Football title game a community affair

Darien won the Class LL State Championship in football on Saturday morning, defeating Greenwich in a strongly contested and snow covered game. The unfortunate backdrop for the Darien football team has been an ugly incident in early November that resulted in the arrest and suspension of two Darien players, although one was later reinstated. These events have taken attention away from one of the more admirable qualities of the football program, its connection with the Darien community.

Saturday’s game kicked off at 10 a.m., and by about 1 p.m. Darien had claimed victory. But the day really didn’t just start at 10 a.m. and end at 1pm, it went much further, and the town of Darien was part of it every step of the way. If you had arrived at Boyle Stadium at 8am on Saturday, you saw  a tailgate already in the works. Most tailgates for high school sports events consist of parking cars near each other and a few bags of snacks. Not Darien.

I arrived at 8:15 to see a fire pit set up, two grills already going, and maybe a dozen people already in attendance. The crowd only grew as the kickoff time drew closer, and it wasn’t just players’ parents. Friends, extended family, football alumni, and others smiled and laughed in the snow. Meat on grills was bought at the Darien Butcher Shop. An oyster shucking station was set up and very popular.

Hot apple cider was made by a fan and kept heated at the tailgate, and the solo cups to drink it were, naturally, blue. I spoke with a woman who was in town to go to the Pinstripe Bowl to cheer for Iowa as they played Boston College, and was asking if they could simply bring this tailgate set up with them.

Kids threw footballs, adults reminisced about past teams and memorable games, it all felt more like a family reunion than a tailgate. The talk of the events of early November was minimal, the focus was on the day and supporting the team.

The game itself has been well covered already. Darien took an early lead and spent the rest of the day fighting off a talented and explosive Greenwich team, with the Darien defense standing tall on a number of occasions.

When the game was over, it wasn’t just players that charged the field in elation. It was parents, siblings, students, friends, and families that joined the Darien players in celebrating the title. In truth, all of them played their part in the winning of that title.

As the post game celebration started to slow down, there was a massive group hug in the middle of the field. Again, this wasn’t just the team. Players, coaches, friends, parents, and family all took part.

After the game, the celebration of course went right back to Darien. The Goose hosted Darien families and coaches in the afternoon as they got out of the snow, in front of the fire, and enjoyed the win.

Coach Rob Trifone spoke in the postgame about his team overcoming adversity, and his wish that there was less focus on the mistakes of a few rather than the efforts and hard work of the many.

The comments saw some pushback on social media, with some saying that overcoming adversity means a lot less when the adversity is self inflicted. That’s fair to say. But it doesn’t mean that the efforts of the others, on the team and around Darien, to support the team lose significance.

The rest of the roster could have seen their chances diminish with the loss of key players to an off field incident and simply played out the postseason in apathy, never really believing that the championship was still possible, especially with a top ranked and undefeated opponent waiting in the title game. But that isn’t what happened. Players were supported by friends, family, and community on their journey through the postseason.

The town of Darien simply loves its football team. Historically it’s not Darien’s most successful sport, but it is certainly the most popular, as is the case in most schools. It’s not a team that sits atop national rankings like lacrosse. From 1990 to 2014, girls volleyball won 22 of 25 FCIAC Championships, but doesn’t enjoy nearly the same popularity as football. But there is something about the way the entire community comes out in support and gets involved that makes football just a bit different.

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