Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday Night Lights

I'm not a fan of football played under the lights, as a rule. And it has nothing to do with the Lions being shunned by "Monday Night Football" every year.

I know it's done for the almighty TV dollar, but night college football games especially rankle me---especially those played on days other than Saturday. College football games have been popping up all over the dial on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays. That's not college football---that's just competitive "ER".

But there is some night football that tickles my fancy.

As the parent of a marching band member, one of the duties is to attend the home football games on Friday nights. There are far more daunting tasks.

High school football in prime time is OK by me because that's tradition. Once the stadiums around the country began installing lights in earnest in the 1960s, it was only natural to keep the high school gridders to a predominantly Friday schedule, and leave Saturday for college and Sunday for the pros.

There's no pretentiousness when you walk through the gates at the local high school stadium. There's not much cost either---five bucks a head at Warren Mott, where our daughter attends.

You pay a visit to the moms-run concession stand, buy some cheap goodies (hot dogs for a dollar each, sub sandwiches for two bucks) find some space on one of the aluminum bleacher benches, and settle in.

This is football without maddening TV timeouts, beer-soaked blowhard fans, and $20 for parking.

It's football at its purest form---played by 15-to-17 year-old kids who take real classes and who have to be home by 10:00 at night. The crowd in the stands are 90% parents, grandparents, and family members.

Mott has a huge band, over 200 members, and many of those kids' moms and dads are in the stands on Friday night, too---padding the house figure, and the concession sales.

So the team and the band turns a few bucks, but still not much. The gate and concession receipts at the Big House in Ann Arbor look like the GDP of a small country compared to the cash netted at a high school gridiron match.


But it's football played out before you, sans radio-transmitting helmets for the quarterbacks, minus a JumboTron scoreboard. There isn't even a play clock to reference.

The officials throw flags, just like in college and pro, but the referee's voice is only heard to the players and coaches on the sidelines; no fancy-shmancy microphones to boom the call to the crowd.

If there's a TV camera at the high school stadium, it's run by either the local-yocal cable TV crewman or an A/V kid for the coach's use.

The cheering is done between conversations. The men are watching the game and keeping track of down and distance---usually faster than the scoreboard operator is---while the women get caught up on their week.

The football itself looks a lot more like rugby at times, the scrum of players shoving back and forth. The forward passes aren't lasered throws---they're more like heaved grenades.

But it's football enough for me, played under the moon and right smack in the middle of residential homes. A couple weeks ago we went to a road game at Sterling Heights Stevenson, and the field there is so close to the backyards of residences, some of the homeowners had built bonfires and were watching the game over the fence.

After the game, the visiting players, still in uniform, climb aboard the yellow school bus for the trip back home. The home team waves to their parents in the stands, before disappearing into their small locker room.

It's football, played on a Friday night, which, in this case, is OK by me.

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