From a human standpoint, 40 years is a long time.
It’s four decades and it’s much longer than what’s commonly accepted as a generation. Forty years ago, there were no cell phones and gas cost 86 cents per gallon.
And it’s safe to say that 40 years is long enough to not often be associated with a winning or losing streak enjoyed or endured by a sports team.
But until last Friday, the Houston High School football team had lost to Salem 40 consecutive times over a period of 40 years. That, of course, means Salem’s football squad had posted 40 straight wins over their Texas County namesakes.
No matter how you slice it or dice it, that’s downright extraordinary.
And it’s not like Houston was lousy or Salem was great the whole time. On the contrary, a lot of good players had worn Houston uniforms along the way who had been guided by really, really good coaches. When you really scrutinize the situation, it just doesn’t stand to reason.
But thankfully to Houston fans, that weird string of frustration is now a thing of the past. When the final horn sounded last Friday night in Tiger Stadium and the scoreboard showed 20 points on the home team’s side and only 13 on the visitors’ side, it was almost as if you could hear a collective sigh of relief mixed in with the hundreds of voices expelling cheers and screams of joy.
That sigh was coming from an entire fan base and program, and had built up for an inordinate number of years. Believe me, I felt it.
It doesn’t matter if the current roster of Football Tigers is better or worse than others during the 40 years that passed since Houston beat Salem 35-20 in October 1979. It doesn’t matter if other head coaches and coaching staffs were more deserving than current Head Tiger Eric Sloan and his crew.
All that matters is that Houston got the W and Salem got the L (as every good sports fan would agree).
But what’s also significant is the way the current bunch got it done. I’ve seen a whole lot of high school football games in more than three-fifths-of-a-century of living on Planet Earth, and last week’s game ranks with the best of them.
It was like a perfect storm of execution. Every kid wearing a Houston uniform played his heart out – both on offense and defense – and each one did a lot to contribute to the cause and little or nothing to hinder it.
The coaching was also thoroughly top-notch (complete with a total flip-flop of the defensive scheme at halftime that helped result in the shutout in the final 24 minutes), and Houston made several big plays on both sides of the ball in a struggle that literally required its victor to produce multiple game-changing moments.
And you’re talking about a Houston team that’s anything but deep and was playing without two of its primary starters. Let me just say, in all honesty, I was very, very impressed with what went down and I felt grateful to have witnessed it.
I’d also like to give a shout out to first-year head coach Bryson Barnes and the entire Salem squad. That was one heck of a ballgame and it’s a shame someone had to lose (although I’ll take the result, thank you).
As a throng of Houston faithful reveled in long-awaited post-game bliss, I kind of felt sorry for everyone in blue inside the stadium – players, coaches and fans alike. Trust me, just like Houston knew about the 40 straight losses, Salem was fully aware of the 40 straight wins, and the body language I observed made that quite clear.
It was like, “no, not now – not us.”
Anyway, here’s another example how long 40 years is: Sloan wasn’t yet alive 40 years ago.
So now there’s a new streak, and it’s of the one-game variety in favor of Houston. That feels pretty good, you know?
Oh, by the way, this high school football season is far from over, and if I was a betting man I’d wager the fun isn’t either.