“There was a heartbeat in those stands that dotted the Friday nights of Texas and Oklahoma and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida and all of America like a galaxy of stars, a giant, lurking heartbeat.” - H.G. Bissinger
On Friday night, I sat in the new Wakefield High School press box and watched two old rivals play football under the lights.
I talked to local reporters and sat just inches away from Wakefield's offensive coordinator, who was separated from me by a thin pane of glass. I kept my own stats, did that hashmark math they don't teach in journalism school, and wrote and re-wrote the story's lede in my head.
In the end, the Warriors defeated Melrose with an overtime field goal. The kicker, a shy senior named Sal Lo Brutto, won the game. As I stood by the locker room, waiting for the game's hero to give a quote, one of his teammates poked his head out and yelled, “They're here for Sal!”
Later, he and his teammates walked back to the main high school building. His buddies chanted his name. Cheerleaders formed a tunnel, and he walked through with a calm, if not bashful, look on his face. In is right hand he held the game ball.
In his head, he was capturing memories.
During those three hours, far away from my desk and petitions and e-mails and texts, I finally felt like I was covering football. With everything stripped away, I had the opportunity to watch two teams just play the game. There were no politics and only one side to the story.
I sat in my car in the Wakefield parking lot, and for a brief moment I remembered what I love about this game.
On the drive home I starting thinking about UMass football - the forced scandals, the scathing reports and the bickering – and I said to myself, “What the hell is going on here?” I knew there would be a greater spotlight put on the program once it moved up, but I had no idea how many roaches would scatter when the switch flipped.
There was no way to know that UMass had so many opponents off the field. Who could have guessed that professors would drop half-truths on once-respectable news organizations? Who knew that the school's own graduates would ignore the product when it fell in their laps?
Did anyone think that, once everything settled, former Minutemen would feed the negativity machine?
I didn't. In fact, when I decided to put my biases aside and objectively follow this program, I thought I would be covering growth, mishaps, recruiting and the day-to-day stuff that follows a mid-major college football program.
I thought I would be covering football, but apparently that's not in the cards.
None of this means that there aren't any problems with this program, and believe me I have heard both sides loud and clear. In fact, with the recent developments, I am keeping a particularly close eye on everything that did, does and will happen. I am digging, and if there is a story there, you will read it here. I am a First Amendment attorney and a professional journalist – I have a knack for getting information.
With all that in the background, what I want now is football. I want actual, under-the-lights football. The game where success is measured in first downs and sacks, not hearsay, hyperbole and half-truths.
I want to sit in the press box and joke about failed read option plays with my peers, and I want to drive home afterward and think about what I wrote while listening to the soothing sounds of Social Distortion. For a moment, I want all the folks surrounding UMass – from the biggest Charley Molnar haters, to the folks who think he can do no wrong – to sit back and remember something:
What we're talking about is football, and those kids out there were all Sal Lo Brutto, on some level, not that long ago.
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