After our last game, a relatively close 21–6 loss to our rivals Orono High School, I was overwhelmed by emotions I didn’t understand and couldn’t express. I was sad, disheartened, and demoralized, but since I had felt that way for most of three years, I was also relieved that it was finally over—that it was now someone else’s responsibility to lead the John Bapst football team against mill town teams that called us “purple faggots.” I didn’t cry that day. I sat on the dark bus home in stunned silence, that strange mixture of sadness and relief leaving me unable to articulate anything meaningful when I high-fived and hugged my fellow seniors as we left the locker room for the final time. It was hard to see any purpose in what we had gone through. We had humiliated ourselves publicly while getting physically beaten in the process. And there was no payoff at the end.
But now, years later, I wonder if maybe there was something to be gained from never winning. My fellow losing quarterbacks certainly think so. “I learned so much from it,” Gunderson, who is now a chiropractor back in Sturgis, South Dakota, told me. “You get your butt kicked and yet kids show up every single day, and fight every day, and want to work hard every day. That’s the real world. I feel I’m a better person for it.”
“We had a few kids that quit about halfway through the season, they just didn’t want to do it,” Gunderson added. “And I felt bad for them because if they quit during something like that, you know they are going to quit later in life, too.”
“In football, I don’t care if you’re on a state championship team, you’re going to get knocked down from time to time,” Kelley said. “You’re going to get knocked down from time to time in life, too, but do you get back up enough? That’s the question. … You either get up or you don’t.”