SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
The perfect season went up in smoke in a double-overtime loss to Bethany, but that hardly diminishes Tabor’s ascension to the top of the KCAC football ladder.

Tabor’s accomplishment offers several possible analogies.

Does the championship lift the curse of Tabor football, a college with nonviolent beliefs and traditions, playing such a violent sport?

Perhaps Tabor’s football success mirrors the story of the little engine that could. Or, maybe Tabor’s first title is better suited to the famous statement uttered by broadcaster Al Michaels when the U.S. Olympic hockey team won the gold medal in 1980, “Do you believe in miracles?”

Those are interesting analogies, but none fits perfectly.

If there were a football curse, it would have to be self-inflicted. Tabor’s decision to start football in the late 1960s hardly compares to the alleged curse of the Bambino when the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth.

Historically, Tabor recruited student-athletes who were not a good fit for the Christian college, translating into football players coming and going through a revolving door.

However, I imagine that some cynical Tabor alumni visualized Menno Simons, a prominent figure in Mennonite history, rolling over in his grave when Tabor elected to field a football team.

The case could be made to compare Tabor’s current football success to the little engine that could. Try as they might, the Bluejays just weren’t very good very often, and it seemed as though they were destined to lose football games.

Building a football program more closely resembled a runner trudging uphill into the wind in two feet of snow. But it’s a stretch to say the analogy is a perfect fit.

For one thing, most of the other colleges weren’t that much bigger than Tabor. Tabor may like to think of itself as David, but the KCAC has very few Goliaths when it comes to enrollment.

Bluejay fans may think it’s poetic justice for Tabor to have won the KCAC in miracle fashion, because who honestly thought Tabor would ever win a football title?

Tabor’s best chance was last season, and they fell a game short, then graduated a bunch of talented players and lost their head coach to boot.

Picked to finish fifth or sixth in the preseason by coaches and the media, Tabor was not expected to be a serious contender this year.

That may have made the championship more enjoyable and memorable, but hardly of miracle proportions.

I don’t want to discount the possibility of divine intervention, although it’s doubtful that God is in the business of determining the outcome of KCAC football games.

So to what do we credit Tabor’s success? Credit it to a bunch of determined players and coaches who did whatever it took to find a way to win.

The cynics will say Tabor had the good fortune of winning the championship in a year when the conference was not as strong as in other years. The flip side is that there were no bad teams this year, hence no easy wins.

So, say what you want, but give Tabor credit: week in and week out they played well enough to win and played more consistently than everyone else in the conference. The Bluejays are the deserving champs.

Use whatever analogy works for you, but extend congratulations to the Tabor coaching staff and players. Special kudos to first-year head coach Mike Gardner, who shows remarkable humility and appears to have things in proper perspective.

After defeating Bethel and clinching the KCAC championship, Gardner was quoted as saying, “A lot of the credit for what we’ve done this season has to go to my predecessor, Tim McCarty. Without Coach McCarty hiring me, helping me and giving me a chance, this probably wouldn’t have happened. I love Tim like a brother and he forever should be remembered as the guy that got this thing going. I’m just the one that stepped in and kept it going.”

Gardner is right to credit his predecessor for building the program, but don’t kid yourself. He did a remarkable and outstanding job in his first year as head coach. Here’s hoping he stays for a while.

Never has the saying, “Nice guys finish last,” been further from the truth.

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