On any given night some thirty years ago, Vitauts Grinvalds could be seen in these same stands, or, more likely, standing up along the fence of the Yutan Chieftains’ football field watching the game and smoking his pipe. His sixth child, Alan, was a star on the team and one of dad’s few family engagements brought him to this field in the wind, cold and rain. Generally, he would have probably left right after to go to his cousin’s house for some poker, but he would always make an appearance at the game.
I was also in those same stands. In eighth grade, when we went to the state championship game against Grant, I would have been playing the baritone in the band, freezing, as we cheered on the mighty Chieftains.
Just recently, the World Herald named this game one of the best state football championship games in the history of Nebraska sports. It’s a bitter pill to swallow knowing that we lost the game in a fluke finish. The memory still haunts all of us, especially Alan. Vitauts drove us across the state in a snow storm to be there. He still remembers that, “someone made a bad decision, Alan should have gotten the ball.” It was 4th down and 1 to go. Yutan needed to score to win. The quarterback kept the ball and tried to make a sneak for the first down, but it didn’t work. Isn’t it amazing how a single play in a high school football game can remain relevant forever?
So today, the Grinvalds clan still gathers together to relive glory days and to create new memories in a family event I call “Fossbalt” but everyone else just calls football. We’ve been doing it for about twenty years. It started with all the siblings and kids playing in a field across from the house where we grew up in Yutan. Now, we gather once a year, and any able-bodied person is expected to give his or her all for a few hours in the name of honor.
Paul, my oldest living brother and Alan, football legend, are almost always on opposite sides because they are the two athletes. My brother Norm and I join them, and then our kids fill in the rest of the teams. Back in the old days, we’d play tackle and inevitably, people would get hurt. Sometimes they were hurled into fences, and other times trees. One time, we lodged a contact lens into one of friend’s eyes. It was pretty nasty. I myself have experienced a blown Achilles tendon among a series of less serious injuries. Ultimately, we all ache and suffer, but we do it to prove something. I’m not sure what.
This year, I invited dad to come along with the extra enticement to return to Yutan to see some old friends. He came to the field and watched for awhile, then went to the local bar, the Rusty Rooster, to have a few drinks with my sisters and the Josoffs. Although a bit disoriented and uncertain who was going to drive him home, he had a good time and was glad that he went. He stood on the sidelines just like in the old days this time without the pipe.
In a postscript to this story, I just talked with dad about the Grant game. He talked about how Alan was such a great dancer, and he should have had a chance to win the game. I said, “Dancer?” He said, “Ja, I used to go to all the dances.” “Dances?” I asked. “Ja.” Then he stopped for a minute and thought about it and said, “Did I say dancers?” I said, “Yes.” And he started laughing realizing that he was talking about “Dancing with the Stars” which he had just been watching before I walked in.