It all starts (or ends) tonight in the playoffs

They can say what they want about beating a big rival or winning a district championship, but the playoff chase is the reason why they play high school football. Would you rather win Homecoming or the state championship?

Child, please.

This year, players from only eight teams will walk away from the LHSAA playoffs having won their final game. (That’s still too many teams, but let’s not get into that today). That means only about 400-500 players will be part of what thousands had hoped for when they were sweating through those grueling summer workouts.

But it will be worth it, no matter what the results are.

There is nothing like the playoffs, which open tonight for most of the 13 teams from Shreveport-Bossier who earned their way into the postseason. Some are happy just to be in it and others might already be making room in the trophy case.

But they all have a shot.

Win or lose, these are the games that are going to be remembered. Maybe it’s a road trip to a place you’ve never heard of. Or being on the field in warmup and sneaking a peek to the other side of the field to see what the other team has. They seemed a lot smaller on video.

I played in four playoff games in 1976 and can remember almost every detail, right down to the hot water not working in the showers at Alexandria’s Bolton Stadium. Or the fog at State Fair (now Independence) Stadium. I remember where we parked the bus at Lutcher. I could probably still come close to guessing the game-time temperature at each location.

A few years ago on an April afternoon, I went to Winnfield’s Stokes-Walker Stadium and stood at the 38 yard-line on the north end of the field.

Just stood there.

Just stood there and let it all come back to me.

Sixty-two yards away from where I stood was the south end zone. I could recount almost all of the 62 yards of the play that resulted in what was for the winning score in the state championship game. I watched my teammate cross the goal line from that spot on the field.

It was like I was still there more than 40 years later.

Which is why I always answer the same way when I’m asked for advice for high school players who are in the playoffs – take in and embrace every single detail. It’s amazing what you’ll remember years later.

It’s just so much indescribable fun that you don’t get in the regular season.

They say that one of the best days in sports is the Saturday before the Final Four starts in college basketball because all four teams think they have a shot at winning the championship. That’s what it’s like today as the hours wind down.

Doesn’t matter about the seeding or the record or the number of college prospects. What I have come to understand – and appreciate – is that players don’t think like parents or fans or even some coaches. They fully believe they can win, even when logic tells them otherwise.

Teams that were 10-0 in the regular season suddenly become 10-1 after four quarters and wonder what happened.

Teams with a losing record find themselves still playing after Thanksgiving and joyfully don’t have time to wonder what’s happening.

There’s plenty of time later for all of that.

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