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TIME OUT with Joe Flanagan

Pain momentary, pride forever

Heartache.
If you’ve ever participated in athletics for any period of time, you’ve likely felt it.
I know. I have. As a player. As a parent. As a fan.
There were a bunch of Cardinals experiencing that heartache at the conclusion of last week’s state football championship loss to Norfolk Catholic. You could see it, under the tear-stained grease paint, etched in the lines of their faces.
So close. So far away.
It hurts. If winning a championship – pursuing, striving with everything you have, ultimately succeeding – is to be really special, the pain of just missing that coveted goal must balance the equation.
It’s a pain that won’t last, however. In the weeks, months, and years ahead, these Cardinals will be able to reflect on a grand season and feel the satisfaction and glow of accomplishment.
There may always be a dull ache, a bit of an empty void, for something that was so close to their grasp. But there will be many more happy memories, stories to share, smiles and laughter amidst reflections of eleven exciting victories and a special season.
Yes, it was special. Very special.
Consider some of what we witnessed the past four months –
Senior Tanner Mazour, whose playmaking exploits as a QB and punt returner were extraordinary, but whose season defensively was just as impressive. If you wrote the definition of ‘shutdown corner’ in the football dictionary, you could post Tanner’s picture alongside. One of the great all-around Cardinal seasons I’ve witnessed.
Speaking of “as good as I’ve seen” … while there have been a number of exceptional receivers in Cardinal history, Derek Gentrup and Hunter Henry may well be the best tandem I can remember. Defenses could pick their poison, but they were going to get burned by one of the two, if not both.
There was senior Blake Slizoski, having his finest season and evoking memories of a long line of standout Card backs who have galloped across high school turf.
As I watched Beau Bremer terrorize opponents the past two seasons, I flashed back to memories of ‘Big John’ Dutton, Nebraska’s unusual, imposing 6-foot-7 All-American defensive tackle during the 1970s. Fun to watch – then and now!
Speaking of linemen, in 40-plus years of watching, participating in and reporting on Cardinal football, I don’t know if I can recall a group with the combination of size and quality depth that BC/NG rolled out in 2012. They seemed to pound opponents in waves, wearing down every foe except, unfortunately, Norfolk Catholic.
How about Tyler Hedlund? Heady. Cerebral. Not an especially imposing athlete, but seemingly always in the right place at the right time, making tackles and receptions, throwing key blocks. One of those essential pieces great teams need and possess.
Don’t forget a dedicated coaching staff, which steals countless hours of potential personal and family time to prepare these Cardinal teams, teaching not only football, but life lessons that will serve their players well far into the future.
A number of 2012 Cardinals have received all-district recognition. Several will be deemed worthy of all-state honors. These awards do bring some measure of personal satisfaction. Again, I know. I’ve had both.
I also know, however, that every player would, in a heartbeat, trade those awards to change last Tuesday’s outcome. Individual accomplishments are nice, but there’s nothing quite like banding together as teammates, sharing the sweat of preparation, the blood and bruises of competition, knowing the guy next to you has your back, just like you have his. Winning as one.
Football is the ultimate team sport – and team success and accomplishment the ultimate reward.
I’ve watched many teams through the years. Some blessed with great talent. Some that overachieve with lesser ability. Those that get the most out of themselves, with hard work and drive, just to win four or five games.
The really good teams, the best teams, combine it all – talent, character, drive.
Have no doubt, this Card outfit was blessed with enviable ability. But I also witnessed their tremendous work ethic. I saw players at summer workouts in the early dawn hours and late in the evening. Coaches have noted how hard and well they practiced throughout the season. They battled through aches and pains for 14 long weeks.
These Cardinals put in the extra effort and went the extra yard. They join a handful of teams that will be remembered as among the very best in school and program history, right alongside 2004, 2002, 2001, 1975, 1971, 1969, 1965, 1950, 1948, 1939, 1929 – special teams all.
Trophies are fine. What they signify even better. But, over time, trophies tarnish, are forgotten, sometimes even misplaced.
What’s inside these Cardinals – the camaraderie and comradeship, the pride and spirit of accomplishment – will never fade.
Pain today. Pride tomorrow. A very special season.

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