Over my long career as a sports writer, I've been on more football fields than I can count in more tiny towns than I can remember.
Sometimes I would make my way onto the field before the game to say hello to the coaches and let them know I was there. Being 5-foot-2 1/2, I rarely watched the game from a sideline because it did me no good, but I did have to take a photo or two over the years. Most of my field time came after the final horn (or buzzer), in the minutes right after the clock ticked to 0:00 and the final score was in the books.
But what most people don't realize is, after the game is when the real action begins. I have known this all along, of course, I just never had much time to absorb it all.
Being a reporter on a tight deadline, I usually had to run from one end of the field to the other to find a coach and a player or two to get quotes, then dash back up to row Z and the press box to type my story and fend off the mass of mosquitoes. It was many years before technology evolved to where it was more efficient to run to my car instead, where I had an air conditioner/heater, a car plug for my laptop and a cellphone that doubled as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
But now that I'm "just" a teacher and a just a fan with no post-game duties to worry about, I can take it all in.
Friday night I did just that.
I watched as our football coach gathered his sweaty, smelly players around him to praise their good work while, at the same time, reminding them that they still have much work to do. Around this inner circle was a bigger circle of parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and girlfriends, waiting to give hugs to the smelly boys and smile for pictures that will be shared on Facebook.
Off to the side, the younger boys and girls who have been playing probably the more competitive game of two-hand touch in the end zone throughout the game have finally moved their contest onto the big field, with a lot more room to throw bombs to one another.
Over there is the guy who babies the field and probably spends more time on it than his own grass at home. He's cursing under his breath as he scoops up all the divots the two teams made with their cleats over the last two hours.
Somewhere is our principal, thankful that the game is over, that we won and no one got hurt while secretly hoping all these people start to make their way home soon so she can too.
Back in the "old days" there likely was a reporter -- or several -- chasing down the coaches and the stars of the game to get a quote or two for the newspaper or a soundbite for the Friday night football TV show.
And over in the clearing is a dad following his toddler who is practicing their steps and trying to make a run for it.
There have been times when I've been serenaded by bands. When I've had to wait for TV people to get out of my way. For brothers, biological or otherwise, to dry their tears after a big loss. For husbands to kiss their wives and children.
And not every school allows its fans to join its players on the field like we do. It's one of the things that is unique to our area and to our school. It's one of the things I've always loved about covering these games.
But on this night, I stood on the far sideline for quite some time watching all this post-game action, marveling at all the little scenes playing themselves out, wondering how many times I had been on a field just like this and missed it all because I had a job to do.
There is nothing quite like the rush of writing a story on deadline, adding up the stats and putting it all together into something people will read and maybe want to keep to show their kids and grandkids. There's nothing like coming up with the perfect lede (yes that is spelled correctly).
But, then again, there's nothing like taking a step back and just taking it all in.