Monthly Archives: May 2013

Long Days

31 May 2013

Anyone that knows a bit about geography understands that the country of Finland lies a bit further North than the continental United States. Alsaka would be the only comparable chunk of land latitudinally (is that a word?). The latitudinal coordinate for Seinajoki is 62.7903 degrees North of the Equator. Comparably, Portland Oregon is 45.5326 degrees North. Fairbanks Alaska, on the otherhand, is 64.8378 degrees North of the equator. So for those of you that have lived or spent significant time in Fairbanks… you can Google some other page.

Today in Seinajoki, the sun sets at 11:07PM and rose at 3:45AM. This, of course, does not mean it is totally dark at those instances. There is that transitional period called “dusk” and “dawn.” What all this boils down to is that it wreaks havoc on my sleeping patterns.

At home (either Oregon or Belize), I usually go to bed fairly early and get up early as well. It is a habit I have developed over my years I think forced upon me due to that nasty necessity called “work.” Going to bed early and rising up early is great at those latitudes. I trudge off to bed usually in the dark, open up some book and read a paragraph or two before that puts me to sleep as well as any sleeping aid in the world. Here, however, I find myself not really tired at 10PM and it is fully light out. This is compounded by the fact that we have late practices with the football team. They are from 7:30 to 9:30 in the evening. We have to adjust our practice schedules because most of the Finnish players are employed during the day. So, after a practice, I am all jacked up and not really ready to go to bed. Bottom line is I end up dropping onto the mattress around Midnight.

That is fine and dandy except my body still thinks it needs to get up around 5AM. I have lately developed the ability to fall back asleep for an hour or so and eventually get up around 7 or 8. This is a small miracle in itself as I have never been able to fall back asleep in either Oregon or Belize. I am not a “napper” either so catching a power nap mid-day does not work for me.

Since coming to Finland, I have not seen true darkness, which gets close at around 2AM or so. I recently posted a picture that I took from the field house after we had returned from our trip to Porvoo for our first football game. Here it is again. You can see the light in the sky.

2 am sky

I do the best I can with curtains and such hanging on the windows and the glass balcony door that face the outside world. But, that doesn’t really cut it. I briefly considered getting a set of those blinders you see people wear who are actually able to sleep on an airplane but have not resorted to that yet. For now, I seem to be surviving the location and its effects. Note though, there are still several more weeks before the actual longest day arrives here as it does everywhere North of the Equator on June 21st. And, by the time I leave (September 9th), it will really be back to just about how it was when I arrived on May 3rd.

It has been an adjustment and I think I am adapting. The alternative of spending a winter here in sub-freezing temperatures and eternal darkness would be far worse. Maybe this is why you can’t out drink a Finn.

The “Press Conference”

22 May 2013

Tuesday the word came down from management that Charlie and I along with Crawford and Bell would have to travel the four hour trip South to Helsinki for a “press conference.” Crawford and Bell are two of our three foreign players from America. The third American is basically a Finnish citizen and holds down a job here in Seinajoki at the local meat factory. He would not have to make the trip. This exclusion would probably have started someone smarter than me wondering about the real purpose of the trip. But, since it was my grey matter that was involved, I assumed we were heading down for some photos and interviews with all the other foreign players and coaches in the Maple League.

The day of the trip was Wednesday – a non-practice day. The president of our club, Jari, lent us his car and payed for gas and food. There would be no Finns involved in the trip. This fact did raise some red flags in me. Sending four Americans on a road trip to the capital of Finland on a time schedule was a good formula for problems.

I got up early that day and got ready and waited for Charlie to arrive with the car. At about 8AM there was a knock on the apartment door and we were soon loaded up and ready to pick up the players. We got them from their apartment, made a quick stop at the A-Market for some road snacks and were winging our say South out of Seinajoki on the main road to Helsinki. We were only about 10 minutes past our target departure time of 8:30.

The drive down was uneventful. We did make a quick stop at an “ABC” gas/restaurant place to relieve ourselves of morning coffee and stretch our legs. We were back on the road in no time. About 40 minutes out of Helsinki it began to spit rain. This reminded me that I did not bring a jacket and I was only prepared with a light Seinajoki Crocodiles T-shirt. Hopefully, this would suffice.

We hit the outskirts of the city with about an hour’s time to spare. We were armed with a Tom Tom navigational device into which Jari had pre-loaded the address of our conference’s destination. Soon we were in the heart of the city and thought we were pretty near our destination.

We wandered about with the car among grid-locked traffic that had five minute waits between traffic lights spaced only about 100 meters apart. People were everywhere and lanes were tight, buildings were tall and looming. Helsinki was truly a bustling city.

