• Otter Views: Friday Night Lights

    By Tom Stevens

    For a small town, PG can draw a big crowd.

    Luckily for traffic flow and neighborhood goodwill, the venues shift as the events do. Parades, car shows and street fairs prefer Lighthouse Avenue. Distance runs and charity walks cleave to the coast. Jewell Park draws pancake breakfasts and the Monday farmer’s market. Caledonia Park hosts a Moon Alice jam at the July 4th picnic.

    But on a Friday night in November, the unrivaled crowd magnet is Howard Cowen Breaker Stadium, set on a pine-forested slope along Sunset Avenue. Owing the stadium an overdue visit, I walked up there last Friday for the 66th annual “Shoe Game” between the Carmel Padres and PG Breakers.

    stadium fir otterIt was a perfect big game night: full moon, clear skies, and just chilly enough to bundle up. Deciding to subtract one vehicle from a likely epic post-game traffic jam, I zig-zagged uphill on foot. I was unsure which roads led to the stadium, so I kept to the ones densest with parked cars. Increasing scarcity of parking spaces told me I was on the right track.

    Soon light and sound cues took over. PG abounds in tall trees and pitched roofs, but even they couldn’t obscure the lofty banks of floodlights overlooking the stadium. Once I spotted the haze of lights, sound guided me the rest of the way.

    From a distance at night, football fans crowding a stadium sound like the ocean. Announcer’s calls, spectators’ shouts, unison snare drums, and the restless stirring of a thousand teenagers merge into a sonic surf that builds and topples in waves. There’s nothing quite like it.

    As I drew nearer, the field itself came into view. It looked as green and groomed as a pool table, with stands of metal seats where the bumpers would be. The floodlights brightened the yellows, scarlets, silvers and whites of uniforms as colorful as billiard balls.

    Purchasing a ticket from the booth, I joined a human river flowing toward the loftier set of stands. Red and yellow Breaker “letter” jackets verified I was on the home team side. Across the field, Padre fans overflowed their bleachers and thronged out along the fencing on both sides. It looked like standing room only over there.

    Scattered seats remained open in the PG stands, but they were filling fast. I was lucky to find one about half way up near the 20 yard line. Squeezing past the couple seated at the head of the narrow, shin-whacking bench row, I plunked gratefully down into the open seat and vowed to stay there. Exiting and re-entering fellow fans laden with soft drinks and nacho trays soon put that fancy to rest.

    Out on the field, the Padre junior varsity marshaled some last-minute heroics to edge PG’s JV in a see-saw game that foreshadowed the varsity donnybrook to come. During the break, I considered braving the concession area for the featured pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw, but a glance over there revealed lines that were Disneyland-long.

    Estimates pegged the crowd at about 7,000, the older half of whom actually watched the games. The younger half streamed through the stadium’s corridors, stairwells, plazas and byways like corpuscles through the circulatory system. Mingling, shouting, whooping, flirting, snacking and goofing, they turned the night into a moonlit mardi gras. Game? There’s a game?

    Yes, grasshopper, there was a game. And this year the stakes were sky high, as both teams were undefeated and playoff-bound. Each came into the game with a 9-0 record and a 46 point per game scoring average. While a match this even seems almost freakish, the entire rivalry is no less so. According to the game brochure, Carmel had won The Shoe 31 times; PG 32 times, and there were two ties.

    The 66th Shoe Game lived up to its legacy. It opened with a 46-yard PG touchdown pass and never slackened. The Breakers and Padres traded big plays all night, with six lead changes in the first half alone. Every two or three minutes, one side of the stadium would leap to their feet and erupt in hosannas while the other covered their eyes and groaned. Then, two minutes later, the celebration would switch.

    The game had everything – onside kicks, field goals, 74-yard touchdown runs, beautiful long passes, one-handed catches, dazzling broken field running, and memorable football names. “Jake Speed rambles to the Padre 15. Bo Brothers on the stop.” Carmel finally prevailed, 40-35, but the game went down to the last thrilling second.

    If you missed that one, you can follow the lights tonight to Breaker Stadium, where Carmel faces Scotts Valley in a sectional playoff. The Breakers travel to Morgan Hill for their game. If both win, Padres and Breakers could meet again.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on November 21, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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