I had made some kind of crack about soccer in one of my columns and some kid I know goaded me into checking out one of his games. It's the third coldest I've ever been in my life. (When you live in the desert all your life, you kinda keep track of such things.)
Amphi was hosting Sabino in a battle of unbeatens. Of course, this being soccer, that also meant that the two teams had like nine ties between them. But they were unbeaten, by golly!
I walked over to the football field after basketball practice and saw all these people walking into the stadium carrying blankets and big coats. I found this odd at first, but then realized that, unlike football where fans have reasons to stand up and cheer every now and then, this would be a soccer game, where folks huddle together and exchange pleasantries like, "That's my son, Number 12. Which one is yours?"
They also carry these ingenious portable heaters which consist of a propane tank on the bottom and atop it something shaped like an electric fan with a spiral coil inside resembling the cooking element on an electric stove. They ignite the propane and the element eventually grows bright orange-red, providing life-sustaining heat to all those fortunate to be within 1.2 feet of it, and leaving everybody else to sigh, "Gee, I wish I had one of those."
You have to understand. I carry around enough adipose tissue to have been able to survive the Donner Party, but I was freezing that night. All I had on was a couple T-shirts and a sweatshirt along with the shorts I wear everywhere but to church. The temperature was probably in the mid-40s, but a steady breeze was blowing, bringing the wind-chill factor down to the let's-freeze-the-fat-white-man level.
In the stadium that night were about 20 fans in the stands, the two teams and coaches, a scorekeeper who is underpaid no matter how much he gets, Amphi AD John Ryan, a few student athletic trainers, and my daughter and me.
There were also two referees, one who moved around and another who pretty much stood at around the 30-yard line and called offsides every time Amphi mounted an attack.
Apparently, offsides is the rule which was created to make sure that no one watching or playing the game ever has any fun. It basically means that you can't attack the goal unless you're outnumbered. It makes for a whole lot of 0-0 games and an American populace which would rather watch the spelling bee on ESPN than a soccer game.
Amphi is coached by Dave Cosgrove, who recently was named National Junior College Soccer Coach of the Year after guiding Pima Community College to the national championship game in New Jersey. His team didn't win, but they gave him the honor anyway, just for having the nerve to go to New Jersey.
Cosgrove has this fascinating coaching style. He sits on the bench in front of one of those portable heaters and makes fun of the student trainers. Every now and then, he looks up and asks the nearest ref, "How are you going to call that offsides?," as though there were any other call to make. Then he goes back to making fun of the trainers.
Occasionally, one of his players will get kicked in the shin real hard and will crumple to the ground. Cosgrove will look down the bench and ask who wants to go in. Usually, it's whoever is sitting farthest away from the portable heater at the time. The coach will wave him in, ask the kid who's being dragged off the field how he's doing, then go back to making fun of the trainers.
Sabino's roster is full of kids who play that nasty club soccer about 14 months out of the year, while Amphi has kids who play football for Vern Friedli and then do soccer to have something to do until spring football workouts begin.
This game is a seesaw affair, which in soccer terms means that fans would have just about as much fun watching two kids on a teeter-totter. It's nil-nil for about three hours, then suddenly one team scores. Then the other team scores, so it can go back to being a tie. So now it's 1-1 for about four more hours, then they go to overtime.
The overtime consists of two 10-minute periods which must be played in their entirety, even in the miracle scenario that one team happens to score. Now, if all they could manage is a 1-1 tie in the previous seven hours, it's not very likely that someone will score in the next 20 minutes.
But suddenly, there it is! Amphi's Short Guy has blasted a right-footer past the Sabino goalkeeper. The Amphi fans go nuts, meaning that four parents look up from their portable heaters just long enough to utter a groan.
Almost an entire minute passes before the ref on the far side comes to the scorer's table and says, "No goal!" Cosgrove looks up, puzzled, and the ref says, "I didn't have my whistle in my mouth. And when I tried to blow it, it sort of froze to my bottom lip."
Cosgrove just nods, then asks, "What's the call?"
The game will end in a disappointing (for me, anyway) 1-1 tie. Sabino will go on to blow out Salpointe, 2-1 or something like that, to win the conference title. The aforementioned three schools, along with Sierra Vista Buena, all make the state playoffs as representatives of the 5A-South. After the first two rounds, only Buena has been eliminated, meaning that three of the eight teams in the quarterfinals are from the South.
Amphi won grueling road games at Phoenix Mountain Pointe and top ranked Scottsdale Horizon before running into unbeaten Glendale Ironwood. Cosgrove just shrugged off the challenge.
"Hey, I've been to New Jersey."