THE FINAL 49:  The Roar Inside

Oct. 6, 2012

by Tom Whitestone

You've got to appreciate these guys.

Think about it.  You've played football since you were a kid.  You played in the backyard, you played in Pop Warner, you played in Middle School, you played in High School.

Every fall, you played.

And now, you choose to play for the Charlotte 49ers.

Catch is - you don't get to play.  Not for a year. 

That has to be tough. 

Red-shirts, you might say, do it every year, everywhere.  But this is a whole team.  It's not only you that doesn't get to play - it's your whole team.  They don't get to play.  So, on any given Saturday, you can't even watch your team from the sidelines.  No cheering.  No celebrating.

You just keep practicing.

And give them credit.  At practices, you see the guys working hard.  You realize they aren't just going through the motions.  They're not biding their time till next fall.  They're getting after it as if they had a game this weekend.

And you also see something else.  You see the camaraderie building.  You see the slaps on the helmets.  You see them sprinting to help each other up.  And you see them go after each other hard and then fist bump about it afterwards.

Sure, one thing that they've had since they were kids isn't there right now.  They don't get to play the games.  But they still have their team.

Just like Pop Warner, Middle School and High School.   They still have their team.

Maybe that's what gets them through gameless Saturdays void of cheers and touchdown dances.

Everyone loves the roar of the crowd, of course.

For now, without that roar, they have to be satisfied with the shouts of their teammates and the slaps on their backs.  And, they have to be happy "going long" on the practice field.  Just like the backyard.

You have to appreciate that.

Knowing there's no game around the bend, you have to appreciate players sprinting into a drill and sprinting back out, taking a knee on the sideline dripping with sweat, and cheering each other during windsprints at the end of practice.

Knowing there's no game around the bend, you have to appreciate the all-out-hustle of a Darius Smalls, who stays with a play from his receiver spot on the right side, during an end-around to the left side, so much so that he's the first on the ground to recover the fumble.

It wasn't for the win.  It wasn't for the crowd.  It sure wasn't for the roar.  It was for the team and it was for the game.  It was for football.

What they love about this game.  Why they want to play.  That's a roar that comes from the inside.

And you don't have to wait till Saturday to hear it.