The sight of freshly cut crass, flawless yard stripes and the dense, green of the field contrasts so much with the track and stands. As we all spread out to our respective spots to warm up you get your first glance at the other team. You immediately spot their stud quarterback or receiver. You recognize their numbers because they're all you've been watching in film all week.
The refs call for captains and you know it's close. The scoreboard has the countdown until kick off and once it gets under 5:00 it starts to get real. No more film, chalk-talk, or position meetings. Done with practice, "Team O" or "Indy." You feel the chill of October evenings, glance over to the stands to find your family, and realize there are very few places you'd rather be.
The four captains run back and tell you they won the toss and will be defending “that way.” The head coach calls the team together as we all head into the locker room. It seriously looks like a castle. For some readers unaware of the history, Knoxville's stadium was built through the WPA to get out of the Great Depression, with stone facades and ticket booths also made out of stone that seriously look like castles. The bleachers are also stone and it has the look of a Roman Colosseum with the field sunk down below the level of the street.
The locker rooms are up some stairs, through the crowd and just have a few benches and a chalkboard. This is where the coach goes over who is on which team, draws a few last-minute plays or things to watch out for. Then is the speech. He’ll refer to the team, school, family or town history. Others talk about how their older brothers played here, dad's sat on these benches, and how their sons will someday play here too. He'll draw on personal experiences from former teams; some coaches may discuss a battle they were in during the Gulf War or Vietnam. The whole goal is to instill an intense but focused mindset that will last for the next 3 hours, a way of thinking to sacrifice themselves for a greater good of team, family, school and town. He ends with a flurry of shouting as the team leaps to their feet and hurries out the door. As you escape the humid chasm of the locker room the cool air and noise snaps you back from the philosophical to reality. You notice the clock at 3:00 as both teams emerge from the locker rooms.