My doubleheader day of football began at 3:13 p.m. Friday in south Minneapolis. I got out of the car -- a block or so from Minneapolis Southwest’s football stadium -- and heard the song “My Girl” playing on the p.a. system. Nice. The day came to a close (the pre-writing part of the day, anyway) a little more than seven hours later when I pulled into my garage but remained in my car for a couple more minutes, listening to the radio as scores were reported from games played all over Minnesota.
I’ve come to a firm conclusion: This is a pretty good deal, this gig I have. What’s better than spending your workdays watching young athletes play their hearts out while their families and friends cheer them on? Friday can be summed up with a stream of consciousness that includes two halftime hot dogs eaten 63 miles apart, an overturned car on the interstate, the White Stripes, rain, mud and a quarterback called for holding.
Jump in the passenger seat as we turn the key and get going …
The first hot dog was a pregame meal, thrown down the gullet 15 minutes before kickoff as Edina played at Minneapolis Southwest in a 4 p.m. start. At 3:56 the Southwest Lakers were all charged up to run onto the field, but the coaches held them back (see photo at right) as they waited for the proper song to be cued up on the p.a. system. There must have been a mixup, because the Lakers came roaring out from behind the bleachers with “The Zamboni Song” providing the soundtrack.
A vuvuzela was heard from the Edina crowd as I chatted on the sideline with WCCO-AM producer Steve Enck (an Edina resident). This was just the day’s first brush with radio greatness. Edina cruised to a 47-13 victory, sparked by 18-yard first-quarter touchdown runs by Jake Remes and Nick Rallis. The score was 19-0 after Nate Carlson connected with Devin Crawford-Tufts for a 50-yard TD pass with 9:05 left in the second quarter. That was my cue to depart for Game 2, knowing that Edina’s schedule will quickly ramp up as the Hornets’ next four opponents are Wayzata, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and St. Thomas Academy.
I was back in the car at 5 p.m. Three minutes later I was on the Crosstown freeway, absolutely crawling. Half an hour later traffic was moving well on Owatonna-bound Interstate 35… until a big pileup brought everything to a halt. One vehicle was upside down in the median and two or three others were crunched up. Several drivers had already pulled over to help – law enforcement and medical personnel had not yet arrived -- and there didn’t appear to be anything more the rest of us could do. Onward.
(To see photo galleries and video clips from Friday's travels, go to the MSHSL Facebook page).
6:06: A quick diversion to the Medford McDonald’s, because man cannot live on hot dogs alone.
6:15: As the lights of Owatonna’s stadium came into view in the distance, so did flashes of lightning.
6:25: I parked on a residential street behind the stadium to hear someone from Mankato West say to someone from Owatonna, “Thank you for making the rain stop.” Not so fast, friend. Umbrella … check. Raincoat … check.
The Owatonna band was cranking out a Green Day tune, followed by the White Stripes. In the rain, this was an outstanding effort. During the anthem, I held my hat over my camera; Owatonna girls’ lacrosse coach Bill Bernard asked me, “Do you want another hat to hold over your camera?” No, but thanks for asking, Bill.
When Mankato West and Owatonna meet on the football field in the Big 9 Conference, it is quite the contrary styles. West uses a no-huddle, spread offense while the Huskies employ a double wing, with everybody bunched up like a fist. Owatonna quarterback Mitch Hawkins routinely pitched the ball to his running backs and then led the way into the hole, throwing blocks.
As I was holding my umbrella with my left hand and shooting photographs with my right hand, a fellow on the sideline asked, “How do you do that with one hand?” Best question of the day. Answer: Very uncomfortably.
West scored on its second play of the game, with Tyler Resner scooting 63 yards for six. West is a notorious passing team behind big, skilled junior quarterback Philip Nelson, but the Scarlets did all their scoring on the ground in defeating Owatonna 21-8. Nelson – who is surely a top five QB in Minnesota this year and could be at the top of the heap a year from now – ran for TDs of 12 and 8 yards, the first one coming one play after teammate Nick Kaus intercepted an Owatonna pass.
Late in the first half I downed hot dog No. 2. This one got a little soggy, because I didn’t notice the steady drip coming off the concession stand roof. At halftime, I had the honor of being interviewed by Roy Koenig (The Voice of the Huskies) on KRFO 1390 AM. Roy asked about my job with the MSHSL and my past life at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I didn’t trip over my tongue too badly, I hope.
Along with radio coverage, the Owatonna football games can also be viewed via live webcasts courtesy of the Owatonna People’s Press at owatonna.com. This is very cool stuff.
Having been soaked to the bone during the rainy first half, I remained in the press box (pictured above) in the second half, hanging out with my sportswriting colleagues Chad Courrier from the Mankato Free Press and Ian Stauffer from the People’s Press. Among the second-half highlights was what appeared to be a holding call on Nelson. I asked West coach Mark Esch about it after the game, and he wasn’t aware of such a call.
“But I wouldn’t put it past him,” Esch said. “He’s a heck of a competitor.”
After the game was over and soggy people returned to their cars and homes, Esch stood encircled by his players. The Scarlets are ranked No. 3 in Class 4A and the victory gave them the inside track to the Big 9 title. But the coach – following the mantra of all smart coaches – was not satisfied.
“Right now we’re not where we want to be,” he told the boys.
The drive home brought some interesting radio news: Glencoe-Silver Lake, the No. 1 team in 3A, had lost to Waconia … a dozen fumbles were reported during Brainerd’s victory over Willmar … and lightning strikes had forced the Rochester game between Century and Mayo to be moved to Saturday. Interesting news on an interesting, exciting, fun-filled day.
The Scarlets may not be where they want to be. But me? I’m exactly where I want to be.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 37
*Miles John has driven: 1,778
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