In September 2005, the pride of Bay St. Louis, Miss., the Bay Tigers, upset the Long Beach Bearcats 21-19.
I bet you didn’t know that. And I’m just as sure you didn’t care.
I understand. Until last week, I didn’t care either.
But almost 15 years after the fact, the account of that football game served to rekindle my love of sports. More than that, it was an assurance that when this pandemic is under control and sports are not just a daily but hourly part of my life again, l’ll be as all-in as I’ve ever been.
First, a little history about that game and why it’s still noteworthy all these years later.
Anyone who knows their Gulf Coast history knows the significance of September 2005. The game was played just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated our region. Bay St. Louis was at or near the epicenter of the destruction.
There were still curfews and FEMA trailers and blue tarps and thousands of families saying prayers of thanks for their MREs, even if there was no kitchen or even table to sit at while consuming them.
It was against that backdrop 29 Bay Tigers took the field. Before the hurricane, the Tigers, with a squad of 70 varsity players, were off to a 1-0 start. When Katrina hit, it looked like Bay High might finish with the most unlikely undefeated season imaginable.
But even before electricity was restored in most of the city and schools were a long way from reopening, football was played in Bay St. Louis. The game served as the first public gathering for most folks, whose places of business and worship and entertainment had been destroyed.
The team’s 29 players included some kids as young as seventh grade and even a couple of players from neighboring rival St. Stanislaus, which did not resume football that season.
Long Beach is located 20 miles east of Bay St. Louis, which meant the football team more closely resembled the one the school fielded before the storm.
Still, the Tigers were able to jump out to a two-touchdown lead then hang on for the emotional win. It truly was an incredibly unlikely upset.
The celebration was short-lived when the public address announcer reminded everyone Hancock County was still under a curfew and everyone needed to head for their (mostly temporary) homes.
This story came flooding over me last week as I listened to a repackaged edition of “This American Life” on National Public Radio. The theme of the show was the role sports play during a time of adversity such as a storm or pandemic.
Reporter Lisa Pollock is a long way from being a sports person. In fact, she says in the story the Bay-Long Beach game was the only one she had ever honestly cared who won.
But, just like everyone who works for “This American Life,” she knows how to unearth the humanity from any situation.
Full disclosure, I’m a “This American Life” geek. In fact, I’ve been starstruck only once in my life. I was at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, just wandering around to get a feel for the entire property. As I went past the Cirque du Soleil Theater and made my way to the pool/spa area, I saw “This American Life” host Ira Glass.
I wanted to tell him the largest piece of artwork in my living room (then and now) is a framed poster of a “This American Life” live show. But I chickened out and left him to his mani-pedi.
Anyway, the reason I love “This American Life” is because the storytellers do such a great job of capturing what makes a person or group of circumstances interesting and noteworthy.
When they decide to do the rare story that involves high school sports, then I’m the exact target audience.
In the piece, the coach from Bay High asks his players moments before kickoff, “Does anyone have any questions — offense, defense or special teams?”
One player obviously raises his hand, leading the coach to say, “Yes, Kyle.”
The player replies, “I love everybody.”
The coach then says, for the first of three times in the piece, “Everybody touch somebody.”
Anybody who has ever been part of a high school football team knows “everybody touch somebody” is code for “let’s say a prayer and come together as one unit.”
Those were just two of the lines in the piece that made tears well in my eyes.
The story (episode No. 705, titled “Time Out”) also reminded me I will happily leave behind my addiction to reality TV and Netflix in exchange for the kind of moments only sports can deliver.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on the new Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m.
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