“It was a pass.”
This quote by one of the most gifted, and certainly the most mercurial, soccer players in history came to my mind Friday evening as the clock ticked down to triple zeroes in the Wildcat football game against the Archbishop Hoban Knights.
The factual content of the quote by Frenchman Eric Cantona, voted by fans as the greatest player in the storied history of Manchester United – the New York Yankees of English soccer, has nothing to do with the game that the Wildcats won by the slimmest of margins, 42-41. It referred to the moment in his career that Cantona cherished the most: a pass – to be precise, a flick over several Tottenham Hotspur defenders – to teammate Denis Irwin who settled the ball with his right foot and put it past the Spurs keeper with his left. In Cantona’s words, “He took it in stride and my heart soared.”
At their best sports can be beautiful, they can be masterpieces, they can be works of art, and they can make our hearts soar.
Some games just have the ability to transcend the insignificance of athletic contests. It could be the stage, like the Olympics or the World Cup, or maybe it is the participants, like Jim Brown or Joe Montana, but even on the level of high school sports there are such moments, and we at Saint Ignatius have been granted more than our share.
Under the Friday night lights of Dowed Field those in attendance witnessed a game worthy of hearts soaring – even if you happened to be a fan of the team that scored 41. And that is the power of sports: the power to – even in defeat – see the beauty of what was witnessed.
Back in the fall of 1985 Week 9 produced a game between Saint Ignatius and Benedictine that engendered the same kind of feelings as this past weekend’s game. In a back-and-forth slugfest between the Cats and the Bengals, our guys eventually prevailed 34-32. During the post-game handshake legendary Benedictine coach Augie Bossu had a few words he wanted to share with his Ignatius counterpart, third-year head coach Chuck Kyle ’69. With a smile on his face he looked Coach Kyle in the eye and said, “Wasn’t that a great game?” Yes, Coach, it was. It made hearts soar.
In chatting briefly today with Chuck about the whole notion of sports as a provider of moments of transcendent beauty I got a glimpse of what that means for the man who stands on the sidelines and for the young men he shepherds. Coach Kyle compared the Archbishop Hoban game to the film Rocky II, and focused on that moment when Rocky landed a blow on Apollo Creed that made both the champ and the contender believe that the outcome is still up in the air.
The blow landed on the Knights by the foot of Declan Mangan ’21 with his first-half 53-yard field goal was akin to that crucial punch, and it gave everyone on both sides of the field the knowledge that the Cats can score even when it doesn’t seem possible.
When Eric Cantona described “the pass” in the film Looking for Eric the film’s protagonist, a down-on-his-luck Manchester postman also named Eric, asked him a question that makes total, logical sense considering that Denis Irwin is a fullback – a man more comfortable blocking rather than scoring goals: “What if he’d have missed?”
The response is pure Cantona, and could have easily been given by Coach Kyle, “You have to trust your teammates. Always. If not, we are lost.” When we trust others, and when we pass on to them the opportunity to do great things: that is when hearts can soar.