It was the type of game where you heard Dean Martin crooning “Let it snow” over the loudspeakers as they tried to clear the heavy snow between quarters, and the type of game where they eventually just gave up and played the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo.”
It was the type of game where you were better off making a pass in the stands — Mooney had several shirtless (male) fans, in case any ladies were interested — than on the field, where the biggest question on third-and-long was whether to run off-tackle left, or off-tackle right.
It was the type of game where you couldn’t tell where the field ended and the sideline began, and where you couldn’t tell where the snow ended and the sports writers’ dandruff began.
And if you’re Clarksville Clinton-Massie, it was the type of game you prepare for in August, forgoing a sexy spread offense in favor of one that was popular during the Nixon administration.
“I’ve been criticized a lot during my career for running the wishbone,” said the Falcons’ gray, grizzled, good-ol’-boy head coach, Dan McSurley following Friday’s 27-21 win over Mooney in the Division IV state final. “It seems like everybody wants to throw the ball, run the spread. That’s what you see on Saturdays and Sundays. But we’ve just always run the traditional wishbone for nights like this.
“In conditions like this, I can’t think of a better offense to run.”
That offense has won him two state titles — so far — and Mooney has won eight taking the same run-first, run-second, pass-if-you-have-to approach. The teams combined for just 10 passes out of 99 plays, and three of those came on the Cardinals’ last-gasp drive. It was hard not to look at the picture of Paul Brown at the top of the Tiger Stadium scoreboard and imagine him nodding in approval.
But it takes more than scheme to win state. Of Mooney’s 12 state finalist teams, this year’s may have been the least talented, particularly when it comes to Division I college prospects. Last year’s team, for instance, featured two BCS players (Nebraska linebacker Courtney Love and Kentucky defensive back Marcus McWilson) but lacked the leadership and chemistry of this year’s version, or the 2011 version that won it all.
That’s why, if you had walked into Mooney’s locker room in August, you would have seen this written on the dry erase board:
“Losers assemble in little groups and complain about coaches and players in other little groups. Winners assemble as a team!”
And this: “Mooney football 2013. It is time to leave your mark. What will be your legacy? How do you plan to assemble?”
And this: “2011: State champs. 2012: State chumps, 3-6. 2013: ????
“The only difference between champ and chump is ‘u.’”
Mooney didn’t win a championship on Friday, but it was one of just 14 teams still playing this weekend. The other 700 were at home, with most of them finishing up when there were still leaves on the trees.
Some of that was talent, yes. But last year’s team had talent, too. The difference between those teams was “u”-nity.
“Our seniors really stepped up through the whole offseason, through workouts and in the summer and that helps a lot,” senior Mark Handel said. “It helps build chemistry, which we have a lot of, and it translates onto the field.”
Problem was, Clinton-Massie had it, too. And as Handel spoke in an almost-empty locker room following Friday’s loss, he was asked the football equivalent of the question: Is it better to have loved and lost, or not to have loved at all?
Better to lose in the state final, or watch from home?
“I don’t know,” Handel said. “Obviously it’s a great accomplishment to go from a 3-6 season to the state game, but it’s tough. Tough to lose it.
“It’s definitely going to be a memory. Probably not a good one.”
Handel was dry-eyed when he said it, and it’s hard not to believe he’ll think differently in a few days/weeks/months. Which brings us back to McSurley, a former lineman at Capital University in the early 1980s who had a Division I heart in a Division III body and still wears it on his sleeve.
“I’m old and everything and I don’t know how many days I have left on earth, but these guys are going to be remembering this forever,” he said. “That’s really, ultimately, the greatest reward in coaching high school football for me. Having these guys get the opportunities to make great memories for the rest of their life.”
To paraphrase Steubenville’s native son, Saturday’s weather was frightful, but the game was delightful, even if you’re a Cardinal.
It just may take a little while to realize it.