There's a new movie out, "Friday Night Lights," based on journalist H.G. Bissinger's account of spending a season with the legendary Odessa, Texas, Permian High School football team in 1988.
What the movie portrays is one town's obsession with its high school football team, creating a win-at-all-costs hysteria as young men try to live up to their fans' expectations for greatness.
The high school plays in a 20,000 seat stadium, the largest in the country. Fortunately, we're not quite as rabid about demanding a winner here as they are in Odessa, but Moffat County's fans have done a nice job turning out to support the Bulldogs during their undefeated start to the 2004 season.
We're as excited as anybody to see the Bulldogs steamrolling opponents (they've outscored the opposing team 254-47), but we're happier still that this team appears to be grounded in some solid values. It's a reflection of third-year head coach Kip Hafey's coaching style.
The team has improved every year under Hafey and is currently ranked as high as third in one prep poll. Hafey is a positive force on the sidelines, rarely criticizing
players and usually emphasizing the positive aspects of the team's performance. There are no players singled out for heroics. Hafey's mantra "One family, one destiny," means everyone on the team is a role player. The offensive line, the most unglamorous positions in the game, gets as many kudos from the coach as the skill-position players.
More important than winning, the players are learning the value of relationships and how to overcome obstacles by working together. It'll be an interesting test for the team when it faces true adversity for the first time, which is likely to happen at some point during the remainder of their tough Western Slope League schedule.
Will their team-first approach crack? Will they start point fingers and assigning blame for miscues and coverage breakdowns? That remains to be seen, but we're confident that Hafey and his staff have instilled the importance of sportsmanship and accountability. The team that shares the glory of victory together must also accept the responsibility of defeat collectively.
If sports is a metaphor for life, the players will learn that for every touchdown they score, there's a goal-line fumble that they'll have to learn to deal with. And soon enough, they'll learn that their prep careers are fleeting. Few of the players on the team will play another down of football after their senior years.
That's why we're glad to see the team doing things like picking up trash around town as a way of giving something back to the community that supports them. In our book, that's the measure of a real winner.
It's easy to bathe in the warm glow of victory. It's much harder to put the game in perspective when things aren't going well. If the players continue to grow and put forth a maximum effort toward their goal of a state championship, then they will be winners, no matter their final record. Hopefully, the team will succeed, but let's hope the team doesn't get so wrapped up in winning that it fails to learn the lessons that can help players down the road.