordinator Ron English will similarly always be in my good book football-wise.

And the Wolves have consistently been a good football team. Their games have always been enjoyable and everyone in the organization works hard and they generally do what they set out to do. As a fan, I owe them a debt of thanks for making my normally soul-crushing summers filled with a bit of joy. So even though I'm feeling rather disappointed right now, I certainly can't call for the type of changes I would be demanding if Pittsburgh or Michigan had dropped the ball.

Still, it does hurt. On a scale of 1 to 10, where "1" indicates the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders lost a close game and I note this fact wth disapproval but feel no emotional loss, and where "10" indicates the Pittsburgh Steelers losing the Super Bowl in a horrible, soul-crushing finish that saps the very life out of me, this ranks about a 6. I'm going to be down about this all tonight and all day tomorrow and much of Sunday -- right until about 8 p.m. or so, when I focus on the Steelers playing in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, and the NFL pre-season kicks off. For then I will have to put these feelings aside, stand up and root, root, root for my team.

Because there is always next year. And when it arrives, you can't focus on the past. You've got to stand up, wipe off the grit and focus on the present and the future. That goes for teams and fans alike. So on Sunday I will have my Terrible Towel at the ready and cheer on my Steelers and when next April rolls around, I'll be back and cheering for the Manchester Wolves.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 4, 2007 12:06 AM | TrackBack
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