I attended high school in a small Southern Alberta town called Taber. W.R. Myers high school ranged from Grade 9 – 12 and had approximately 300 students when I attended. During the first 3 years I was there, W.R. Myers did not have a football team. A couple of the teachers had brought up the idea of starting a team that if successful, would officially start during my Senior year.
To see if they could actually generate enough interest to launch this initiative, the two coaches – Wayne Pallet and Chip Koop held a two week long intensive spring training camp prior to my Senior year. Only about 1/3 of the students attending had actually played football before, and that would have been when they were in Junior High (Grades 6-8).
I fell into the group of students that had never played the game, other than tossing around a ball now and then with friends. The training camp was brutal! Most evenings we were so sore and exhausted we could barely walk off the field. Since my ability to catch or throw the ball was mediocre to terrible, I was placed into the position of Defensive Linebacker. This position was perfect for me as I discovered, I actually was pretty good at hitting people and taking them down. Though I had no real clue what any of the plays or even half the positions were, I did understand how to hit people, and was fairly strong having lifted weights daily since I was 13.
Wayne Pallet clearly had watched the movie ‘The Program’ probably a dozen or so times, as he would continually reference James Caan quotes as he coached. The movie was released in the early 90’s and had to have a particular scene pulled out of it where the team upon leaving a bar, decides to lie down on their backs on the centerline of a busy street while cars fly by missing them by inches. Unfortunately several kids had done this on some busy interstates after having watched the movie, and several died as a result. I could see it as we did this very thing almost immediately upon leaving the movie theatre.
Having instilled two weeks of pure mental and physical pain upon us, we were now set to play our first Exhibition game in High River, AB. High River was the 2016 Tier II Provincial Champions and they had agreed to have us out. Coach Koop on the ride out said things like, “we don’t expect you guys to win, it is just a game, and it’s an opportunity for you guys to get some practice in and exposure to the sport”. Wayne Pallet had another take, he figured we could win, and there was no reason in his mind that we should think otherwise.
Upon arriving at High River High School, it was clear that we were outmatched. Their field and equipment was state of the art. We pulled up and saw that they were clearly set out to dominate us. The average player on the High River team had a height advantage of about 2-3” and a weight advantage of about 35lbs. They were so certain of victory they even had a full BBQ set up afterwards to rub our noses in the smell of our defeat.
The High River team was already in full gear and warming up on the field as we quickly exited the van, and moved into the school to get our equipment on. We geared up and moved onto the field. During warm ups our team was uncoordinated with our timing in comparison to the synchronization of flow amongst the High River team. Our team was stumbling nervously, out of sync, when it happened… a singular event that connected and bonded our team on a, dare I say, ‘spiritual’ level. While warming up the High River team began to shout out the following letters directed toward us – U. R. F. A. G. S.
All at once our team stopped mid stride, and one by one we turned around, looking down the field at our opponents, at our prey. We now had a common united objective, this was no longer ‘just a game’, no longer ‘just for fun’, this was war. Prior to the game start, my friend Carlin and I performed the Program ritual right in front of the High River player’s bench, hammering onto each other’s shoulder pads and hawking loogies into each other’s mouths. Gross and disturbing yes, intimidating to the other team, absolutely.
First defensive play out, we set up for a 30 play, meaning that I would drop to the line and square up head–head with the opposing defensive lineman. Immediately I stared him down and began a barrage of comments directed towards intimidating the hell out of him. The ball snapped! I directed the lineman headfirst into the dirt as I rushed in exploding into the jersey numbers of their QB, causing all the air to exit out of his chest as I slammed him into the ground. I was ‘in the game’.
Our team went on to destroy the Provincial Tier II Champions, an embarrassing 32 – 0. Some of us tried to call the other guys over to enjoy some of the BBQ burgers they had prepared being served to us with the company of their Cheerleaders. Guess in the end, they just weren’t that hungry.
I only played a few games the following season, choosing to earn an income lifeguarding at our local pool, over playing football. A few of my friends that continued to play suffered injuries, some still feeling those effects even today. The game was never my passion as it was to some. For some football is a way of life, and I can absolutely see why. It is a battle, it is a rush, it is exhilarating, it makes one feel alive, and it made all of us realize that we were stronger than we believed, that we possess the ability to take down giants, and that we can be and are winners.