SPORTS: Football triple-header has its highs and lows

September 25, 2006

There's nothing better than Friday night at a high school football game.

Unless it's Saturday afternoon at a college football game (even if it is Indiana University).

Or Sunday afternoon at an NFL game.

Then again, how about all the above on an idyllic late-summer weekend?

So, my wife, Sherry, and I set out for a tripleheader gridiron adventure.

And before I proceed, let me say it's terrific to have a bride who will happily endure three football games in 48 hours. For example, if she wanted to go to the flower show on Friday, the art fair on Saturday, and the home show on Sunday, I'm not sure I'd muster much enthusiasm.

Then again, wives can be pretty persuasive. Right, fellas?

Anyway, we took in the Hamilton Southeastern-Lafayette Jefferson game on Friday. Saturday, it was off to Bloomington to see the Hoosiers against Southern Illinois University. And Sunday was the Colts' home opener against Houston in the RCA Dome.

Regrettably-as I realized within a few minutes of arriving at Hamilton Southeastern-it had been too long since I last attended a high school game.

Admission is five bucks, as good a sportsentertainment bargain as there is. "Spirit" is an overused term, but there's little that matches the unbridled enthusiasm that goes with high school competition. The students pack the bleachers and act like, well, teenagers, which in this context is a good thing. And the youngsters in uniform play with so much heart and effort.

Another of the better aspects of prep football is that you never know what you might see. Coaches are willing to try the unusual, and on this night that came courtesy of Lafayette Jeff. The Bronchos ran an entire series-all the way down the field to a touchdown-out of a spread formation that had to be seen to be believed. Four linemen and a back lined up on one hash mark. The center and quarterback lined up on the other hash mark, surrounded by another back and some receivers spread all the way over to the far sideline.

It was both wacky and wonderful and the Royals, busy scratching their heads, had a difficult time defending it. Around us, we heard some HSE fans grumbling that "they can't beat us with real football" and, ultimately, that proved to be true as Southeastern pulled away to win. Still, it was the bizarre stuff you rarely see at the next level and not at all in the pros.

On Saturday, we made our usual trek to IU. And as if losing Coach Terry Hoeppner to brain surgery and wide receiver James Hardy to suspension weren't enough, the Hoosiers then laid an egg-no, make that an omelet-against I-AA Southern Illinois.

Listening to the post-game show on the way home, callers railed on the Hoosiers, using words like "pathetic" and "embarrassing." Yes and yes.

At the same time, however, it proved again that expectations based on "levels" don't always come to fruition on the field. Just ask Colorado (Montana State), Northwestern (New Hampshire) and New Mexico (Portland State), which also have lost to IAA teams this year. Still, no excuses.

Fortunately, we had the Colts on Sunday to look forward to. Outside, the area around the Dome was rocking, and we peoplewatched from lounge chairs set up outside the Omni-Severin. I wished to have some distant economist or sports naysayer next to me to tell me there's no value or financial kick to the enterprise when downtown is jammed with people spending money and having a good time.

Inside, this was our first time in our season-ticket location, Section 319. It's like moving into a new neighborhood, a football "Cheers" where everybody knows your name ... except ours for now. But we quickly learned those Upper Deckers sure know how to have a good time.

And, again, this is a place I'd like to bring the whiners who claim only the wealthy can afford the Colts. Around us the folks were decidedly blue collar, and I'm not talking just about the jerseys they're wearing.

We only had one regret: It would have been a perfect day for outdoor football. The good news: Two years from now, we'll be able to make that happen.

Finally, I'm often wrong: Even though I knew better, I mistakenly transcribed "Wayne State" instead of Wright State as a Horizon League member from the notes of my interview with HL Commissioner Jon LeCrone that was the basis of last week's column. My apologies to LeCrone and the Horizon League. That's also two gaffes in a row, so I've taken the pre-emptive action of placing myself on probation.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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