NFL Hall of Fame Coach George Allen said, “Losing the Super Bowl is worse than death. With death, you don’t have to get up the next morning.” Truer words were never spoken. On Sunday, December 2nd, the East Greenwich Avengers Football team ended our Cinderella season with a loss to the Middletown Islanders in the Super Bowl. It was excruciating to wake up the next morning and know that we fell short of our goal, one game short. The dream started in July. We doggedly pursued it through the heat of August camp and into the early days of fall. By the time the evening frost came, we were believing. On a cold night in the waning days of November, we beat Moses Brown and ended their season. We looked forward to a chance to settle a score with Middletown, our only defeat of the season, in the Super Bowl. But, we did not reach that goal, and it feels absolutely horrible. We worked so hard towards achieving this goal that surrendering it now seems nearly impossible. There is a hole in our lives right now where football and the dream of our first Avenger championship in six years used to live. Worse than the loss is knowing that several of my football teammates have suited up in Avenger colors for the last time. Next July when we start pre-season play, they won’t be there, but their legends will hover over Carcieri Field for years to come.
So many have tried to console us with the idea that this loss does not wipe away a season in which the team posted 10 wins and made it to the Division III Super Bowl. I am too close to it at the moment to even entertain such talk, but to those who have asked me what was the key to our success this season, I have an answer. Coach John George, the EGHS physics and math teacher who became head coach of the squad in 2010. Let me start by dispelling some rumors you might have heard. Mr. George did not have a full head of hair before he started coaching us, and he does not grade football players on a curve. Yes, there were some among us who initially found it hard to trust a man who has two first names for a name, but then again so do Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. We figured he was in pretty good company.
Coach George has a philosophy towards coaching. It centers on the corollary to the time honored baseball maxim, ”There is no crying in baseball,” only substitute in football for baseball. And he doesn’t like whining much either. He runs a tight ship and believes football is an exercise for your mind as well as your body. He is a big proponent of the student-athlete, having been one in high school and while studying electrical engineering at Brown University. This guy knows his X’s and O’s, and you can be sure he knows all the rest of the alphabet, too. His mantra is simple. You learn from every experience and try to get better. He wants his players to be confident enough to perform but humble enough to prepare. That’s what Avenger Pride is all about.
To answer Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles?” proverbial question, I think Coach would say he believes in hard work and preparation. He praises with reserve, and he corrects with encouragement. He doesn’t yell. He motivates. An understated guy, his response to our crushing victory over Exeter/ West Greenwich to start the season was, “Good job, we can play even better.” He’s steely, determined, and very smart. He takes a studied approach to everything. He’s the kind of coach who knows the game very well, and he knows his players even better. Coach is a gifted teacher on and off the field. He is a serious man, yet he also harbors a great sense of humor.
If you were to asked Coach George about the secret to our success this season, he would give all the credit to his coaching staff led by Coach Bill Conway, an incredible defensive guru, and stellar Assistant Coach Kyle Mushaweh, and to his players. As one of his players, I can tell you that Coach George is the best football coach I have ever had. My teammates to a man say the same thing about Coach. “There is no one I respect more. Playing for Coach has been an honor. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for Coach George,” this year’s Captains Pete Hunziker, Eric Lauro, and Alex Cleary tell me. They echo the sentiments of the entire team.
Fortunately most of us have a math quiz or physics lab due this week to keep our minds off the loss. Who would have assigned such a thing on the week after the Super Bowl? Coach George, of course. He never lets you stop thinking about and preparing for tomorrow, and he’s right there with you every step of the way. You don’t dwell on defeat. You take a moment to gather yourself, and then you pick each other up. You move forward and learn from it. The road to the 2013 Super Bowl begins today. And you don’t ignore your schoolwork. That’s classic Coach George.
We were all pretty pumped when we found out Coach George’s son was a freshman playing football for NK this season. We figured we’d have the playbook of one of our biggest rivals for our annual non-divisional contest in October. But with John George as our coach, we all knew deep down that wasn’t happening. He loves competition, and he wants to win, but he is always fair and honest with his players and his opponents. What kind of football coach is that? A great one.
On Sunday when I entered my house after the loss, my grandfather was the first person I saw. He had come to watch me play.
“Tough loss. It hurts, doesn’t it?” he asked, eyeing me cautiously.
I made no response. He leaned over and cupped his hands behind the back of my neck and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“It’s supposed to,” he reassured me. And that’s when the tears I had been fighting back since the final whistle of the game came forth.