Friday afternoon blight?
There's passion for city football, too
MINNEAPOLIS -- At the end of the film "Friday Night Lights," some of the boys from Odessa Permian High School gather in the stadium parking lot to reflect on their now-concluded careers.
"I'm going to miss those lights," says running back Don Billingsley, the character portrayed in the movie by Roseau native Garrett Hedlund.
Ah, the power of those lights, as anyone who has experienced prep football knows. Slicing through a crisp October evening, the beams can block out -- for a couple of hours, at least -- a bad day at work, that impossible chemistry class or the troubling lack of a homecoming date.
It's easy to take that for granted, too, as a visitor to last week's matchup between Minneapolis Roosevelt and Minneapolis South suddenly realizes.
The game begins at 3:30 p.m, because there are no lights.
"I think our kids just adapt to it," South coach Lenny Sedlock says. "They don't really know what they're missing."
"Friday Night Lights" is a slightly embellished adaptation of H.G. Bissinger's 1990 nonfiction book about life and football in west Texas. For good or bad, the economically depressed town treats these Permian Panthers like royalty, living and dying on every play in a majestic stadium fit for a college team.
The scene at South on this cold, wet, blustery day, is a stark contrast. Friday Afternoon Blight?
The tallest downtown skyscrapers peek above the turning trees. The field is chewed up from a week's worth of soccer and B and C games. The public address announcer sits at midfield on the Roosevelt side -- operating the scoreboard, announcing down and distance and blasting music during breaks with a laptop and two portable speakers as if he were a wedding DJ. Sometimes he stands up to see who carried the ball.
A canopy covers a table serving as the concession stand. About 60 people, mostly parents, are scattered about the bleachers. Cheerleaders chant, "South is gonna win this game/Tigers in the Hall of Fame." Perched like snipers on top of the school's roof, Roosevelt coaches in maroon coats film the action. There is no press box.
Across the street sits a cramped practice field. "Every day, we're picking up glass," Sedlock says.
A few underclassmen are dispatched postgame to peel the protective padding off the goalposts. There are four coaches for 80 players that comprise the varsity, B and C squads. At a sprawling suburban school, one might see a coach in charge of third downs. Or situational pass rushing.
Once last year, South ran out of shoulder pads.
"We just don't have money to get this kind of stuff," says Sedlock, a 1977 South grad who returned to his roots four years ago with hopes of turning the program around. It has.
The Tigers won their fifth game -- clinching second place in the Minneapolis City Conference and securing the No. 3 seed in their section for the playoffs -- thanks to a stiff defense that preserved a 6-0 lead after a 13-yard touchdown run by Rojeer Wright on the opening drive.
"That's why I'm real impressed with our kids, because I think with all the disadvantages we have here we're playing pretty good football," Sedlock says.
Indeed, the inner-city competition is coming back a bit after bottoming out in the 1980s. Support is still hard to find, though, when the school bell rings right before kickoff and many moms and dads are still at the office.
"I can't get there that early," laments Willie Young, whose home-improvement job makes him late to watch his son, Rolandas House, a running back and defensive tackle for Roosevelt.
"I'll bet if we played a little later, we could get all the parents to hold up flashlights," Young says. Maybe even put a car behind each end zone to shine high beams onto the field?
"Yeah, that would work," Young says, laughing.
This seemingly bleak picture is not all that dreary. One thing is apparent: These boys have the same passion for playing football as the Permian Panthers or any other team in Minnesota.
The neighborhood has some grit, for sure, but it's perfectly safe to park by the gate and wander the field. This is the final home game for South's seniors, and a majority of them are greeted by two proud parents on the track before kickoff. The boys sheepishly hand their mothers a rose. It doesn't matter if there are 60 or 60,000 people watching: Teenagers will always be embarrassed by their parents.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Teddies are trying to tie, or win, the game, and House coughs up a costly fumble inside Tigers territory. Frustrated by his mistake, he tosses his helmet and throws a brief tantrum on the sideline.
"Don't worry about that!" yells Young, his father, who turns to talk about his youth in Greensboro, N.C., and how much he misses playing.
It's growing darker, and the cold rain has taken its toll on fingers and ears left uncovered. Nobody seems to mind.
"It's all about the love of the game," Young says.
Dave Campbell covers Minnesota sports for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org