Our garden, so clean and so perfect back in May, was in mid-September form when I went out there Sunday after Lehigh's loss to Yale. In this case, mid-September form means the grass and weeds were as high as my thighs, and it was time for me to rip them out.
I'm well aware that I love Lehigh football too much; that it overly affects my mood, sometimes lingering for days or even weeks after particularly bad losses. That love allows me to summon a passion for the game that sets me apart from others, I think, but the flipside of that love is a frustration that can sometimes only be vented by pulling up grasses and wild growth from a garden that has been growing there unchecked for months.
Yeah; I was frustrated with the loss. But in the garden, I don't sit there and assign blame to anybody. I don't grumble about kids, players, attendance numbers, coaches, the weather, the athletic department, or the scoreboard. I just weed, clearing out the junk in the garden that prevents the last plants to generate tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens and everything else I ask it to provide me and my family. And overall, I think it helps.
Weeding is a great way to keep your ego in check. I know it checks mine.
In May, I can do no wrong when it comes to growing things. Visions of perfectly formed plants, fresh tomatoes, more than our family can use come out in May. The growing season is ahead, everything perfect.
|My Garden Could Use A Pal|
The birds found a way to lift the netting you put around the blueberries - and there go half the ones you planned for pancakes.
But then you look down, sigh, and lock the gates. You plug the fences, fertilize, water, and weed to take out your frustrations. You ultimately have to accept the reality - this place needs to be weeded. And you do it.
And it feels good to weed. You feel like you're getting somewhere, working towards something positive, even if you don't totally know how or why it's going to be positive.
And after you weed a while, you stop. You realize that even though your garden has some setbacks, it doesn't mean that the entire reason for having a garden was a failure. The beans came in tremendously well. Though one of the tomato plants was mowed down, the others did very well, and the small hot peppers came in like fire. The blueberries that did come in tasted great in the pancakes, which you had with your family. The garden, despite the frustrations, did end up as a success, even though seeing the stalk of a pulverized tomato plant didn't evoke much confidence in me at the time.
Such as we are today with the current Lehigh football season.
The temptation is to give in after three losses, to hang 'em up. But it is way too soon for that, the same way it is too soon in early June to rip up the blueberries because some birds got inside the netting.
Lehigh fans expect excellence, and I think Lehigh players realize that. If Lehigh football players wanted to go to a place with soft expectations where fans are sparse and most don’t care, they’d have gone somewhere else. Lehigh is a place where you are expected every season to at least compete for a Patriot League Championship and make it to the FCS playoffs. It's part of the deal here.
With that comes critical fans that expect excellence - and expect it right away, perhaps even sooner than the start of the football season.
They are not shy about sharing their most deep opinions, especially online on a forum where they don't have to look in the faces of the players and coaches. It gets ugly sometimes, sometimes is uncalled for, and yet is also their true selves - people who fundamentally care about the outcome of the games, and their performance.
At times, it must seem like coming to Lehigh is a price that needs to be paid rather than a reward. The howls also come perhaps a little bit too soon and the people start to run around with their hands in the air, panicking, too early.
Lehigh started 0-2 and was trailing Penn with under a minute to play before halftime. On the final drive before the half, the Mountain Hawks scored a game-typing touchdown, which seemed to propel Lehigh to victory in that game.
What wasn't immediately apparent until weeks later was that moment, and that win, subsequently seemed to bring a huge spurt of momentum that had them get nine straight wins and a Patriot League championship. Some fans seemed like they were ready to give up after losing to Villanova.
You didn't hear much grousing from the boo birds again after the Penn game. In that sense, the players did an effective job shutting people up.
There are other examples of Patriot League championship teams starting slow and ending with epic finishes.
Not only did Colgate win that championship, they moved on and beat James Madison in what now seems like one of the greatest wins in Patriot League playoff history. Since November 14th, 2015, James Madison has lost exactly two football games. One was to North Carolina. The other was to that Colgate team.
This is one of the greatest things about the FCS and the playoffs that sometimes goes underreported. In the FBS, with only four teams in the running for the trophy, one loss or even one less-than-blowout win in September can wreck your entire season. But in the FCS, and especially in the Patriot League, it's the league that's the most important thing. It is possible to start 0-3 and still rally to have a successful championship season - and do great things.
That's not to say that it's easy - it might require a lot of weeding, let's just say - but as I saw senior DT Jimmy Mitchell say on Saturday, the goal of the Patriot League Championship is still right there for the taking. That is true.
Beyond the obvious "you'll get a great education" answer, the big rewards for playing football at Lehigh is, one, you will have a very good opportunity to graduate with a Patriot League Championship, and two, you will be remembered for what you do. And for my part, I try to make people aware of the good things that they coaches do and the players achieve.
And I'd be lying if I said that, at this early time, Lehigh looks like a team that will win the Patriot League. Not after a week where Holy Cross put up 51 on New Hampshire and made their "challenging" game against the Wildcats into a shocking laugher. Right now, out of the gate, Holy Cross looks like they might have what it takes to win the trophy.
I like to think I give an honest assessment of how Lehigh is doing, and I think that my goal always is to “build the team up” in the sense that I want the team to be excellent and to work towards excellence.
That isn’t always an 11-0 record, incidentally. Sometimes it’s starting 0-3 and battling back to have a successful season.
I’ve written about 4-7 seasons that were sheer agony to watch but beat Lafayette and ended up heroes. (In fact, that 4-7 season set up a string of championships, a fact alluded to by championship players and head coach Andy Coen himself.)
I went to a lot of those games during that 4-7 year and attended a bunch of unhappy press conferences. But in the end it was worth it for the players and fans. And their seasons were immortalized.
I ain’t going anywhere. I’ll be here. When the wins come, I’ll be here. The negativity will pass - it always does. When it does, I’ll tell people about it. I always do.
And if I sometimes get frustrated, there are still some weeds left in the garden to pull.