For the first two years, the novelty of father coaching against son provided the primary storyline for what has become known as The Marinelli Bowl. That would have been the case even if father Lou’s New Canaan team had not been a heavy favorite against son John and Greenwich.
The initial meeting was awkward, the second more emotional, with the game in New Canaan, where John grew up, played and had been the offensive coordinator before he was hired to take over in Greenwich.
All that sentiment will continue this week, on Saturday and for as long as this chess match continues. That is what happens to a close football family accustomed to working together and achieving long-term success. Because when the game is over, one Marinelli’s victory will be tempered by the other’s defeat.
This is the least favorite week of the season for the Marinellis, and having their family football drama under the spotlight makes it all the more difficult.
That changes this weekend. New Canaan comes in at 3-1, still chasing down an opening-night loss to St. Joseph. The Cardinals are 3-0, have outscored their opponents, 167-23, and are the most well-rested team in the FCIAC, with three running-clock second halves and two byes.
More importantly, there is the real possibility that the Cardinals may have taken the next step and are ready to compete with and even defeat the Rams.
Which means the story this week is Greenwich versus New Canaan, not John versus Lou.
“I think it is, and it should be really,” Lou said. “It’s bigger within the family I think and maybe it’s a human interest thing for some people, but the fact that he has that program really going is a plus because it should be more about the kids playing than the two of us coaching. I think the kids down there, and even Johnny, are saying ‘Hey, we’re pretty good, we’re undefeated and lets see what we’ve got.’ ”
If the spotlight is turned away from the family, that would be its preference. The emergence of the Cardinals so far has taken care of that.
“Obviously we want to measure ourselves and I don’t know if the first three weeks of the season were a great measuring stick or not,” John said. “Are we for real or not? Who knows. Saturday is a great measuring stick but at the end of the day we can still lose to New Canaan…they’re real. The St. Joe’s loss, call it what you want, but they had opportunities to win that game and from a talent perspective it was an upset. If anything we are kicking ourselves that St. Joe’s beat them because it woke the sleeping giant, so to speak.”
While New Canaan enters as the favorite, it also has more at stake. The Rams don’t want to go into Thanksgiving against Darien with two losses and perhaps being in a must-win situation to have the chance to pursue a fifth straight state title.
The Cardinals still have a difficult schedule ahead, but right now more short-term cushion.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Lou said. “If we lose this, we can knock ourselves out of playoff contention.”
John said when he took over he had a five-year plan, but the Cardinals earned a state playoff berth last season. Can they do that again — and more — this year?
“We don’t have a loss yet so our season doesn’t ride or die on this,” John said. “There is no FCIAC championship anymore so we are not playing for that, we are playing for ourselves and CIAC positioning and that is a different feel. We’re different than New Canaan. They can lose this game and now they have to beat Darien to get in. We can lose this game and still get into the CIAC playoffs. We’re in a much different situation for the first time ever. It’s a much different feel from my standpoint because now New Canaan’s backs are against the wall.”
A lot of the words are posturing, mind games, veiled digs.
“You’re going against Yoda and he has all the answers,” John said. “I know that he has answers, I know that he has solutions, he has a lot of things on his side.”
This year the story is Rams and Cardinals, not Marinellis, even if it still touches on family emotions.
“It’s a week I want to get over with.” Lou said. “I’m not looking forward to getting down there and seeing him on the other sideline.”