If you asked me my lowest point either playing or working in athletics I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you: It was Saturday, September 4, 2004. I was a senior in high school playing football for the Mead High Panthers of Spokane, Washington. We entered that season ranked as one of the top teams in the state and had a dream game to open the season. Invited to take part in the Emerald City Kickoff Classic in Seattle, we had the opportunity to play in CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks.
It all started off so great. We piled onto charter buses and made the trip across the state where we had our walkthrough practice the day before in Husky Stadium. We stayed the night in the dorms on the University of Washington campus. The next morning, we drove from campus to the stadium where we felt like kings in the locker room of the Seahawks. We tried our best to work out our pregame jitters as we prepped in the concourse of the stadium before taking the field for warmups. Once the game kicked off it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t our day. We fell to Camas that afternoon in a game we were supposed to win.
I have played in, watched, and worked countless athletic contests. Nothing has come close to the pain I felt from that loss. That includes defeats to rivals and playoff exits. That was supposed to be a major defining point in our program’s history and we squandered it.
Despite the bitter taste I will always have from that weekend I will remember something else: The night the streak ended.
This Emerald City Kickoff Classic we played in was a big deal. Meant to showcase strong teams from across the state in football games that would normally never be played, there was a very special nightcap game in that inaugural year. De La Salle, the legendary high school football team from California, made a trip to our state to play Bellevue. Boasting a 151-game win streak, De La Salle was the best and most recognized high school football team in the nation. They expected to come into our state and roll over one of our teams.
Only they didn’t. In an atmosphere that can only be described as electric, Bellevue put an end to De La Salle’s streak by defeating them 39-20 in front of 25,000 fans. I felt sick to my stomach the whole game because of the earlier events that day. However, I did manage to cement in my mind the amazing scene for a high school football game and the incredible speed at which those teams played.
When I heard a couple months ago that a movie was coming out that chronicled De La Salle’s season in which they lost the streak I was excited. Every high school kid who played football in the early 2000’s looked at De La Salle with respect and envy. They were in a league of their own. Obviously, I also wanted to see “When the Game Stands Tall” because I was actually in attendance that incredible night when the streak ended. I had played on the same day, in the same stadium, in the same kickoff classic. Even with the negative emotions I have from that day, I still wanted to relive that night.
Yesterday evening, Sidney and I attended “When the Game Stands Tall” on the film’s opening night. Maybe my expectations were too high but I thought the film was poor. The acting was shabby, the football scenes were embarrassingly terrible, clichés were rampant, and the actors did not accurately depict high school football players. Making it even worse, the way the movie showed the streak-ending game was extremely disappointing. Instead of actually shooting it in CenturyLink Field they shot it in a poor representation of Bellevue’s stadium. It looked like there was a crowd of 1,000 people in the stands. The filmmakers totally neglected to spotlight the energy and significance of that night.
What can I say? Wise people always remark that the book is better than the movie. Even more to the point, being there in person is always better than the movie. Even with the movie not living up to my expectations I am still glad it came out. It allowed me to think back to that weekend during my senior year and finally realize that despite the sickening feeling I still get in my stomach from that horrific loss, we got to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that many other high school kids would kill for. We also got to witness history. It took me ten years, but there is usually always a silver-lining. Don’t Blink.