They didn't win, but I don't care. My son's football team lost in the first round of the playoffs, a grueling battle on a freezing night in a strange stadium.
They got there because of a win the week before, in the last game of the regular season, when his team defeated a neighboring rival in overtime. Shivering in the stands, I was so nervous I chewed the fingertips off my gloves.
It was even colder last Friday night, when Cooper and his team went to the playoffs. As a graduating senior not likely to play college ball, he would be at center, snapping the ball in what would be the last official football game of his life.
His arms and calves were bare and I worried he'd freeze up and botch the snaps. But he didn't. The ball leapt from his hands to the quarterback's in a perfect arc, every time.
It wasn't enough, though. The opposing team was bigger and faster, and the final score wasn't even close.
The team walked away with their heads down, and huddled by the goalpost to hear the coaches' last words of the season. There were platitudes, of course, but also heartfelt words of admiration and praise for the hard work and honorable character of the young men. They knelt to say the "Our Father," and then stood to leave.
"Seniors line up at the goalpost," the coach said. Coop and the other eight upperclassmen removed their helmets and stood shoulder to shoulder. And the rest of the players lined up to say goodbye.
Bear hugs lasted for long minutes; the players grabbed each other by the necks, patting helmets and burying faces into shoulders; they were saying goodbye and good work and I can't believe it's over, all spoken through tears and through face masks.
It didn't matter that they would all see each other again at school on Monday.
This was the end of something big and earthshaking. Since I first battled to thread him into his shoulder pads when he was seven, Cooper has been part of a team.
"I'm a football boy," he would say, and I would pray for no injuries. As he got older, and bigger, I would wince every time I heard the sickening thump of bodies colliding, and then sigh in relief when he emerged from a pile of bodies.
For 10 years, from May through November, football has been his life. Every day I would ask, "How's football?" and he would shrug, or answer, "OK," or tell me some detail about a play or a drill. It goes by, and you forget that the sport, and his teammates, were his family and his world. And now, it is over.
Maybe, if I could rewrite the ending of Cooper's senior season, I would give him one more win. Then, there would have been swagger and gloat because they'd won in the playoffs.
That's what we all were cheering for in the stands last Friday night -- for them to do the unlikely and keep the season going.
But standing there on the field with them afterward, we parents saw something even better. Our disappointment got absorbed into the bigger emotions of the moment -- the pride in teamwork, the love among the brotherhood, the wistful pang you feel when something sweet is ending -- and as my son grabbed yet another teammate and patted his helmet, I decided this didn't feel like a loss at all.
Beth Dolinar is a former Riverside resident and Pittsburgh television reporter who is staying at home to raise her two children. She can be reached at cootieJ@aol.com.