You want to know what’s awesome? I’ll tell you what’s awesome. The San Jose SaberCats are awesome. That’s what’s awesome. I’ll tell you why.
The SaberCats are San Jose’s professional arena football team, and they play at HP Pavilion on Santa Clara Street which is El Camino Real to me. They’ve been in San Jose for over fifteen years but my family had never gone to a game, continually telling ourselves, “there’s always next season.” Sadly, two years ago “next season” never came as the league cancelled the entire 2009 season for economic reasons. The league relaunched in 2010 without the SaberCats, who didn’t re-incorporate until 2011. When we saw billboards announcing the return of the SaberCats, we didn’t hesitate. We bought tickets right away.
We weren’t ready to commit to season tickets, but we took advantage of their convenient ten-pack deal which gave us a lot of flexibility on which games to attend and where to sit. Thanks to outstanding high-touch service from Jimmy Dilks, the SaberCats ticket manager, we ended up with tickets to seven home games this season, and have had a blast. It’s a fast-moving high-scoring sport, and the San Jose fans didn’t miss a step in showing their support for the team with ear-ringing cowbells, face-painted super fans, and costumes.
The first game was a surgical 76-48 dismantling of the Spokane Shock at the season opener March 11, 2011. Hilariously the opening kickoff bounced off the giant overhead scoreboard. Veteran quarterback Mark Grieb and standout wide receiver Nichiren Flowers and running back Chad “Tank” Cook showed that the SaberCats under returning coach and new owner Darren Arbet had lost none of the finesse that has earned the franchise three ArenaBowl championships. The SaberCats’ season roared to a strong 5-2 start but then key injuries contributed to a disheartening seven-game losing streak culminating in a tragically lopsided 82-21 defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Gladiators. That was Game 14. We had tickets to Game 15 the following week at home against the Jacksonville Sharks. Jacksonville had the best record in the league and was looking to extend their league-record thirteen-game winning streak.
My son is a big fan of the SaberCats but even his faith was shaken. As we took our seats for the Jacksonville game on July 1, he told me, “This is going to be a bloodbath,” so certain was he of another SaberCats loss. I decided to play the die-hard for his benefit so I turned to him and said, “This is going to be glorious.” Mine was a classical gambit. If we lost, it would be no surprise and I would lose no face. But if somehow we won…glorious indeed.
It was cosmically perfect. We had celebrated my son’s birthday at the SaberCats’ previous home game on May 28. He and eight of his buddies had the time of their lives and even won the Jumbotron chicken-dance contest, out-flapping and out-tailfeather-shaking all challengers at the Pavilion. The ‘Cats losing streak was only three games then and it looked like we had ended it when Grieb miraculously found receiver Ben Nelson in the end zone for what would have been the tying score as time expired, but there was a gut-punch of a flag on the play: offensive holding, no score, game over, SaberCats lost. That was the bitter taste we were all left with when the SaberCats left on a roadtrip for the entire month of June, losing every game. That July 1 game against high-flying Jacksonville was their first game back. We were there with three of my son’s buddies, all of whom were at that birthday loss. The stage was set. San Jose wanted redemption, and we got it.
SaberCats awesomeness extends off the field. The day after that epic win over Jacksonville, my son attended a free football clinic hosted by the SaberCats. He spent the day at their Sunnyvale practice facility running through drills and playing flag-football scrimmage matches with 20 other kids under the skilled tutelage of the SaberCats training staff. Throughout the day several of the SaberCats players dropped by to give some pointers, toss some balls, and clown around a bit. At the end of the day, Head Coach Darren Arbet addressed the kids and impressed upon them the importance of effort, discipline, and school. The generosity of the SaberCats organization towards these kids in the community was wonderful.
Tonight, July 9, is the final home game of the regular schedule. We’ll be there, ready to celebrate the SaberCats’ return season. It’s been a bumpy year and the SaberCats will have to be perfect for this and the remaining away games to keep their post-season hopes alive and get to a .500 record. Whatever happens, San Jose is proud of its hometown heroes. Besides, there’s always next season. And we can’t wait.