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The Press Box: It’s Game Day

By Randy Rutherford - Sports Writer | Aug 25, 2021

The title comes from a line made famous in the 2006 sport’s drama film titled We Are Marshall. The film tells the tragic story of the 1970 plane crash that claimed the lives of 75 of the school’s football players, staff members and boosters. Matthew McConaughey plays new coach Jack Lengyel hired to rebuild the broken program. In the movie the coach, hearing and seeing all the activity on his street early Saturday morning, looks to his young preschool son and asks, “What day is it?” His wise beyond his years son expertly replies, “It’s game day!”

Now that football is back in action we are looking forward to viewing our favorite teams play every weekend. While we all enjoy cheering on the final product on the field, I don’t think there is enough appreciation or understanding of the preparation leading up to the game. Football is a difficult game to prepare for, and coaches and players have a lot of interchanging parts they are responsible to consider as game day approaches.

But once game day arrives, all systems are go. It’s like a train leaving the station. You better be on board and prepared because there is no stopping that opening kickoff.

Coaches at the high school level have several ways to spend game day. Some are responsible to teach five or six classes every day so their mind is preoccupied.

They don’t have the luxury of thinking much about the game. Other coaches don’t carry that heavy of a class load, and they’re able to spend a lot more time fine tuning the game plan.

Things like watching film, double checking game plan details and making sure their players are in school attending class consume game day responsibilities.

My second year at Nicholas County I was starting a sophomore quarterback for the first time in his career on opening day. When I got to school Friday morning and checked the attendance roster my QB1 was listed as absent. I frantically started looking for him everywhere and then got a message that I needed to come down to Coach Joe Dooley’s room. Joe was the head football coach at Nicholas County before I got there, and he taught driver’s ed. I hurried down to the classroom to walk in and find Bobby, my sophomore quarterback, sitting at his desk in class. Coach Dooley spoke up to explain that Bobby was late for school because he had been up all night worrying, feeling a little scared and wondering what was going to happen. Coach Dooley assured Bobby that was a normal reaction to starting his first game at Nicholas County High School as a sophomore on the varsity. That’s enough to make anybody nervous! Bobby looking a little bewildered assured Coach Dooley, “I wasn’t worried about the game. I was thinking about girls!” Some things will never change.

In the old days one of the responsibilities of the coach was to line the field prior to the game. In this day and age, with many of the fields being turf, that’s no longer an issue, but back in the day it was a serious matter if the coach didn’t have someone to do that job for him. Old school equipment meant several hours of the coach’s game day prep were going to be eaten just performing this important and laborious task.

Another major game day concern for a coach is to worry about everyone having their equipment ready. There’s nothing worse than showing up at an away game and finding out two of your starters forgot shoulder pads or had the wrong color jersey for that particular night with only 90 minutes until kickoff. That created a whole different set of circumstances the coach had to deal with.

At the college level the head football coach has an extremely busy game day. It all starts with coaches meetings making sure the game plan is intact and laid out for all the players. Then it is on to meetings with the media, followed by welcoming the recruits that have been invited to the school for their official visit. Usually the head coach entertains recruits with a tour of the facilities and a sales pitch creating a picture of their future and trying to sway them to commit. For the head football coach at Division I and Division II schools, it’s not so much about coaching. It’s more about recruiting, and that job is never done. Finally as game time approaches the head coach is able to meet with the team lay out the last-minute instructions and provide a motivational speech that fires them up to bring home the victory.

There isn’t a Mountaineer fan that hasn’t heard the “Leave No Doubt Speech’ delivered pregame by Bill Stewart as the interim head football coach at West Virginia University prior to the Oklahoma game in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona. It’s still famous today and repeated quite often especially on the jumbotron at Mountaineer Field. It was probably one of the most heartfelt and exciting pregame speeches I’ve ever heard. I doubt anyone can ever duplicate it. Other coaches have a much more laid-back approach to the pregame speech. For them it’s more about details; Bill Belichick comes to mind. I can’t imagine him ever being fired up from a motivational side of things. He approaches the game as a business and focuses on details and fundamentals. He leaves the motivational part of the game to his players. It works for him as he’s one of the most successful NFL coaches of all time.

Regardless of the sport all athletes and coaches experience GAME DAY and the anticipation of the contest. Football is tough because if things do not go in your favor, the team has to wait seven days to redeem themselves. Baseball, basketball, golf and other sports have multiple events in a week that allow the team and staff to put a loss behind them and quickly focus on the next victory.

The time has come. Friday many area athletes and coaches will be waking up to experience their first game day of the 2021 season, hopefully uninterrupted, and ready to get the blood flowing for competition. All will carry hopes for a successful season and at the end of the day a good night’s sleep knowing they gave their very best. And so it’s time to wish good luck to Tyler Consolidated, River, Magnolia, Paden City, Valley and Hundred. Let the games begin!!