What I Learned from Pirates


A View from Seven Yards Deep

February 8, 2003; Miami Beach

Despite what the scoreboard read, I don’t think the game was really that one-sided — at least not in terms of what we learned from each other. We showed up with fifty-five players dressed. I counted only eighteen Pirates suited up on the opposing sideline though. Wow. Eighteen players. We’d beaten them 58-0 last year, on their home field, and they still had the courage to make the four-hour bus trip down to Miami to play us at our own home field — the posh sod of Dade Christian School. Eighteen guys? That’s not even enough to run eleven-on-eleven drills in practice. That’s what they cited as the reason for their rather humbling defeat last year — they just couldn’t field enough guys, so to speak, to fill out an entire roster. Couldn’t get them out for practice, either, once the guys signed up.

Last year was the Pirates’ first in the league. They’re from Lakeland, Florida; population 77,000; I bet there’s probably more cattle than people ’round those parts (We, the Knights, hail from Miami, population almost 400,000). Sure it’s going to be hard for the Pirates to put together a team. It’s only their second year in the league, let alone being from Polk County. The Knights have been around for ten years; we’ve got our system down. We know our offense and defensive schemes. We know our starters, our veterans, and who’s gonna show up at what position wearing what number. But eighteen guys? That means some of the Pirates never left the game field but one time, and that was halftime. They were out there incessantly: on offense, special teams, and defense, and then back to specials and offense and defense again, over and over, all night. That turned out to be the longest game I’ve ever been a part of or witnessed. It seemed like the clock was broken. I actually felt bad for those guys. It was like 48-0 at halftime.

But you know what? Those guys just kept coming. They came to play. They fired out low and hard, they hit and wrapped, and they played the whistle. They hustled back to the huddle, kept their heads up, and kept it positive. Despite the many bad shotgun snaps he took, the Pirates’ quarterback never got down on his center. The players never got down on each other, for that matter. They didn’t talk trash, they didn’t resort to cheap shots, and they didn’t roll over and play dead. They were courageous, noble, dignified. They maintained their bearing. They had to be in shape to play that long under such adverse conditions, and they were in shape. And they didn’t cry about it either. Nor about the heat, being tired, or being whooped. They just sucked it up and tried harder next time.

In his famous essay called “What It Takes to Be Number One“, Vince Lombardi said, “Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he’s got to play from the ground up – from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That’s okay. You’ve got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you’ve got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you’re lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he’s never going to come off the field second.” We showed those guys a thing or two about a thing or two in terms of offensive execution and defensive proficiency. We even outplayed them on special teams. But I don’t think we showed any more heart than they did. They played their hearts out for sixty minutes. In the face of tremendous odds, the Pirates strapped it on and took what they had coming to them. The final score this year was 77-0. It was a helluva whippin’. But sometimes victory’s not just about the scoreboard. And football’s not just about a “W” in the Won-Lost column. It’s just as much about character, sweat, sacrifice, drill, and discipline. Determination, perseverance, and teamwork. Fortitude and resiliency. Sportsmanship, spirit, and stamina. And respect. Respect. I think we all walked off the field winners that night, Knights and Pirates. I felt like the Pirates had earned the right to share the victory with us, and maybe even claim part of it. It was going to be a long bus ride home for them in the small hours of the night; one they’d remember for a long time. But I think it was worth it, in a way. I respect the Pirates for who and how they are. They taught me a lot that night.

Written by Glenn Yeck | Comments Off on What I Learned from Pirates