The end of the calendar year is less than five weeks away, but in many ways the time around Thanksgiving feels like the end of the year, the gaudy bauble of New Year’s Eve notwithstanding.
This is the time of the year for the settling of accounts, taking stock, for looking back if not forward.
Nature is in sync with our inner selves. (Do we reflect nature, or does nature reflect us?) The barrenness of the landscape arrives right on time after six months of exuberant greenery.
This is a time for ritual: the gathering of sometimes far-flung family at the traditional or currently designated homestead, the sharing of a harvest meal, and, in America, the giving of thanks.
In America, it also is time for another ritual: a football game against a rival, preferably the rival.
True, over the past few decades, the appetite of television viewers for more and more football, and the money to be made by teams and advertisers happy to meet that appetite, effectively have extended the professional game into early February, and even the college game into mid-January.
But it wasn’t all that long ago that nearly all college football ended in late November. Several bowl games—such as the Rose, the Cotton, the Sugar, and the Orange—perched a tantalizing several weeks away, in warm places on New Year’s Day. That was it.
High school football, however, still mainly clings to the traditional arc: the torture of training in the hot humidity of August, the glory of sunlit games on crisp afternoons, the sense of that season’s particular narrative as week follows week and game follows game.
Finally, it is time for that year’s traditional final game, locked into the schedule before all else: taking on the rival at home or away.
Those with even a passing familiarity with the college game can tick off the biggest rivalries: Michigan-Ohio State. Auburn-Alabama. Harvard-Yale. And, of course, the absolute top college rivalry: Army-Navy.
Here on the Upper Cape, we have our own rivalries.
Yesterday, the Mashpee Falcons and the Sandwich Blue Knights played in the Cranberry Friendship Bowl. The Bourne Canalmen took on the Wareham Vikings in the Superintendent’s Cup. The Upper Cape Tech Rams battled the Cape Cod Tech Crusaders for the Golden Wrench. And in one of the state’s oldest high school rivalries, the Falmouth Clippers took on the Barnstable Red Raiders in “The Game.”
After yesterday’s games, the years will pass. The running backs and the defensive tackles and their teammates will go to college or into the military, they will go to work, they will settle down and start families, their children will have children, they will retire and start collecting Social Security.
Their memories will pare down the kaleidoscope of experience from the days that they have lived—more than 25,000 by the time they reach 70 years of age—into the moments they still carry with them.
And while they may no longer remember things that seemed incredibly important to them at the time, chances are good that they will remember glimpses and feelings from when they played football for their school.
Chances are even better that they will remember playing against the rival.
The season’s-end battle against the rival continues as one of our late November rituals. The years move on, but we remember the games we watched as children, that we played on in high school, that we cheered on as our own children or grandchildren played in the games.
We might even share memories with those from the other side, enjoying and correcting the narrative, remembering the victories and disappointments one more time. Under slate-gray skies, we will recall the games often played under slate-gray skies, to be played under slate-gray skies to come.