Monday, December 15, 2014

The ‘Cats Magical Run Ends at Whitewater.

A team for the ages.
Man, our ‘Cats were so close to getting over the Whitewater hump this past Saturday out in Wisconsin. After a rough first half that saw Linfield go into the locker room down 14-0, it would have been so easy for a lesser team to accept that the game was over and start looking forward to the post-season. However, Linfield isn’t a lesser team.  No, this was a GREAT team that refused to go into the night quietly. The ‘Cats regrouped and went out to score twice in the 3rd quarter to knot the game up at 14 headed into the final frame. UWW and Linfield traded possession with both defenses coming up with huge stops but Whitewater was able to cover some huge 3rd down conversions before popping a 33-yard rushing TD with 5 minutes left in the game that put Whitewater out in front 20-14. The PAT seemed automatic but Linfield was able to block the kick and the stage was set for a possible Wildcat victory.  Linfield raced 48 yards down the field but stalled on the UWW 20-yard line and was unable to covert a 4th and 3, and with it, Whitewater was able to close out Linfield’s season.

Yeah, it stings and hurts this year just as much as past playoff losses but this one is incredibly different. When this playoff journey started a month ago I had no idea how the ‘Cats would respond after the death of Parker. Honestly, I just wanted these guys to be OK and have a support group to deal with the intense grief of having someone they love and care for being ripped out of their lives.  What this team did in the face of tragedy was inspiring to me.  Instead of letting their season fall away, and I could understand why, this group of young men made the decision that they were going to stay together for as long as possible and honor the memory of Parker the best way they knew how.  These past four weeks isn’t a case of Linfield playing over their heads and being in an airspace they didn’t belong, no, Linfield left no doubt they belong with the best of Division III. This is a case of an already close group of young people putting it all on the line and leaving no chance that they will look back at these past six weeks of 2014 and say “I wish we would have done more on the field”.  Yes, there should be no regrets from the players or coaches on this team.  The 2014 Wildcats moved me to tears multiple times this past post-season.  From tears of grief to tears of joy, you couldn’t help but feel a full gambit of emotion listing to Trey Farber break the team down in the locker room before running to the battle to watching the ‘Cats celebrate and explode with pure elation as the clock would strike 00:00 and the ‘Cats were able to keep moving forward one game at a time.

You hear the word “Family” tossed around a lot in football when teams are talking about their team and programs. I can’t speak for others but what these guys have in the ‘Catdome is the real deal. So many former players have reached out to me to say how incredibly proud they are of this 2014 team and they should be. This 2014 team represents everything that Linfield football is all about. Team. Excellence. Attitude. Class. 

One of those former ‘Cats that reached out to me is former Wildcat great, Kelley Bertrand. Kelley was an All-Star senior defensive end in 2004 but tore his ACL in the season opener against WOU. On pure toughness Kelley found his way back to the field late in the season and would go on to end the 2004 Stagg Bowl by clinching the National Championship for Linfield with what was virtually a game ending sack against UMHB.  I think Kelley’s text this past Saturday night to me captures exactly how so many people associated with Linfield feels about this team:

“I know you probably have had a long day and I’m sorry to bug you. I haven’t felt so much sadness and pride for the ‘Cats in a long time like I did today. I know I’m not close to the current team like others are but I just want you to pass on how truly proud I am of the ‘Cats and what they accomplished. Stagg Bowl or not they are true champions and men of great character. I am so honored to be a part of this program. I bleed purple, red, and white and stand strong with you all.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. ‘Catdome forever.