We counted the weeks of fall with Friday night football games. Home in Bloomfield and as far away as O’Neill, a frontier town on the verge of the Sandhills.
August morning practices the week before school, and already cold enough to see your breath, but with the remnants of summer drifting in by mid-afternoon.
The first weeks of a new academic year, and the week went like this. If we won on Friday, we practiced without pads on Monday. Heaven in those hot summer dog days of September! If we lost, we suited up to bake, especially since we ran the mile at the first of the week.
We coveted—and received—stickers for our helmets, footballs and star as rewards for hard work. And skulls if we made an especially rough tackle the Friday before.
Freshman carried the medical kits and canvas bags full of balls up the hill to the practice field.
Forty years later I could rat us out and say we horsed around until Coach Walling fired up his car down at school—when the cry rang out: “Cuda!” And everybody got dutifully into line.
I could rat us out, but I won’t, because you know we were disciplined and never horsed around.
Tuesday and Wednesday were full contact days with pads. Thursday was a light day. We’d go over new strategies, review the plays our opponents might try. Sometimes we knocked off early. Nobody wanted to get hurt before the game on Friday.
Game day, everybody on the team wore their blue & white jerseys to school. We could feel the electricity in the air.
For four years, the autumn weeks ran past in a flash of rival towns: Plainview, Pierce, and Neligh. Creighton, Crofton, and O’Neill St. Mary’s. Randolph and Wausa.
That was my lineup. It was different a generation before. It’s different now. But the cheers from the crowd are still there. The plays, the runs, and the passes. Go, Bees!
From summer heat to winter cold. Brother, get out your long underwear, because by the last game of the season, there’d likely be snow on the ground.
Whether we won or lost on Friday night, Saturday was a new day and the afternoon radio waves carried Nebraska football.
The football season carried us through the harvest.
The early days of corn silage. The later days of bean and corn row crops.
In those days before everybody had an online device, you picked up what you could over the tractor or combine radio.
And you knew everybody else was listening. So you’d catch the score on the tractor. Then get caught up in the truck on the way into town. Hanging out at the co-op elevator, we’d get a Coke and listen a while longer, until the Huskers scored or faced a turnover. Then back home and poke a head into the house.
What’s the score? And mom knew, because she had the game on, too.
Today’s media’s made things a little different. But, as I write this, tomorrow is a Friday in September—and the air is the same. There’s a local game Friday night, and a college game on Saturday. Go Big Red!
Once again, night is starting to creep in sooner.
We collect falling leaves in the cool morning temps, the warm afternoons gently fading. Leaves of red, gold, and brown. Leaves of memory.
The Friday night lights snap on early.
The truth is, they’ve never gone out.