We missed what we thought was our right-hand turn. I have used these navigational devices before and they seem to delight in announcing your directional change precisely one second after you have actually passed your point of no return. This misstep, of course, is followed by a minute during which the device takes its time “recalculating” your new route. And, of course, the recalculated route by then has gone stale so that you have missed any future turns. We decided to abandon the Tom Tom, find a place to park and find the place on foot. By now, we had missed the small 30-minute lunch window where we could have gotten free food.

Out of desperation, we pulled into a small two-lane exit that came up from under a huge building. The winding, tunneled road seemed to go downward forever and finally dumped us out into a gated parking area where we were forced to take a ticket and park. We got our ticket and found a spot by wedging ourselves miraculously into a spot no bigger than what would pass for a motorbike spot in the US.

We found the elevator, noted our parking level for the return trip and took the lift up into a super-mall. We had no signal on the Tom Tom so we had to guess our way out back into the streets and then take a straw poll for which direction to travel. On the street, I was cursing myself for not having a jacket as the weather was very windy, rainy, and cold. We began wandering in what we thought was the right direction based on our last signal from the Tom Tom we had received while still in the car.

The next 40 minutes were spent on the streets in confusion. During this time, we ended up asking no less than four random pedestrians if they had ever heard of this building whose name we would point to on our wrinkled and soaked printed email document that had the address. Everyone seemed to know but the consensus (even from the Finns) was that the directions to find this place were difficult.

All hopes of eating were now abandoned as we ironically cut through a mid-park cemetery on our latest track. We went through gigantic malls again, encountered Finns that were so trashed they should not have been able to stand, and re-walked many of the same streets. One troupe of people we encountered in a mall was so blitzed they kept falling into us with a strand of about 50 balloons they were attempting to sell. Finally, after all of this we found a small clap-board on the sidewalk near a pizza place that announced the SJAL meeting.

We hit the elevator in the building, followed signs and were soon walking into the middle of the league president’s address. He was addressing a roomful of coaches and players who all seemed to have no issue with getting around in Finland. Each of us thankfully noticed outside of the room there were still some sandwiches and sodas of which we all loaded up on before going into the room and finding some chairs. The net result was that we were about 40 minutes late.

The indoor heating was thankfully running nicely as we listened to the president wrap up his talk. After finishing, he introduced three people from the US Embassy. They basically gave everyone a lecture that could have been summed up by saying “stay out of jail and if you end up in jail here is a number to call.” They did this in a polite way and laced their lecture with wild stories of past players that had beaten up Finns in bars, gotten charged with rape, and fathered children of mixed Finnish/American decent.

Next on the docket was a couple people from the Finnish Anti-Doping Commission. They went through a PowerPoint slide deck that must have been 30 slides that covered every conceivable side topic associated with substance abuse and sports. The booklet he passed out that listed the banned chemicals could have passed for a small lexicon there were so many entries. I felt a bit sorry for this guy giving the presentation as he was not a native English speaker and the room was filled with proto-typical jocks including one or two certified class clowns whose entire purposes in life were to direct attention to themselves. Those personality types mixed with a good dose of testosterone is not a good combination.

After this final message, we were released to what would have been an outdoor public relations type event. We were told that that, however, was cancelled due to the nasty weather. Just outside the lobby, however, we were lined up for a group photo. It seems there was some press there. That was the extent of the “press conference.”

Outside down in the plaza, they did have a couple small tents set up with propaganda for the league and such that probably would have been useful had there been actual people there besides players and coaches. We chit-chatted with a few people for about 15 minutes. One item of note that I found interesting was that an older coach approached me and asked if we had a coach named “Scott” on the staff. I told him that my name was Scott. He introduced himself by saying that we knocked them out of the playoffs last year in Oregon. It turned out he was a coach on the 4A Central High School team. This was his first year coaching in Finland and he had with him a nice young quarterback named Evan that he had recruited out of Western Oregon University in Monmouth. They were both on the Jaguar team here in the Maple League. We will face them later in the season.

All we could take was about 15 minutes of this outside stuff and we decided to leave for the car. No issues finding our parking structure and space. The parking permit stub revealed we needed to pay 18 Euros for our 3 hours of parking, which I thought was pretty expensive. Soon, we were back in the city fighting traffic and pedestrians trying to find our way North.

It literally took 90 minutes to clear the city. It was grid-lock traffic worse than I had ever experienced. At last we broke free and were really now moving on the road. We pulled into Seinajoki about 9PM that night. It had been a long and cold day. The “press conference” had really been just a few messages that could have probably been communicated via a couple of emails.

