Who do you want to win?
That is a highly unusual question to ask a sportswriter. By its very nature it suggests ignorance of the job or the hint of partisanship in a profession where impartiality is sacrosanct.
Yet I have been posed with this inquiry about a half dozen times since last Sunday, when we learned that Greenwich and New Canaan would be playing for the Class LL football championship.
Why now? I don’t recall being asked my preferred victor in any of the previous four Greenwich-New Canaan games, dubbed the Marinelli Bowl ever since John Marinelli was hired by the Cardinals and pitted against his father Lou, the coach at New Canaan and the state’s all-time leader in wins.
On the few instances when someone asks me who I am rooting for at a game I’m working, I give the same honest response: I am rooting for the best story.
One of the more surprising aspects of this week leading up to tomorrow’s championship game is how little the father-son angle has come up. Greenwich vs. New Canaan has eclipsed Johnny vs. Lou by a wide margin. That is a good thing, and one reason why a huge crowd is expected at Boyle Stadium. This is a similar matchup to a year ago, when Darien defeated Greenwich in the final.
The difference this time is that New Canaan and Greenwich played earlier in the season, a resounding 42-14 win by the Cardinals. Rematches in the postseason are often less fun, especially when the first meeting was a blowout, but the Rams have played closer to what was expected when they were the preseason No. 1 team, giving the hope this will be a much more competitive game.
So who do I want to win? I thought about this more in a theoretical sense Tuesday night, when the Marinellis were kind enough to allow me to crash their weekly family dinner so I could steam a live interview with the two coaches (see below).
As has been the case during the week leading up to their previous meetings, there was a great deal of teasing about the loyalty of Fran Marinelli, wife of Lou, mother of John. A grin, frown or hand gesture could be a possible tell.
It is a grind for Fran, akin to being an offensive lineman repeatedly trying to fend off a relentless pass rusher.
It is easy to see her discomfort. For if Fran is rooting for either her son or husband to win, she is also wishing defeat on the other.
Which is why, if favoritism was a part of a sportswriter’s job, this Class LL final features coaches, players and teams that are difficult to root against.
The Marinellis are two of the most accessible coaches in the profession. They bend over backwards to accommodate the media — witness our dinner Tuesday night. They understand by doing so they are also promoting their teams and sport.
The players on both teams share a mutual respect. This has something to do with the relationship between the coaches but also speaks volumes about the quality of their kids.
It takes about 30 seconds around the Cardinals’ Mozi Bici before laughter ensues. The Rams’ Quintin O’Connell has an engaging personality. These are two of the state’s best players. The quarterbacks — Greenwich’s Gavin Muir and New Canaan’s Drew Pyne — are the kind of role models every town hopes for, especially to present to youth programs.
It is almost unfair to call out just these four for they are representative of their teams.
There is a lot to look for tomorrow. How will the size of New Canaan’s offensive line handle the speed of Greenwich’s defensive front? Can the Rams continue to ride their suddenly hot running game. Can they put the Cardinals in a position of having to make a big play, which hasn’t happened yet this season. How big an edge will Greenwich have in special teams? Can it land the early knockout punch that decided the midseason game?
Because of their respective sizes, the two schools have not met in the state playoffs. They have faced off six times for the FCIAC title, each winning three times. The Rams are looking for their fifth state title in six years and 13th over all. The Cardinals have not won the championship since 2007. This would be their eighth in team history.
There is no villain tomorrow. Each community will turn out to support their schools.
Fran Marinelli will have a state championship in the family to celebrate.
New Canaan was the preseason No. 1 team, followed by Greenwich at No. 2 (we in the media seldom get it right). Now they end the season on the same field.
That was something to root for.