Wednesday, November 14, 2012

'In the deed, the glory'

I wish I were 30-odd years younger and had talent.

That's because I want to play high-school football for Coach Victor Nazario at Beach Channel, which now stands amid the ruin on the storm-swept Rockaway Peninsula of Queens. I would kick ass, take names, clean clocks and run through a brick wall for a guy who can put it all in perspective before a state playoff game like this:
"Sandy took a lot of shit from us -- a lot. It did not take our courage; it did not take our will. It did not take our courage; it did not take our will, because your will is what got you here today. So let's finish this job, gentlemen. Let's just go out there and go out in style."
Beach Channel suffered the same fate as many of its students: equipment room flooded out, pads, jerseys -- you name it -- swept away by Hurricane Sandy's storm surge. No power. No practice field. Before Saturday's state playoff game, Nazario had salvaged what equipment he could and borrowed those things he couldn't.

THE BIG QUESTION, though, was whether he could field a team from a student body hunkered down in darkened, cold homes or evacuated to God-knows-where. From a New York Times feature story:
Breland Archbold woke up hungry at his grandmother’s house on the Saturday morning of his last high school football game. Typically, Archbold, the quarterback and captain of the Beach Channel Dolphins, spends the night before game day at a teammate’s house in Far Rockaway, eats chicken fingers and macaroni, and then in the morning tackles mounds of eggs and turkey bacon. 
This time, Archbold, his 6-foot, 200-pound frame straining at the contours of a strange bed, awoke wondering whether he would eat at all before the game. It had been like that for two weeks, ever since Hurricane Sandy had flooded and disfigured his Rockaways neighborhood.
Still, there was a football game to play, and no ordinary one. Beach Channel was set to play at Port Richmond on Staten Island this past Saturday in the first round of the Public Schools Athletic League playoffs. Archbold, 17, who still dreamed of a scholarship offer, maybe from the University at Buffalo, was nervous, and grateful, too.

“This was the last time to make everything count, and in the middle of a crazy time,” he said.

Archbold’s father, Dexter, drove him to the team bus pickup spot, and the route, as it had been for days, remained otherworldly. Instead of stoplights, there were police officers dressed in fluorescent green directing traffic, and on the sides of sandblasted streets stood shells of homes and businesses, little more than piles of rubble.

Archbold’s own uniform bore the taint of the storm. His shoulder pads reeked of bleach, used to kill mildew; his rib guard was gone altogether, washed away after Beach Channel’s locker room flooded. Port Richmond, in one of a number of acts of kindness, had lent Beach Channel what gear it could. Beach Channel, in the nearly two weeks since the storm, had practiced only twice, on a dark and borrowed field at Far Rockaway High School.
Breland Archbold moped for a week after the hurricane. He thought his senior football season would be left incomplete. He was in his father’s car in a line for gasoline on Long Island when his coach called him. The playoff game was on, but could the Dolphins play?

Nazario salvaged what equipment he could from the flooded school, and Port Richmond Coach Lou Vesce would lend the rest. But it was Archbold’s job as team captain to find out if the Dolphins could field a squad. He called teammates he had not seen since before the storm.

“Are you serious? I’m in,” Fatukasi said.

The Red Raiders scored again after halftime. Then again. A scuffle broke out after Archbold, also playing safety, tackled the opposing quarterback, Victor Pratt, as he ran out of bounds. The Red Raiders’ captain, Compton Richmond, bumped Archbold with his chest, and Fatukasi rushed over to protect his friend. Referees threw flags. The score was 30-6 and the frustration was palpable among the dozen or so Beach Channel fans.

Dexter Archbold had used his youth league football connections to secure the Dolphins practice time at the powerless Far Rockaway football field Thursday and Friday. About 15 players showed up Thursday, but the scrimmage was little more than a head count. On Friday, four more players showed, and the team did its best in the twilight. A few parents tried to battle back the darkness by shining their headlights on the field, burning precious gas, but it was little use. Some would miss the game the next day because they did not have the gas to get to Staten Island.

If this were Hollywood, the Dolphins would have rallied. But this was Staten Island. They lost, 38-6. After the game, the team huddled on the field. Some boys wept. Fatukasi called his teammates family and told them that despite “all that adversity, we’re leaving this field with respect.”

HALF A CONTINENT away from the Rockaways, in Lincoln, Neb., there's an inscription on Memorial Stadium, where another football team plays: "Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory."

University of Nebraska philosophy professor Hartley Burr Alexander wrote that. Through the veil separating the world that is seen and that which we cannot -- across the boundaries of time and space -- I'd like to think the good professor was able to see those words of his, carved into stone in 1923, transform themselves. On a cold Saturday in Staten Island, an abstraction suddenly wasn't.

"Not the victory but the action." A high-school coach and a couple dozen teenagers.

"Not the goal but the game." A remnant in borrowed gear, huddled in a cafeteria-turned-locker room, ready to step onto a field and stare down the winds of fate.

"In the deed the glory."

HAT TIP:  Rod Dreher. 

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