It did. It snowed like crazy on Thanksgiving Day, forty-five years ago, and my plan to attend the traditional Plainville-Southington football game—or even leave my house, for that matter—was shoveled under.
Two things right up front. First, the game may have been traditional but it had become much less of a game. Southington had dominated for the previous dozen or so years as that neighboring town and its high school mushroomed in size. Second, I came from a school that did not field a football team (Aquinas in New Britain, itself long gone) and whose traditional basketball rival was, of course, Plainville. So it was all strange but kind of cool also to move on…to have allegiance to the school where I worked and root for the kids that I saw in class every Monday through Friday.
Until it snowed.
The previous year’s game had been excruciating. My spotty memory tells me we lost 52-50, but I know for certain that the difference was a last-ditch attempt at a two-point conversion that came up short. I was a fairly unpleasant dinner companion later that day, playing the last minutes of the game over and over in my head. Of course there were about forty athletes, several coaches, and eight hundred-odd students who felt worse. That was 1970.
The ‘71 team returned strong, and though I could retrieve a yearbook and throw some names out there, that would be unfair to the athletes I didn’t mention, now, incredibly, in their sixties. So we’ll agree they were strong, certainly strong enough to present Southington with a formidable challenge. But then it snowed. The storm began around 9:00 the evening before, and by sunrise had deposited close to a foot in many areas. There was no Internet: we listened to the radio that morning and received the news: the game would be played in Southington on Saturday.
The stands were packed—I stood in some corner of the field and saw only glimpses of the game. And though some melting had begun, the low sky threatened rain all day and the mud rendered many pairs of shoes incapable of further use. Every aspect of every moment was unpleasant.
Until we won. Until we overcame a decade of futility and Jeff Palmer tossed a touchdown pass to Vet Mason with a minute to go. (Okay, I mentioned two names—my apologies to the others.) Even then, with so little time left, I wasn’t sure we would hold on, but we did. We? I had nothing to do with it, but I watched the clock wind down, stared at the final score (18-14), and escaped the chaos that ensued on and off the field. I learned later that there were some scuffles and “hostile encounters,” but a curse had been broken three decades before the Red Sox, forty-five years before the Cubs.
Tomorrow the 2016 version of the Blue Devils will play Farmington, a neighboring town but hardly a rival. Appropriately there may be some rain, but conferences have changed so much since 1971 that rivalries have become difficult to maintain, or even recognize. Two years ago I took my girls tennis team to Southington, and the campus reminded me of some giant, sprawling mall. They’re not our rivals and the final score proved it.
But for that one Saturday in November—eight years after the Kennedy assassination, twelve years before the Apple IIe, twenty-four years before Google, and thirty-seven years before we elected a black president—our rival was vanquished.
It’s 2016. I see people every day walking around in the fog of recent events. I get it. But if we could, it might make tomorrow more pleasant if we somehow relinquish the anxiety for a day, maybe digest our food for a change, enjoy some pleasant conversation instead of spitting out words, and remember those who have left us since November of 1971 as well as those who, for one afternoon, made us all feel pretty good about ourselves.