This corner of the park is operated by the Northside Youth Organization (NYO). The resurgent Colts had just fallen in triple overtime in the Bigs division football playoffs to the vaunted Dolphins, whose only defeat had come at the hands of these very Colts just few weeks earlier.
The Colts charged out to a 14-0 half time lead. They may have been riding a little too high in the saddle following the break as the Dolphins scored twice and their defense shut down what had been an effective Colts attack in the second half. As the fourth quarter drew to a close, the score was tied at 14.
At this level overtime is played by each team lining up 15 yards out with four tries to score or earn another set of downs. In the first overtime, both teams scored but failed to convert the extra point and were tied at 20. In the second overtime, both defenses stepped up, keeping the other out of the end zone.
It all came down to the third overtime.
The Dolphins’ juggernaut for a tailback, Alvin James II, rumbled through for a touchdown and the extra point was true. The Colts’ tailback, Gabriel Wright, returned the favor, running through a hole you could have driven a dump truck through into the end zone, bringing the Colts to within one. On the next play, an extra point attempt from five yards out, the Dolphins broke through the offensive line with an all-out blitz and caught the Colts’ tailback in the backfield.
27-26. Ballgame. Chaos.
The ecstatic Dolphins celebrated; the stunned Colts walked off the field in silence, their disappointment palpable. As word of the thrilling game spread more and more, people out that night at the park made their way to the Bigs’ field, whether they had a child in the game or not. By the end, it was standing room only.
Credit goes to Dolphins coach Hadley Engelhard and his staff and his boys and to Colts coach Paul Cargal and his crew. Our son Thornton played on the latter. It was a season — and a game — many won’t soon forget.
That one game — that moment — represents the pinnacle of a ritual that plays out across Buckhead, Sandy Springs and Vinings every year, every season. It is why these young athletes make huge commitments to their teams, putting in time, blood and sweat for a chance to keep playing.
Their families are just as dedicated, driving all over Atlanta ensuring they are on time, spending extra to make sure they have the equipment, sacrificing weekends and vacations in the name of sports.
Behind the scenes an army of volunteers makes sure those lights stay on, the officials get the calls right, the concession stands have enough hotdogs and cheerleaders are cheering.
As of this newspaper, either the Dolphins or the Patriots, coached by Chris Payne, are the NYO Bigs Champions. One of the quirks of newsprint is deadlines don’t lend themselves to our 24-hour information age. The championship game was Monday night, the same day this paper went to press.
It is easy to forget how much effort goes into making sure all of this comes off without a hitch. We owe a debt of gratitude to the athletic organizations, the coaches, the referees, the groundskeepers, the parents and the volunteers.
All that effort makes these moments all the more indelible.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at email@example.com.