Saturday afternoon Tumwater head Coach strolled the familiar sidelines of Tumwater District Stadium one last
time. He knew regardless of a win or loss this would be the last time he would put on the headphones, meet with the PA announcer Jared Burbidge prior to the game to confirm the starting line-ups and the last time he would lead the T-Birds onto their home field. Sure there was hope and even expectation Coach Otton would lead this team back onto the field at a Semi-Final location and then the Tacoma Dome one last time but Saturday was certainly the last time he would be on the sidelines of his home field.
In the end, their opponent ArchBishop Murphy pulled away for the win. The game far more competitive than the 48-10 final score. The T-Birds all-everything quarterback Noah Andrews injured his bicep late in the 1st half and literally could not throw the ball. The T-Bird offense could not finish off a pair of drives in the 2nd half that would have kept the game tight and perhaps a chance to pull off a win. The T-Birds never quit in the game but there was a feeling of unity as the game clock wore down.
A crowd of 5,000 did not budge from their seats savoring every second of the clock as the large home crowd understood the significance of the time ticking away as more than just the end of the game and the end of a season but truly the end of an era. The visitor’s who had travelled well with a large crowd of their own knew this game was different than any other while witnessing Coach Otton’s final game. At the end of the game the ArchBishop players lined up after shaking hands with the T-Birds and applauded coach Otton with a tremendous showing of respect and appreciation. I’m not sure all the kids understood the significance but they knew they just played in a very special game.
After the final seconds ticked off the clock the capacity crowd was still there and although the Wildcats celebrated the win they did so rather subdued for no doubt 2 reasons, to show their respect to Coach Otton and the fact they have their eye on a bigger prize. The horn sounded and hundreds of fans, former players and well wishers funneled onto to the field to thank Coach Otton for his 43 years of leading Tumwater Football.
This moment was unchartered waters for many, no one really knew what to do, there was so much hope this would not be the final game but this day came on a brisk November afternoon on Tumwater’s home field. On our own broadcast the suddeness and realization that this part of Tumwater Football history had come to an end. The feelings were overwhelming to many. It may seem so silly to those who don’t understand the deep ties to this program and none of it has to do with wins and losses.
No former T-Bird is disappointed in the loss other than we’d rather see a win than a loss but we know the effort and pressure this team played under and they played with heart and passion and represented T-Bird Football and the Green Football principle’s at the highest of levels. We appreciate the willingness and enthusiasm this year’s team carried on the long held traditions of Tumwater Football. None of us had to play under the pressure this team had on their shoulders and they performed brilliantly.
I had all the numbers, the stats and quotes to write a final story on the final game and what happened and what led to the loss but I couldn’t focus on what really is insignificant to the history that was made on this fateful day. Yes, again as a T-Bird we all wanted a win, we all wanted Coach Otton, Coach Alexander and Coach Shoun to have their “John Elway” moment of retiring at the pinnacle with a State Championship.
But I can’t help to think that finishing his 49 year career, 43 of those years on this field this was as fitting an end as any. If indeed the T-Birds had won and then lost this week they would have been playing on a neutral field, some thought the T-birds would get to host a Semi-Final game but after talking with the WIAA they would not have allowed any team to host their own Semi-Final so they would have likely played at Sparks or Mount Tahoma Stadiums. Certainly there would have been a huge Tumwater fan base but still not as many as at Saturday’s home game.
Then if they had made it to the Tacoma Dome win or lose, you have like 10-minutes to get off the field so the next game can begin. It is a tight schedule. For sure there would not have been the hour plus time spent on the field after the final game. The Sid Otton era finished where it began back in 1974, then a grass field with a wooden stadium to now a turf field and what is referred to as the new stadium even though it is now about 30 years old. Yes, of course the best ending would have been adding a 6th State Championship trophy, I’m not suggesting that, I am suggesting this is the 2nd best ending. What a bookend to this incredible run.
The love and appreciation that spilled out on the field that hopefully will soon be named for the man who built it, was incredible and I don’t think could have been duplicated anywhere but home. It also, to me, made it real. Our post game broadcast degenerated into a love fest for Coach Otton, Coach Alexander and Coach Shoun, we didn’t even name our players of the game or play of the game because we quickly realized none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was giving due respect to these 3 men for what they created and maintained for 43-years.
Coach Otton you could tell was overwhelmed but also looked relieved as he stood in the middle of the field welcoming everyone who approached him with a handshake or hug and a big smile. He has that special ability to make every single person feel important you just know he cares.
His son Tim, a former player and long time assistant coach was torn between coming to grips with coaching his last game with his Dad and coaching his last game with his son Cade who will graduate this year and has committed to play football at the University of Washington.
Coach Alexander was busy meeting and greeting players and former players, family and friends while Coach Shoun
was still analyzing the numbers of the game. I think it was easier for Coach Shoun to focus on numbers and the game than to really accept the reality that this was it. This moment all the years, the plays, the wins, the losses, the good times, the accomplishments all came to an end.
The era is over but what will never die is the T-Bird family. The family Coach Otton created over 43-years has no chance of ending any time soon. The lesson’s taught, the friendships made the love shared is impenetrable. The brotherhood of just being part of this program whether you were a Senior of the original 1974 team to the Freshman of this season that got to play just 1 season under Coach Otton, we’re all in the family together.
Yes, there was something that ended on Saturday afternoon but the effect of what ended will be with many of us for the rest of our lives and likely will fuel future coaches and programs that put on the Kelly Green of the Tumwater Thunderbirds.
Thank you Coach Otton, Coach Alexander and Coach Shoun your legacies are sealed forever.
Family Photo Album