Butchers 51 – Crocs 35

25 May 2013

We arrived at the field at about 2PM for a 4PM kickoff. The surface was grass and was in great shape. The first two things that struck me right away were that the distances between the lined 5-yard marks looked short. I paced them off and I actually think there was only about 9 yards between each 10-yard line on the field. I checked this multiple times and each time it was short. Even the chain gang and our sideline judge when they were stretching out the chain in preparation for the kickoff had to tape the chain short to get the yard sticks to match the actual distance. Secondly, the cross-bars for the field goal posts were rigged using the top bar of a soccer net. This meant they were only 8 feet off the ground. So the field goal posts were a couple feet lower than standard. “Wow” is all I could think on that.

butchers game 3

They made a big deal about player introductions for both teams and then they all lined up facing the stands, which had probably 400 or so people. After a minute of respectful silence for a recently lost member of the Butchers, the captains approached the center of the field for the coin toss. We lost the coin toss but the Butchers deferred and we would be receiving the ball. We were fired up and all anxious to see how we would perform. First games are always fertile ground for cluster fucks.

butchers game 5

The first quarter was a nightmare for our offense. We could get nothing going. Runs were stuffed and passing got us nothing. We seemed to be scrambling a lot. Defensively, we did not do too badly. We were holding and forcing punts from the Butchers. The first big play of the game was a fourth down punt situation where we were on punt return. The Butchers faked the punt and ran to the left and caught us by surprise. It ended up as a large gain and gave them great field position. They were in the endzone a few plays later and it was 7 to zero.

Again, no offense. The second quarter saw a couple key defensive penalties that erased a stop and resulted in an ejection of one of our top linemen for allegedly throwing a punch. This came right on the heels of the same lineman being penalized for “hands-to-the-face” on the quarterback during the previous pass. The net result was about 30 yards of penalties giving the Butchers the ball inside the red zone and the loss of one of our key players. Butchers strike again and it is 13 to zero.

SONY DSC

The remainder of the first half saw a legitimate drive from the Butchers where they completed two key third down passes to set up a third score late in the quarter. The Butcher QB threw a good ball and got it into the window on both plays. That set up a scamper by their quick tailback that left us sitting at 19 to zero at the half.

At this point, the offense had a couple first downs only. And, the defense had done okay considering the circumstances of the first two scores. There are always five key plays you can point to in a game that really define it. And, our two defensive penalties and that botched punt defense were clearly three of them.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

We kicked off to begin the second half and the Butchers were in the endzone in three quick plays. They pretty much threaded our secondary with passing and suddenly we are down 25 to zero. I was beginning to get worried at this point.

The defense makes a stop though and we force a punt. The punt is short and we are screaming “Peter, Peter, Peter” to signal our team to get away from the weak kick to avoid anyone from accidentally making contact with the ball. Our returner sort of delayed picking it up though and found a seam down the right sideline for six. So we finally are on the board. We didn’t convert on a 2-point try and it is now 25 to 6. That injected some life into the team.

The rest of the third quarter though was all Butchers. We still could not get any offense going and we managed to give up two more scores without conversions. The game was getting out of hand quickly with the score Butchers 37 and the Crocs 6 going into the fourth quarter. Our players were getting a bit gassed and little injuries were taking their tolls. Some cramping was going on and some stingers. Both of the remaining scores in the third quarter were legitimate scores because of good Butcher play or poor and broken assignments on our part.

During the fourth quarter we finally started to move the ball and see some offense. Our tailback and QB finally got into some rhythm and we were moving. We clawed back during the quarter to get within a reasonable striking range. One key play that allowed the Butchers to dig themselves out of a third and long hole was a halfback pass. They had pitched to their fast tailback who swept to the right and was very close to getting over the line of scrimmage for what looked to be a toss right play. Our safety on that side got sucked up in coverage and they completed a long pass over the top of us. That set up a score that put them up by two scores again at Butchers 43 and Crocs 27. This was all with about half the final quarter to play.

SONY DSC

We got a great stop and had the ball again. We ended up scoring again and got the 2-point conversion to pull within 8 at Butchers 43 and Crocs 35. There was about four minutes remaining and they had the ball. We are holding and then the unthinkable happens. They pop the seam between the tackles and some big fullback races down the field 52 yards for a score. I think fatigue had finally won out against us. They converted a 2-point conversion to get the final 51 to 35 score. Any hope of winning the game was done by that point.

One thing nice about the Maple League is the burden of defensive statistics is not left to me. Here, they have professionals taking care of all the game statistics live. Here are the stats for the game for any that care to delve into the details. My description of the flow in this post probably differs a bit from the actual flow you could find at the link.

In 10 years of being a defensive coordinator was the most points a team had ever put up on me. That second half defensively was a nightmare. We were all of course disappointed but took solace in the fact that this was the first game we had played and we did see some good things. So it would be time to go to work with film and practice to make the improvements we needed to bounce back. The good news is nobody suffered any major injuries outside of our punter who got a knee twisted. And, that could prove to be okay.

