When the two coaches meet on the field tonight before the game, as football tradition dictates, it will be an interaction so burdened with unspoken meaning that Paul Cronin and Herc Pardi pray they never will have to do it again.
?I guess my first instinct will be to hug him,? said Pardi, head coach at Clayton Valley high school in Concord.
And then what will he say to Cronin, head coach at Cardinal Newman high just north of Santa Rosa ? ?I don?t have the words,? Pardi said.
Words fail. How could they not? ?Sorry for your loss? doesn?t quite seem to cover it.
On Nov. 26, the day before Thanksgiving, Cronin?s brother David, a Sonoma County Sheriff?s lieutenant, took his own life with a handgun.
On Dec. 5, a week ago Friday afternoon, about an hour after David Cronin was laid to rest in Santa Rosa, Pardi?s brother John died of a heart attack in Oakland.
And as if Cronin needed any more on his plate, his two-year daughter, Madison, has been hospitalized with pneumonia since Wednesday, with Cronin and his wife Tracey passing in the night as they attend to their daughter at Memorial Hospital.
?I am hoping she can be released in time to go to the game,? said Cronin, 35.
Oh yes, the game, that detail Cardinal Newman and Clayton Valley, both with 12-0 records, will be playing tonight for the high school North Coast Section Division II title at Santa Rosa High School. With a win, Cardinal Newman likely would advance to the California state championship game.
?It?s almost unbearable,? Pardi , 56 said of the shared pain of the deaths, though the immediacy of the game provides some relief. ?Both of us are lucky we have some insulation right now for that has kept us from thinking non-stop about our losses.?
Great coaches are essentially superb teachers, showing their players there is something out there greater than any one game, greater than even themselves. In this case, perspective is being dished out by the bucket.
?This game will be a great memory for all my players,? Cronin said.
Football, he said, is a process. ?You prepare, try your best and the result will take care of itself. But there is a life lesson to be learned here. Win or lose, it?s a game, just a game. Sometimes adults lose sight of that.?
These two adults haven?t, their situations made all the more intimate by what happened Nov. 16th. The North Coast Section football playoff seedings were held at Dublin High School in the East Bay. Pardi was sitting in the back row of a classroom, Cronin seated just in front of him. They didn?t know each other.
?We just started talking,? Pardi said. ?We didn?t introduce ourselves.? For 15 minutes Pardi and Cronin spoke, primarily of their families, especially of their kids, Pardi?s daughter Meghan a former water polo team captain at Loyola Marymount and Cronin?s three young children, two girls and a boy.
?I knew he was a football coach but I didn?t know his name,? Pardi said. ?But when he told me about his kids, I said, ?Don?t let anybody else coach them. You must do it.? ?