There's a certain smell to freshly mowed grass on a high school football field, a mixture of chlorophyll and dew and mud that wafts into a player's nose and triggers a release of adrenaline and testosterone that carries him through the picturesque violence that will consume his mind and body and soul for a quartet of 12-minute quarters.
Books and movies like Friday Night Lights can only go so far in relaying the passion and release that is a high school football game. For those who have experienced it first-hand, who have rattled jaws and had theirs rattled, who have kicked the shit out of someone and had their own asses handed to them, each game becomes a distinct, vivid memory in your mind. The intensity and insanity you feel as you leave it all behind for 48 minutes are emotions that simply cannot be fully explained.
Nor can they be understood. To critics, football is just a brutish, even Neanderthal pursuit of dumb jocks who can barely spell their own names. But football players don't care about the opinions of other people --- people who don't realize how complex and mentally demanding the game of football really is. Those people will never get it, and that's their loss.
They'll never understand why this Friday's showdown between the Webster Schroeder Warriors and the Webster Thomas Titans means so much to every single player on both teams. For the past two seasons, Schroeder and Thomas have met for the Section V Class AA title. In 2003, Schroeder won. Thomas won last year. Because of that, the rivalry carries even more importance to those involved.
Critics will never understand why every single game on Fairport High School's 2005 schedule will mean so much to each and every Red Raider. They'll never understand what it means to be a Fairport football player, burdened by the legacy left by the 11 sectional titles and two state crowns the Red Raiders won between 1977 and 1998 --- and by the zero titles they've won since. Critics will never understand how much pressure each current Fairport player faces to restore the program to glory.
Critics will never understand how much it means for city schools like East and Edison to beat teams from the suburbs, to stare down and conquer the spoiled rich kids.
Critics, in the end, will never understand the pride that goes with being a high school football player. This fall, dozens of high schools and hundreds of boys at all levels across Section V will take the field, fight their hearts out and walk off after the final gun with just that: their pride.
Every Friday and Saturday throughout the fall, Rochesterians will have dozens of chances to catch a glimpse of that pride, to feel the passion, to smell the grass. Take advantage of them.
For schedules and other information visit www.sectionv.org/football.