At the risk of sounding maudlin, I'm finding it fairly difficult writing this column.
That's because it's about two very special young men who've time and time again captured my heart, buoyed my spirits and shown me, if not the entire Barnstable High School football team, that football at the high school level truly is a game of heart.
In spite of last year's successes for the Red Raiders - the OCL championship, the playoffs - last fall into winter was a pretty tough time for two Red Raiders in particular: Derek Estes and Robbie Stuart.
Last night, Derek Estes and Robbie Stuart played the games of their lives. Estes' touchdown-saving tackle in overtime bore the ineffable quality of divine inspiration. Stuart's tackles on Everett's outside running game elevated his game three or four notches into the superlative.
But their efforts were often caught up in the whirlwind and strife of mutliple bodies colliding at midfield, buried beneath a mass of helmets and shoulder pads, wetted down by a driving monsoon.
But as these two boys' former, longtime coach, my eyes and heart were nevertheless transfixed upon them both, watching their every move, studying their weaknesses - if any - and calculating in my head what they would do next. It was old habit. I had to keep my excitement in check.
And I had to reanalyze precisely what it was that I was seeing out there, when it dawned upon me that I had known all along. I was watching two boys become men. Amid the turmoil and shouts and loud smacks of plastic, I knew that what I was witnessing was a pair of special people rise above their pain and suffering and turn that into something positive by sacrificing themselves for the betterment of the team.
The rain pounded the back of my head as the wind drove across Everett High School Memorial Field and an icy rivulet streamed down my back on the sideline. I began to feel a presence of deep love around me, an unfamiliar spirit of warmth and pride, and at once I harkened back to last fall when Derek's mother Theresa Marie Estes passed away after her intense battle with cancer.
And when I saw number 36 Robbie Stuart physically envelop Everett running back Jalen Felix on an outside sweep, my heart and mind raced back to the last time I stood with his father - my dear friend Rob Stuart - along the sidelines of football games long ago, or the last time I saw him alive when we went together to the Barnstable at D-Y game.
And in all the postseason celebration and chest-thumping... the field momentarily belonging to the visitors... as Red Raider fans embraced and laughed and smiled and cheered in blissful ignorance of the driving rain upon their heads... I could feel the spirits of Derek's mom and Robbie's dad casting a warm, protective glow over a cumulative group of very special young men.
It's so easy to forget the more important things in life when caught up in the whirlwind of victory, but to remember those things is what humility necessitates. The milestone was remarkable, I thought, as I walked out of the stadium, daring not to look back as if half-expecting to see Rob standing their in his trademark boat shoes with no socks and that big, infectious grin, or Terry standing there beaming with pride, quietly but confidently, watching her son achieve, as always, the unexpected.
I didn't have to look back. I didn't have to turn and wonder if my imagination had gotten the better of me.
It was okay to see that no storm at hand, no amount of negativity or media hype or malicious doubt could penetrate the invisible and invincible spirit of a team, two young players who had suffered such a deep-seated loss or the unification of 100 collective souls and hearts into one dream, one goal, one mission.
It was okay because the spirit of two very special people from the Town of Barnstable lived on in two very special young men whose backs and chests bore the numbers 23 and 36 and whose performance on a late September night in the bright lights of the big city had proven to me, at least, an inspiration beyond the scoreboard.