One dumb act changes complete tone, scope of Darien's season
After the 42-14 loss that swiftly ended the Blue Wave football team's undefeated campaign, the scene on the field was as quiet as a funeral. While New Canaan's players posed and smiled with the Turkey Bowl trophy for photographers, their Darien counterparts were on one knee, 15 yards opposite, quietly taking their medicine.
The 42 points the Blue Wave allowed was the most in this rivalry in 22 years. It's hardly a coincidence the Rams were able to put up such a number on the Blue Wave in this of all years.
New Canaan, however, didn't crow or get too boisterous over winning not only the Turkey Bowl for the seventh straight year, but also clinching a berth in the state playoffs, which it could only do with a win over its previously unflawed rivals.
As soon as the clicking of the cameras ceased, the Blue Wave players quickly retreated to the locker room and New Canaan made its way toward the bus.
Just a guess: that eight-minute ride back to New Canaan High School wasn't so tame.
But at Darien, it was undeniably somber. More than a tinge of a tainted season loomed large, like the overcast, gray skies above Darien High Stadium. The team was as downtrodden, perhaps even more so, than when the Blue Wave couldn't win the Turkey Bowl and the FCIAC championship in the same game, back in 2008 at Stamford High's Boyle Stadium.
I attempted to ask one Blue Wave player about the game and was politely, regrettably brushed off.
This is high school football -- not the New England Patriots -- so the silent treatment was a bit off-putting, but I understand it.
How could most of the team prepare for this scenario, after all? Not the loss, of course, but the blowback.
But that's what one really, really dumb act can do. The embarrassing act of defacing New Canaan High's Hawes Plaza was one I and most others do not pin on the whole team, or even the coaches. These are high school boys. They are as much a walking hormone as they are a functioning contributing member to their society.
And stupid decisions get made. Lessons will be learned.
Unfortunately, this is a drastic, public one. And the police are involved. There's been more than $4,000 worth of damage. Arrest warrants for the five players (that's why you don't see them named in this column or any story; they're minors) are due to be handed out soon.
"The incident" -- it's what last week's spray-painting shenanigans are being referred to as more and more -- changes everything this season was about. Last week, I wrote how this team's legacy was secured because of its defense. That's no longer the case.
A great defense is not going to be what Darienites talk about years down the road. Even if this group is able to recover and win a state title -- a tough, tall task that could entail facing and beating New Canaan again, and that would be after overcoming the toughest team in the state, Masuk -- the incident will live on just as long as any stories about conference and/or state titles.
Sure, the loss to New Canaan hurts; bragging rights haven't been Darien's since 2001. But the pain, anger the players felt afterward. The discussions had at the dinner table as Thanksgiving's feast took place?
That's a seeping, helpless pain that takes a while to move on from. Maybe some players will forever hold a grudge over this, though Blue Wave head coach Rob Trifone did say he hasn't seen any football player express animosity toward the offending parties.
That's surprising considering, from a personnel standpoint alone, spray-painting New Canaan High was an, at the absolute least, illogical move.
"Going into Thanksgiving Day, prior to the events of that Tuesday night, we were in the worst shape we've been in all season long," Trifone said, noting the team was down a handful of starters already. Will Weinstock (who won the Jim Gerard Sportsmanship Award at the Turkey Bowl), Tucker Morehouse and Matt D'Andrea were all going to miss the game. James Shanley and Peter McDonough: questionable.
"We knew going in that we were beat up. When that came down, it added insult to injury," Trifone said. "And the other tough part is, the mood of the team, the change in personnel, with less than 24 hours to go."
At first, none of the coaches knew who was responsible. As of 7:45 a.m. last Wednesday, Trifone said he was hopeful it wasn't any players.
"I didn't want to go through the day not knowing. Again, whether it was alumni, members of the student body, I just wanted to know," he said.
And at 8 a.m., he called all the captains into his office, asked them to text, Facebook, contact everyone on the team. He needed an answer. Fast.
And if no one fessed up, the Turkey Bowl would be forfeited.
"When we figured out it was player, obviously I was terribly disappointed," said Trifone, "and once again, not even thinking about the lineup, jus thinking of, here you are, 10-0, FCIAC champions, and an absolutely marvelous season, and you want to mar it by doing this? At 9:46, I picked up the phone, called Lou Marinelli, and without giving him names, I just said, `Lou, we figured it out. It's five of our players, we've removed them from the team.'"
Marinelli implored him to let the players stay on the team for the Turkey Bowl. He wanted his Rams to play Darien at its strongest, especially since injuries had already riddled the team.
"It's a shame, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, that those ... that this had to happen," Marinelli said. "It's a little tarnished by not having those kids and not having them at full strength. And I feel for Rob. I hope their kids and our kids learned a lesson from this. It doesn't help anybody, it really doesn't. As much as the rivalry is, it's all that's good about high school football with two communities that are proud about their football programs. I'm glad we got in [the state tournament] -- we always want to beat Darien -- but it's a little tarnished what happened."
Trifone added, "It could've been anyone. Lou said it could've been five New Canaan kids. It's not that it's a Darien thing. To me, they look to me to lead them past it now. I am trying to ensure for the remaining members of the team that the ride is not tainted. We did what we needed to do legally and athletically, we took a chink in our armor on Thanksgiving Day, but at least the guys I'm looking at practice in front of me are here and committed, and that's the way I look at it."
Trifone has not talked the five players or their families since the incident. That's largely because of the investigation that's ongoing. Right now, he's in a position where he's still scrambling to patchwork the team and pour every ounce of effort into keeping the season going against what will surely be the toughest test of 2010: undefeated Masuk.
With last week's win, the Rams believe they are the best team in the FCIAC. Who knows if that's true. What is known: Darien blew its chance to negate that statement and sentiment by making the dumbest statement -- off the field -- it possibly could.