The Panthers' 2017 football state title was a story of sustained excellence and persistence paying off.
It’s sort of baked into our DNA as American sports fans — this idea that the best possible sports story is that of “the underdog.”
It’s why we’re all glued to the TV during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and March Madness, rooting on the No. 16 and No. 15 seeds from schools we never knew existed.
Then, there are sports movies such as “Hoosiers” and “Rudy” — and any number of others. We are programmed to love the “Cinderella story.”
Well, the story of this year’s Dr. Phillips football team is no Cinderella story.
The Panthers are an excellent football team on an annual basis and each and every fall, they are among those in Central Florida who prognosticators list as having a chance at making a run at a title.
So no, Dr. Phillips football winning its first state championship is no underdog story.
The story of this year’s Panthers is a story of consistency and excellence finally paying off on the big stage.
For years, Dr. Phillips has been a program that finds a way to win 10 or more games and put several kids into Division I college football programs. It is a program that has not had a true “down year” in some time.
Take a moment and think about how remarkable that consistency is, given that high-school football teams are made up of teenagers that most parents cannot goad into consistently taking out the garbage or doing the dishes.
This is a program that has created a standard of excellence — something we should want for all of our young people.
But it is also a program that — for all of its alumni in college football and the NFL, for all of its district championships (10 consecutive and counting), for all of its 10-win seasons — was missing something in its trophy case.
When you operate at the elite level that this program has over the years, a state title — an accomplishment many programs legitimately have only a small chance of achieving — becomes an expectation.
The lack of one becomes a void on the résumé.
And then there are the close calls — the losses in the state final in the 2010 and 2016 seasons.
So, when the Panthers hoisted the state championship trophy and celebrated in the cool Orlando night after beating Delray Beach’s Atlantic High 17-7 Dec. 9, it was not the completion of the story of an underdog: It was the completion of a story of validation.
That it happened following a season that had experienced the great disappointment of losing a state-title game the Panthers had led through three quarters — and a season whose end meant the departure of 31 seniors — certainly gives it some elements of an underdog story.
As Miami’s Southridge High celebrated at Camping World Stadium Dec. 10, 2016, with players from Dr. Phillips huddled up, watching from nearby, who would have thought that just 364 days later the Panthers would return to that same field and write a different ending?
Well, they did.
They hung a banner in January saying they would do as much.
“Finish the Mission. 12.9.17”
And then they did it.
Yeah, this is no underdog story.
This is Dr. Phillips football — excellence is expected.