It was a scant crowd that attended Friday’s Darby at Flint Creek football game.
Maybe it was the chilly fall evening.
Maybe it was the opponent or a foregone conclusion.
Maybe it was just “one of those nights”.
Whatever the reason, those who missed the game missed a moment that is as big as any victory or title either team will ever possess.
Jake “Sunshine” Sanders is a former graduate of Darby High School who is fighting a losing battle with Lymphoma Cancer. He returned home late Thursday night to spend his final days under the Big Sky.
Darby Head Coach Jeff Snavely contacted the Flint Creek skipper Mike Cutler early in the week, telling him what his team wished to do to honor Sunshine
“When I called Cutler at the beginning of the week to tell him what we were gonna do on his home field, but I wanted to let him know there was no disrespect to him or his players. He called me back the next day and said the Titans wanted to do something too.”
Darby’s intention was to take a delay of game penalty on their first series in memory of Sunshine. But Flint Creek wasn’t about to let them be penalized for such an act, deciding to ‘jump’ off sides on the very next play to counteract that penalty and set things back to an even keel.
Cutler and his family have dealt with personal medical issues that made him intensely aware of what the Darby players and their families were going through. Armed with that knowledge, the Titans decided to not just play along with the memorial act, but to also wear the same fluorescent green that the Tigers did – a color which is symbolic of Lymphoma Cancer.
“Jake was a big part of Darby football,” said Snavely of the pregame actions Friday night. “He was a well behaved, polite young man who always had a heart for this team.
“It’s huge,” continued Snavely, speaking of the efforts by the Titan coaches and players. “It means a lot to our boys, I know that. Means a lot to our coaching staff too.”
After those two plays, the two teams came together at midfield exchanging hugs and handshakes. It was a moment of sportsmanship and camaraderie that gave everyone present a chance to reflect on just what was most important.
And it wasn’t a football game.
“It just breaks your heart what his family and his teammates and his school is going through. I can’t imagine it,” said Flint Creek Defensive Coordinator J.C. Holland. “We’ve had some kids sick before with some injuries and some things like that. We had Liam last year with the problems with his accident. It just breaks your heart when this kid is fighting for his life. It puts everything into perspective.
“You know we maybe have a bad quarter or a bad game, it’s like … you know it wasn’t the end of the world.”
The Titans won the game going away, 44-0. The outcome was never in question.
But on a night when so many other things would normally take center stage, for a few brief moments they all faded to the background.
And what remained was the purest form of the game … the game of life.