My First Championship
Up until this point in my 16 year football career, I had never even played in a championship game. Maple Bowl XXXV would be my first, and man was I nervous.
I remember sitting in a small restaurant across the street from the 10,000 seat Sonera Stadium with the team for pregame meal and not really having an appetite. I was trying to play it cool and not show my nerves because nobody else seemed to be nervous at all. These guys were going for a three-peat (it’s now at a six-peat) and had already won a championship prior that season, so they were no stranger to competing and winning championships… but I wasn’t. I wasn’t nervous because I was worried, I knew we had the better, more experienced team, I was nervous just because it was a first for me and I still wasn’t super comfortable within the offense. We had won every game since I had arrived but they weren’t necessarily pretty and I wasn’t playing my best football. Nevertheless, I knew I had to bring it all together for the championship and after my very small meal and a short walk back to the Stadium, I was ready to go.
Our opponents were the Turku Trojans, whom had separated themselves from the rest of the Maple League as the second best team from the very beginning of the season. I will always remember the feeling I had in the tunnel waiting for my name to be called for the starting offense. I was first in line and when “SEEEAAAANNNN SHHHHHEEELLLLLTTTTOOOONNNN” rang into the stadium, I jogged onto the field. The path onto the field was lined with pyrotechnics that went off on either side of me as I entered the stadium. They were streaks of flames and I remember feeling how hot they were on both sides of my body and feeling a calming sensation come over me. Nerves turned to confidence which quickly turned to emotion. I looked up into the stands to find
my parents and eventually saw a large man with a with a not so large Red #14 jersey on, with his fist in the air and a woman standing next to him waving and grinning ear to ear... I found them. I started to get emotional at the sight of them in the crowd and honestly, I almost always get emotion before games when somebody is there supporting me. I think it is because I still get to play the game I have loved since I was 7 and to have the ability to share it with the people I love is a blessing I will never take for granted. So, as tears started to well up in my eyes as return a raised fist to my father (a pre-game tradition for us), I grab a ball and started to warm up.
I honestly don’t remember a lot of the game, but it was by far my best game as a
Rooster. The offense operated well and controlled the game on the ground (even I had 20 rushes), while the defense dominated to a final score of 21-7. It wasn’t until the scoreboard hit 0:00 that I let myself take a sigh of relief. It was done. We had won my first championship. I gave several of my teammates and coaches big hugs before running over to my parents to quickly celebrate this moment with them. It was such a gratifying feeling to be able to share this great moment with them and just how proud and happy they were is not something I’ll forget anytime soon.
I stayed on the field for a long time talking and embracing with teammates, congratulating Jaycen on his 18th MVP award of the season, and just taking in the moment as a whole. I finally left the field and entered the locker room to find a party had already started and in the sauna of all places. First of all, only in Finland have I seen saunas in the Locker rooms and secondly, I don’t know if the Finns realize that drinking beer in a sauna after a football game may be the worst thing you can do to your body, or they just don’t care (probably the latter). I also found my guy John Clements on a couch with the trophy and a beer waiting for me, so I plopped down next to him and got to hold Maple Bowl Trophy in my hands again; what a satisfying feeling that was.
Later everyone met up at a bar in Helsinki to celebrate in typical Finnish fashion. A lot of socializing and a lot of drinking. My night abruptly ended after taking my first and last shot of Absinthe with my Offensive Coordinator. I recommend that drink to no one and leaving was a necessity for me immediately after consumption. Luckily, the party lasted several days after that night, including a meet up to re-watch the game together at a teammates apartment. We all relived the events before, during, and after the game with hearts full of joy and satisfaction. The Roosters taught me that feeling. They showed me ultimately why you bust your ass for 8 months a year to play for 4 months and why we put our bodies through hell in order to achieve the ultimate goal in any competition, to be the best. And to celebrate being the best with the people that sweat and pained with you in order to become the best. That’s what it is all about.
The Roosters showed me how to be a champion and what a Championship organization looks like from top to bottom. I will be forever grateful to them for all that they have done for me.
I left Helsinki a few days after the Maple Bowl and flew back to Liberty, Missouri, to do what I originally intended to do before Juha called, to coach for the college that I had played for. I was helping out for a month or so with recruiting, the Defensive Backs and really anywhere I could, when I got a call from the Offensive Coordinator of the Swarco Raiders Tirol, Lee Rowland.