Rob Trifone settled in to watch the Bills play the Steelers on Sunday Night Football, the chance for an escape from the previous 24 hours.
Then came the promotion: the Newtown football team would be on the NBC set during the halftime show.
For Trifone, the Darien coach, there was no escape.
Newtown produced as big a feel-good story as you can in sports. On the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Jack Street’s 36-yard pass touchdown pass to Riley Ward on the final play gave Newtown a 13-7 win over Darien for the Class LL championship.
Ward ran a post to the outside, a defender got turned around and suddenly Ward found himself open, with three Darien players on the periphery.
Twitter videos went viral, and soon the story was getting picked up by the national media. It was unavoidable. And with each new social media post or replay came a reminder for the Blue Wave of the missed chance for a fourth state title in five years.
The question I wondered yesterday and asked Trifone this afternoon: given the way the game ended, was it made easier that it came against Newtown on a terrible anniversary, or was it more difficult because there were constant reminders.
“To be honest with you it made it a little easier,” Trifone said. “We’ve won a lot of them and unfortunately you lose some of them, and it was a game we certainly could have won. The silver lining was it’s a great thing for the Newtown community. Not that we wanted it that way.
“For lack of a better phrase, they deserved it. Even in that moment, which you can imagine for any player or coach on the Darien side was shocking, I made it a point to shake as many hands after the traditional handshake. I told them how happy I was for them, because I was. As miserable as I was, in the grand scheme of life I felt good for those guys.”
I asked Trifone if, when he was watching the Sunday night game, he felt like throwing his arms up in the air and wondering where he needed to go and hide to get away.
“There was a little bit of that but still I understand that poor community went through hell and now at least the community has something to celebrate,” Trifone said.
Trifone, as any coach would, has watched the replay of the final score. He called a timeout before the play and has second-guessed one piece of advice he gave to the defense.
“I told the kids we were going into nickel defense,” Trifone recalled. “I stopped and I said you boys understand you cannot pass interfere, because if you pass interfere the game can’t end on a defensive penalty. They’ll get one more down and they’ve got a good field goal kicker. I shouldn’t have even said that. When you watch the tape, and you know the players the way I do, I could tell that they held back a little bit, like they were afraid to pass interfere. Had I not said that I don’t know if it would have changed anything but I can’t help think, because I made a point of it…”
There were prior chances to secure victory. Trifone said the game shouldn’t have come down to the final play. But it did. Perhaps it was just one of those unimaginable outcomes that also provides perspective.
“It is what it is. We had many opportunities to win the game,” Trifone said. “The angels weren’t going to let it happen. I’m convinced.”