To the citizens of Dear Old Maine:
It is safe to say we are at a crossroads.
Is it “Maine…the way life should be”? This slogan of course refers to a unified state in which all us “Mainers” are stubborn but ultimately accepting, anxious but ultimately trustworthy, and where hard work is not just rewarded, but demanded, expected and a sometimes unrecognized norm.
Or is it “the tale of two Maines”? This version of the “Dear Old” state is where a politically and economically disjointed state continues to work against itself on social and political agendas that don’t jive, let alone mesh in some form that is beneficial for all residents, from Madawaska to Kittery.
I don’t profess to know the answer, and I am not naive enough to believe it is as simple as I often wish it would be. I’m sure it will always be a combination of both slogans. What I do profess to practice is the idea, like it or not, from North or South, East or West, wealthy or struggling, left or right, there are some things that can still unify this state.
Athletics, in this case football, is one of those things — particularly Maine Black Bear football.
For years it has been said, and ultimately practiced, in the way of attendance at least, that Maine will support a winner, especially those that compete on the “big stage of postseason play.”
I grew up in Bangor, in the backyard of the UMaine campus. I watched Clemson come for the NCAA baseball regionals at Mahaney Diamond. I grew up watching Jim Montgomery and Paul Kariya and 42-1-2 at Alfond Arena. I grew up watching Cindy Blodgett make it rain pretty much anywhere she felt like shooting. I have celebrated the heritage that is UMaine sports — a rich and proud tradition.
But I am a football guy. So I worshiped my chance to go see Mike Buck play. When I couldn’t go, I loved listening to George Hale and coach Walt Abbott call the game. I watched on TV as Chris Treister dove over the goal line in 2011. I have watched hundreds of games with varied results in between. The crowds at the games seemed to show the same fluctuation.
Now fast forward to this season. The Maine Black Bears are 10-2. They are ranked fifth in the NCAA’s playoff bracket (FCS). Remember that big stage? These Bears are owning it.
Certainly this team is fun to watch. The defense is tough. The special teams are making big plays, and the offense is explosive. It is not always pretty or perfect, but it’s lunch-pail-like. They show up every week, and outwork and outplay their opponent. They’re all on board. They live their motto, “One Direction.”
We in Maine, we work hard. We celebrate our own. We believe Maine is a special place. Not everything here is perfect. Sometimes it is downright hard. The kids playing football, and their coaches, have come to embody those same qualities.
It’s high time we reward them. It’s time for Mainers to do what we have always done, and support our own. Sure they are not all originally from Maine, but I was under the impression we, as a state, supported those who donned the Maine blue and white because of what it said on the front of the jersey.
The next game is at Morse Field at Alfond Stadium, the first-ever home playoff game in Orono, on Saturday at 2 p.m. It’s against our rival UNH. Let’s pack the place! I’ll be there cheering for our Maine Black Bears. It’s the Maine Way.
I vote we go back to “Maine, the way life should be.” The football program has, and so should we.
Accept them and reward them by being there to support them.
Dan O’Connell, a lifelong UMaine football fan, is the assistant athletic director and head football coach at John Bapst Memorial High School.