2 am sky

We licked our wounds and got out of there probably by 8 or 8:30. The bus ride was long and we arrived back at the field house about 2AM. It was still somewhat light out as I peddled my bike back to the apartment with teeth chattering for the first half of the ride in the cool air.

Game Day – Butchers

25 May 2013

It is the morning of our opening game. We travel to Porvoo and play the Butchers. They are a big rival of the Crocodiles, who beat them twice last year. I didn’t get much sleep last night because I never sleep very well the night before or after a game. There is just too much going on in my head and it gets hard to shut down.

Butcher Poster

Here is a link to an article in Finnish. Translating it with Google Translate gets you about a 60% translation. Here is another sort of player promo link put together by the management that features most of our players.

We had our final practice last night in the evening. It was a mix of pre-game stuff and regular mid-week activities. We focused a lot on knowing who is on what special teams, getting squads on and off the field, running through special teams, and typical offense against defense team play. Overall, the week was pretty good as far as practices go. The players are anxious to get a game under them. Many have been training for over a month now in preparation for the season. I have been here over 3 weeks now.

We have a full squad and are not missing any of our imported players. An interesting note on the league here is that if you are an American, you must have a large “A” on the back of your helmet.

After practice last night, Charlie and I stopped at Wilson’s Pub and had a couple of beers to try and ease the anxiety that we were both feeling. We had to stop and remind ourselves that regardless of the outcome, we would be embarking on a pretty cool thing tomorrow with us both coaching together basically in control of a team. Not to mention in a foreign country. I noted to him that if we left at that very moment we could probably catch a night flight out of Finland.

We have no idea about the playing venue except that it is grass. I am taking gear to deal with rain if that shows up. It is supposed to be 72 and overcast. My biggest fear before every football game is to have ourselves embarrassed on the field. It is an irrational fear because we have always prepared to our fullest before any football game. So much is dependent on the player’s performances and their abilities to execute the system.

I am packed and ready to go and just killing some time before getting on the bike and making the short trip to the field house to meet the bus. I will be glad when 4PM hits and we are playing. That is when all these nerves dissolve off into the world of football.

Sauna

18 May 2013

A lot of stuff went on during our boat ride back from Sweden last Saturday. There were no restrictions for players or coaches so you can imagine it was a fun time. One of the things that was arranged by management was the rental of the boat’s sauna facility. Sauna is a big deal in Finland. Most homes have a sauna and the Finns enjoy them on a regular basis. They seem to like to get really hot and then get really cold… repeatedly.

One thing I found interesting was the way they say the word “sauna.” I have always pronounced it “SAW-nuh.” Until that recent commercial that has aired on American television that features the insurance lady that spouts off their policy of giving you a fair assessment of various insurance rates for various companies in which two insurance scammers’ legs burst into flames after telling some lies, I was unaware that the actual pronunciation is “Sah-oo-nuh”, or faster “SOW-nuh.” One thing about the Finnish language is they are consistent in the way they make sounds for their letters.

The boat’s sauna facility was very nice. It could probably seat about 10 in a pinch. They give you a little square heavy towelette thing to stick under your ass so you don’t pollute the benches. The centerpiece of the sauna is a heating device on which rests a bunch of hot rocks. Nearby is a wooden bucket filled with water and complete with a wooden ladle. All the benches are nice wood and hot.

When you first walk in the heat hits you like about five times the amount you experience when you deplane on the tarmac in the Caribbean. Everyone is naked… no covering up evidently. When they take the ladle and spoon water onto the rocks you are hit with a super intense wave of heat and humidity that makes it hard to breathe. I had to cup my hands over my face a bit each time right after the water was applied in order to not scald my nostrils and lungs. I managed to handle about 10 minutes of the room. At that point, I donned my towel and went out to the staging area to socialize.

The staging area is basically like a little living room with chairs, a low table in the center, and all completely done in tile. Next to the seating area is a small, cold pool. The players were having a grand time leaping into and getting out of the pool after exiting the sauna. This is best described like a community swimming pool in a town’s center on a hot summer day filled with 12 year olds.

The coaches and management were content sitting around (with towels now) around the low table drinking cold beers and visiting. Several televisions were scattered about hung high on the walls and airing (of course) hockey. The place was staffed near the entry by two women of all things. Nobody seemed to mind that the integrated sitting and pool area just to the side of the staffed entrance was full of naked players leaping into and out of the pool. Both sets of people were oblivious to one another. Obviously some cultural differences here.

We hung out enjoying a couple of beers and conversation about the upcoming season and our debacle of a scrimmage for about 30 minutes or so. The party then broke up and we were all off on our own to find some food and entertain ourselves for the rest of the 12-hour journey back to Finland.