Friday, November 18, 2011

Drama and Sport: How High School Football is Like a Good Book.

I was rolling down Donner Pass Rd. last weekend, just finishing up some errands, when I had cause to reach out and turn up the volume on the car radio. Our local station, as is typical for a Saturday in the fall, was broadcasting the high school football game. (Yes, my town really is that small.) What piqued my interest was the tone of voice of the announcers, informing the listeners that the Wolverines had been shut out at halftime. They seemed surprised. Almost worried.

I knew the team held a huge winning streak, the largest in the state, at 34 games. Since this was the playoffs, it had the makings of a good game, and when I pulled in the driveway I asked my husband if he wanted to run down to Truckee High to catch the second half. What we witnessed was one of the best sporting events I’ve seen in years.

I’ve long declared that my favorite movie genre is what my husband calls the “feel good sports movie.” I love the drama of sports. Movies like Miracle, Invincible, and Remember the Titans (all based on true stories). Nothing makes me cry like a good Cinderella-Story sports movie.

In thinking about this fact after the high school football game, I realized the real draw of sports like this to me – they have all the makings of a perfect plot. They’re a story just waiting to unfold. Drama in real life. Watching a good football game, or any sporting event, is like reading a gripping novel where you really can’t tell what kind of ending it’s going to have.

You couldn’t have created better plot structure for a story than the events that took place on the field at Truckee High that day.

You had conflict: Not only do you have one team against another, but Truckee football had the added pressure of a 34-game winning streak spanning 3 years. KCRA TV in Sacramento called them The King of California Football. More than once, the Fallon High School fans in the visitor’s bleachers took up the chant “Break That Streak!” Not to mention, of course, the winner of this game would advance to the state championship game.

There was plenty of rising action: Truckee didn’t get on the board at all in the first half, starting the 3rd quarter down by a field goal. Tension already. Then, in the second half, the lead changed hands three times. Neither team was ever more than a touchdown away from losing their lead. Andrew and I stood at the fence behind the end-zone with other late arrivals, cheering and wailing with every play. We were in solidarity with strangers with whom we had one thing in common – we wanted our team to win! With every second lost on the clock in that 4th quarter, the tension grew.

We even had an excellent false climax: Fallon scored and was up by 3 points with 4 minutes left to play. Truckee took almost that entire 4 minutes to get the ball back to our end of the field. With less than 30 seconds left, they were fourth and goal. A field goal would have tied it up, but they chose to go for it. (Well, we’re a ski town: Go big or go home!) They squeaked into the end zone with 8 seconds left on the clock. The crowd went absolutely NUTS! I mean, I didn’t even know we had enough people in our town to make that kind of noise. We picked up a 15 yard penalty for “excessive celebrating.” I didn’t really think it was excessive, considering.

And of course, the climax: “Well, game’s over, let’s get out of here.” We walked about ten yards before changing our minds. May as well watch the last 8 seconds play out. A Fallon player caught the kick-off and somehow found a hole. He was running. Flying. Streaking for that end zone. Oh. My. God.

I could imagine the radio announcers: “He’s  at the 30! The 20! The 10!”

“”No! No! No!” We all screamed. They were at the far end of the field, so I couldn’t see what happened, but the crowd’s reaction told all: The Truckee side roared in triumph, while Fallon’s fans let loose with painful moans. SO CLOSE!

But guess what? That wasn’t the climax. It was just another false climax! That is what you call some good rising action. It’s a page-turner of a story.

There was a penalty called on the play. “A late hit,” another fan told me. I looked at the scoreboard. No time left on the clock. So … did we win?

I don’t know the rules that well, but apparently the penalty called for one more play, even though no time remained. You have got to be kidding me!

The players lined up again as we all held our breaths. The Fallon players couldn’t make it happen, and once again Truckee fans roared –now with equal parts relief and triumph.
And that, really, was the resolution: Relief, triumph, and looking to the State game this weekend. All the most exciting stories end with the climax, the resolution only a footnote: The End.

 Thanks for the drama, Truckee boys. Good luck at State tomorrow!

Final Score

Do you have any favorite sports dramas?


  1. I am a fan of college football for much the same reasons as you outline. The NFL seems more theater, but the college players are more unpredictable and that makes for a great game. Plus, it helps if you have a personal connection to the school.

  2. "Breaking Away" for cycling, "Gallipoli" for running, "Hoosiers" for basketball, "Rudy" for football.

    I thought high school football was like reading a book because most people ignore both after graduation.

  3. Anne - Definitely having an association with the school makes a stronger connection with your feelings for the team. I have a hard time with professional sports because I make that connection through getting to know the players. Then when the players are traded to other teams, I just can't handle it. There goes my connection!

    Steve - Oh, "Breaking Away" is a total classic, right up there with "American Flyers" and "Vision Quest." Of course "Hoosiers"!

    I think maybe I read more good books after graduation, but that's because in school I only read the ones that were assigned.

  4. You deserve a good deal of credit for spotting a story in the making and heading down to the field to watch it unspool. The uncurious or tone deaf wouldn't have made the effort. And boy did it deliver! That is an amazing finish.

    "My team" just won the World Series in the most improbable fashion I could imagine, so I'm also pretty high on sports drama at the moment. I like it in fiction - written or on screen - but it's hard to beat the live, unscripted version of this genre.

    By the way, I like the updates you've made to your site. The design is clean and appealing, and the new navigation buttons are useful. Thumbs up.

  5. Stacy - Yup, not much beats the 'live unscripted version,' as you say. I think that's why movies like "Miracle" can be so awesome without being cheesy - it's based on a real hockey game and real people. Imagine what it would have been like to be there!

    I also remember a year when my team won the World Series, after a start to the season that put up the worst record in franchise history. A classic triumphant underdog story. So, so fun.

    Thanks for the feedback on the site. Hopefully, a few tweaks are still to come to make it fully functional.