One of my favorite postgame celebration moments ever came in 2013 after the Detroit Tigers clinched a playoff berth. The Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland, a notoriously prickly customer, was speaking with a few reporters outside of the clubhouse when the enormity of the situation seemed to sneak up on him. While discussing his team’s achievements that year, the baseball lifer began to stumble over his words, his eyes welling up, until he was rescued by veteran outfielder Torii Hunter, who hoisted up the 67-year-old skipper and carried him out of the room and into the midst of the players’ celebration. Leyland was then doused in champagne and beer, and performed a nifty moonwalk to the raucous cheers of his ballclub.
Simply put, it was an almost-perfect celebration.
I was reminded of Leyland and the Tigers on Saturday, as I found myself on the sidelines at Yorktown High School for the Class AA football championship.
With a 44-25 win over John Jay on Nov. 7, the New Rochelle Huguenots won their first section title since 2012. But out of everything about New Rochelle’s play—the big defensive stops, the offensive explosion—it was how they celebrated their win that is going to stick with me.
New Rochelle’s players were hardly uniform in their reactions, and with more than 50 players suited up on the sidelines, how could they be? Sophomore running back Jared Baron, a youngster who has emerged as one of the section’s top players quite early on in his short varsity career, had a delirious ear-to-ear grin as he bounded across the field to hug his teammates. Senior lineman Justin Cossifos, who helped anchor the Huguenots’ defense all year, got his hands on the Section I championship plaque and stared at it in disbelief, almost like he couldn’t quite comprehend what he and his teammates had just accomplished.
And then there was quarterback Greg Powell.
For a team as deep as New Rochelle, one that has succeeded not because of one player’s efforts but a collective team play, Powell’s spot as the starting quarterback has made him the de facto face of the program, something that was certainly not lost on him as he broke down in the arms of teammates and coaches after the final whistle blew.
All the pressure of leading the Huguenots back to the promised land was lifted from his shoulders on Saturday, and his recognition of that was a beautiful thing to watch.
Of course, New Rochelle’s story isn’t over yet.
With their regional final matchup with Newburgh looming on Nov. 14, the Huguenots were back at work on Monday, getting ready to tackle their latest challenge.
But on Saturday, none of that mattered. The only thing on the minds of New Rochelle’s players and fans was letting the program’s biggest win in three years sink in.
They’ll have all week to come down from their win over John Jay, but at least they got the chance to enjoy the ride for a few minutes.
And isn’t that why we all love sports?
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