There are few redeeming qualities about a loss. It stings. It makes you angry. It makes you sad. It can be devastating, especially when it ends your season and you have a four-hour bus ride home to think about it.
I can only imagine how Burlingame’s football team felt Friday night in Osborne as virtually nothing went right in the final game of a season in which virtually everything went right.
It reminded me of arguably Burlingame’s best team in the two decades leading up to this current group’s wildly successful run that has included back-to-back Lyon County League and district championships and trips to the Eight-Man I semifinals.
In 1991, the Bearcats had a team that many believed could make a deep run in the playoffs. Six games into the season, much of that hope had faded during a 2-4 start (keep in mind that the LCL was brutal in the early 1990s, featuring traditional powers Olpe, Waverly and Lebo).
By the time October rolled around, few had Burlingame getting through a district that included a good Alma-Wabaunsee team. The Bearcats rolled past Marais des Cygnes Valley and Lyndon to reach the .500 mark and set up a showdown in Alma for a trip to the playoffs.
That game, in late October, is one of the most memorable at Burlingame, partly because it was played during a snowstorm. My memories of that game include giant space heaters on the sideline, one of our assistant coaches (I’m talking about you, John Lujano) pacing the sideline in a short-sleeve shirt in sub-zero temperatures and a field on which only the yard lines were cleared.
Time and time again, a player broke into the clear, only to slip and fall on several inches of ice inside the yard lines. On one of the few times a player didn’t slip, Brandon Masters found just enough traction to burst up the middle and into the end zone in double overtime to clinch a playoff bid.
The weather was so awful that week that our opening-round game was postponed until a week later on a Saturday night. Awaiting Burlingame in the first round: Big, bad Waverly, a team that hammered the Bearcats during the regular season.
Memories of that game also are vivid. The coaching staff made a great decision, moving a bullish, powerful lineman to fullback to counter Waverly’s physical defense. Time and time again, said fullback barreled into linebackers, who bounced off him like pinballs.
Burlingame dominated the game, marching up and down the field with ease. Unfortunately, turnovers and penalties squelched many of those drives. Burlingame had the ball inside the 5 in the closing minute, only to be flagged for three straight holding calls. I also remember that a long field goal as time expired in regulation looked true until curving wide left by a foot.
What I remember the most is how we lost. On fourth-and-goal from the 1 in overtime, Masters bounced off left tackle and dove for the end zone. As the team stats geek, I was watching on the goal line. There is no doubt in my mind he scored. In fact, his upper body, with the ball, was in the end zone. The officials ruled he did not score. Waverly scored two plays later, gutting the team and town.
That was the first time I’d seen many of my classmates cry. Some of the toughest kids I knew were devastated. In many ways, it felt like it set the tone for the next two decades of football.
There aren’t many comparisons between the 1991 and 2016 Bearcats. The former scrapped its way into the playoffs and wasn’t considered a state championship contender. The latter rolled through the regular season like an F5 tornado, cutting a swath through a schedule loaded with playoff teams.
What the teams do have in common is that they brought the community together. Both of these runs, first in the early 1990s and now in the mid-2010s, came after long droughts. Friday Night Lights are no longer dim in Burlingame, they’re illuminating.
The 2016 team had loftier goals than getting back to the state semifinals. They expected to win the school’s first championship since 1972. They fell short, and that’s something they’re going to remember.
Almost all of these kids are back next season, and they’ll learn from this loss, because they’re winners.