You can have your baseball openers. The bunting, ceremonial first pitches, rite of spring, everybody but the peanut vendors being introduced and lining up along the base lines.
Me? I’ll take opening night of any high school football season.
“Friday night lights,” said Madison two-way lineman Sam Vermillion.
“It’s turned up,” said Lincoln quarterback/safety Donell Pleasant.
“That first hit, first pop,” added Hornets linebacker Johnny Garcia, his eyes lighting up, a smile creasing his cheeks. “After that, it’s all adrenaline.”
Madison, the defending Division IV state bowl champion, and Lincoln, the San Diego Section’s reigning Division III champ, kicked off the 2013 season Friday night at Lincoln. On a sweltering, humid evening usually reserved for South Florida, Madison left no doubt which was the better team, giving the Hornets a 35-6 thumping.
As Madison coach Rick Jackson gathered his team in front of him after the win, you could see how the man is building San Diego’s best public-school football program. Last year’s 14-1 season? Forgotten.
“We should have scored 35 points in the first half,” he told his team. “Are you satisfied with the victory? Are you satisfied with the effort? If you are, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Noting that one player had already replaced his helmet with a visor, Jackson needled the kid.
“Nice visor,” he said. “You already got it autographed?”
There were the usual high school football trappings. The pep band, the cheerleaders, the overly enthusiastic home team public address announcer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are the San Diego City champs!” said the Lincoln announcer. “You better believe it. Yes, yes, yes.”
No, no, no. The fourth-quarter score at the time: 28-0. Madison added its final touchdown a couple plays later, and the rest of the game was played with a running clock.
The final score aside, the Madison-Lincoln matchup is a fascinating one for multiple reasons. North County schools may dominate Division I and D-II — with Oceanside being the county’s gold standard — but among San Diego public schools, Madison and Lincoln separated themselves in 2012.
On Friday, Madison stood alone.
“Before Coach Jackson got here, we were always known as little Madison,” Vermillion said. “Everyone would come run all over us. We’re not known as little Madison anymore.”
For Lincoln’s players, the Madison rivalry is personal. Students in the San Diego Unified School District can attend whatever school will accept them. More than a few players who live within Lincoln’s neighborhood boundaries opted to play their football for Jackson.
“I know a lot of kids who go to Madison,” Lincoln linebacker Johnny Garcia said. “They live right next to me. (My attitude is) You turned your back on me. I tell ’em, ‘Watch your back ’cause I’m coming.’?”
The big question for Madison is how it will replace running back Pierre Cormier, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season and now attends Arizona. Turns out the Warhawks are loaded at the position.
Michael Garner is the flashy, scatback type, but he left with an injured ankle. In stepped senior Kevin Moore. Write the kid’s name down, a 6-foot-3, 205 pounder who had three touchdowns and left too many cleat marks on Hornets’ chests to count.
As for the game’s setting, it was if the man upstairs knew it was opening night and dressed the evening accordingly. With the downtown skyline and the Coronado Bridge as a backdrop, as the sun set on the humid evening, the clouds turned into a pinkish hue.
Said a fan sitting below the press box: “Ab-so-lute-ly beautiful.”