NEW CANAAN — As we near the final 24 hours of the high school football season, the media is scrambling to provide a grand finale to the most popular scholastic sport, with admittedly few bullets left in the arsenal.
We again print capsules with updated statistics, call on different coaches to get their analyses, and search for new stories to tell that end up sounding like reruns.
As I watched New Canaan practice for about an hour on Wednesday, my mind felt like repeated waves on an ocean. What more is there to say about the Rams that hasn’t already been said?
I interviewed Lou Marinelli, the Rams’ coach, for this piece, which originally was about the secret to the team’s decade-long success. It is something we pretty much take for granted but is equally remarkable: New Canaan’s Class L final with North Haven on Saturday will mark its ninth championship appearance in the last 10 years. It will have a chance to go 7-2 in that span, including three wins in a row.
“It’s great to be out here and hearing Christmas carols,” Marinelli said as he was walking off Dunning Field. “That’s the goal here. We want to be out here playing in December. I do remember what it is like not to be playing, and it wasn’t fun.”
If a picture is indeed worth 1,000 words, I could have posted a photo here of what Dunning looked like on the night of Nov. 6. Many of you will remember it as the one quarterback Michael Collins tied the state record with nine touchdown passes against Trumbull.
It was Youth Football Night in New Canaan, and I am guessing there were about 300 young players on the field. That total, and the umbilical cord making the connection to Marinelli and the Rams, is the reason the town has shared the title for the state’s best program along with Ansonia for the past decade.
Still, it felt like a story that at least in pieces has been told over the years. While at the same time looking for new angles about the Rams’ neighbors and biggest rivals, I finally figured out something fresh to say.
I am really happy not to be writing about a Darien-New Canaan rematch, as was the case the past two years (and in 2008). I already had my creme brûlée. I don’t need a second helping.
The Turkey Bowl is the state’s best high school sports rivalry. And because Darien has moved up to Class LL this year, we are being (in New Canaan, insert “denied”; in Darien, “spared”) a possible 1-1 split in which the Rams benefit from the later win and Darien’s arguably more emotional victory becomes tarnished.
Darien’s quarterfinal rematch with Staples aside, this has felt like a real state tournament this fall in these parts. Can Darien, after pummeling Southington in the battle of the top two teams in the state polls, maintain the emotional drive against Shelton and bring the school its first CIAC title in the sport since 1996?
How great is it to see North Haven reach a state final for the first time, and give us about as great a contrast as is possible with New Canaan: two high-powered offenses that roll six if by land (North Haven), six if by air (New Canaan).
North Haven is seeking its first trophy, New Canaan is looking to keep stocking the case.
Marinelli said he did not realize he has only missed coaching in one state final during the past decade until someone pointed it out to him.
“It is all the result of how hard these kids have worked,” Marinelli said. “It’s all about a bunch of coaches that have worked their (butts) off. It’s a lot of things. It’s community support, it’s administrative support. It has been wonderful.”
If Darien and New Canaan both win on Saturday, our holiday season debate will be whether the real 1 vs. 2 game was played at Boyle Stadium. Not on Monday, but Thanksgiving morning.
And guaranteed, late Saturday afternoon, with cameras and iPhones surrounding him, Marinelli will then extend an offer to Darien coach Rob Trifone for a game the following weekend, anywhere, anytime, with the proceeds going to charity.
However it plays out, change — if the Rams again pointing their index fingers skyward is indeed change – has proved good.