The end-zone boys were the only ones in or around the high school field Saturday afternoon who didn’t flinch at the negative-five windchill factor.
These hardies stood under the goal posts dressed in light sweatshirts and watched the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard football teams battle up and down the hard-packed field. When the Vineyard broke a big gain, they threw their fists into the air and shouted approval.
But on the field, the cold was a problem. It was hard to catch a football when your fingers were frozen into swizzle-sticks. A football falling from 15 feet after a 20 yard flight must have landed like a brick.
But every third play, another receiver ran down field and voluntarily stuck his hands up in the air to catch this brick - trying very hard to ignore the fact that two opponents were bearing down on him like death.
Football rivalries call out the die-hard in a lot of people. Four hundred came from Nantucket, a long ride on the HyLiner across the Sound. Many more flew to the Vineyard in their own planes. Others braved the route through Hyannis. The Vineyarders would have done the same, but this year the game was on home turf.
On the Nantucket side, six or seven high school juniors were huddled under a yellow blanket, watching the combat. For them, the Vineyard game meant more than league standing. It was a question of who hailed from the better Island.
“We don’t like the Vineyard, we just come for the game,” one girl said.
“We’re going back to Nantucket at four, and there’s going to be some big parties there tonight,” another added confidently.
Nantucket, on the face of it, had a right to confidence, even in the second quarter. They had the state’s leading scorer, Beau Almodobar. And they had some huge fellows on the line to block for him, like number 74.
“Number 74? That’s Elvis Butler!” One of the blanket sharers said. “And he’s just a freshman.” He’s also six-foot-four.
The answer was drowned out as Jenny, Stacey, Bonnie, Missy, Julie, and Pam joined the mini-skirted cheerleaders in a chant of “W-H-A-L-E-R-S!!!”
“Steroids and whale meat,” said a Vineyard fan, nodding toward the Nantucket defensive line. “They feed those guys steroids and whale meat. And Wheaties.”
How could we compete against that?
But the Vineyard crowd was not looking for the win. Everyone was, instead, looking for a score. Series after series, the team came achingly close. The fans were turning blue with frustration.
But there was no giving up. This was for the Island, now. Throw that brick up one more time into the wind, Hoist the banner that proclaimed: “M.V. Football is #1.”
So Nantucket had the oiled, state champs machine. So their cheerleaders had regulation costumes. Ours were smart enough to wear blue jeans when with 30 degree temperatures and a force seven gale wind. So what that number 74 made our Darren Lobdell look very small and vulnerable.
This was for the Island.
So up went the brick. It floated through the air to David Grain’s out stretched fingers. Too late, the Whalers converged.
Score! Confetti whipped out of the stands, blowing through the cheering Vineyard bench. The crowd roared. An ambulance siren blared. The card section threw up the letters “V-I-N-E-Y-A-R-D!” The purple-and-white got their digs in, all right. Not many have against the Whalers. The score didn’t change the fact that Nantucket won this year’s round of the high seas grudge match. But the Vineyard didn’t play dead either.
And as one Vineyard fan observed calmly as the Nantucketers slapped each on the back after the last gun:
“It’s all right. We’ll kill ‘em in basketball.”