November 10, 2011

Rivalry: From the player's perspective

Williams' traditional walk in 2005 came after a 34-23 win against Amherst finished off a 6-2 season.
Williams athletics photo

By Lee Kindlon
Williams '98

I was a teenager when I first moved to Williamstown to live with my mom,who got a job at Williams. I remember the first time I saw the football team crammed into St. Pierre's barber shop, back when it was at a different spot on Spring Street, the windows blacked out and the cigar smoke forcing its way out through the cracks around the door into the cold dusk because the mass of bodies crammed into a space too small didn't allow room for much else.

I was a good student, captain of two high school teams and the senior class president. I had a successful high-school career and really only thought about playing college ball when smaller schools began to take interest. One school, though stood out -- Williams. I knew that I wasn't going to a bigger school than Division III, and I knew how good the team was because I was right there.

Supino, Kossick, McAdam, Sigrist, Vataha -- all wonderful guys and superb athletes. When they chose to come to Williams, Williams got lucky. These guys could have chosen bigger schools. I knew Williams was the pinnacle for me and that I got lucky to get Williams. Kossick is a year older than me, so when I was a senior in high school and was accepted, other townies would actually tell me how lucky I was to be able to get to play with Mark someday.

I was buried on the depth chart at first, intimidated by the competition, awed by some of my teammates' skill set. I flourished, though, and rose to the challenge. I told myself I was going to be somebody on that team.

Lee Kindlon
Williams' Lee Kindlon, in his playing days.

I started all eight games my sophomore year, an offensive lineman that weighed no more than 235 pounds with all of my pads on. The next year, I weighed a little more and again started all eight games, including the 19-13 victory.

Senior year was supposed to be the culmination of a lot of things. We were going to go undefeated. I was going to end my long journey from being a kid with his nose pressed up against the glass, watching from the outside, to being the guy on the inside signing the fight song one more time with my friends.

Then I broke my leg. A weird fall in practice put a little crack in the fibula, and the bone broke right as I was jogging out for the first play of the first game of the year. Just like that, I was out for four weeks, or half my senior season. I came back during the fifth game and played, but I was not myself. I was, for a time in college, an arrogant jerk, playing and living with a chip on my shoulder because I always thought I wasn't good enough or fast enough or big enough; I thought that made me a better player. That arrogance gave me a shield, though, and suddenly I found myself humbled and vulnerable.

I knew I would never get everything I had worked for, but there was one more thing I had in mind -- beat Amherst. That game rolled around and we knew, from the first snap, we could win. Because of the stunning win the year before, Amherst seemed to be on their heels from the start. When we drove down and scored on the first drive (they hadn't let anyone score during the first half all year) we could smell blood in the water. We played our asses off. For the first time all year, I played with abandon and soaked in the game knowing it was to be my last. Lead changes, deep passes to swing the momentum, the drive to seal the victory, I took them all in as just a guy playing football and having fun, something that I never allowed myself to do before. I had a blast playing that day.

I did break my leg again that day. Ken Becker, the center, blocked another kid into my leg and the thing (likely held together by willpower anyway) snapped again. I knew it, I felt it, I heard it. I hobbled off the field, took two plays off, avoided the team doctor (and he avoided me by saying "Lee, if I look at that leg, we both know you can't play the rest of the game. I am going to walk down to the other end of the field") and jogged back out. I was going to end the game on my terms. I fought for that moment for so long that I wasn't going to let anything else get in the way. We finished the game, won it with the field goal and then the blur of cheering crowds rushing the field and the fight song sung until we were hoarse and the hugs from players past and present.

We did the walk, crammed into St. Pierre's Barber Shop, smoked cigars. We walked off into the night, covered in blood and dirt, cigars dangling from our mouths, kids looking on adoringly. The smell of cigar smoke on a cold autumn night still brings me back to that day.

And that's what Williams gave us. We love that game, that rivalry, because it's who we are on our best day.

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