Agony and ecstasy: Fowler has seen both extremes
The agony and the ecstasy: Fowler has seen both sides
Understand this about Dennis Fowler – he knows the spectrum of emotions better than most. The rapture of the ultimate thrill has been his. The paralyzing fear of life in the balance has also been part of his experience.
Fowler lived every high school player’s dream on Mar. 18, 1995 and became part of Terryville lore when he hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer to give the Kangaroos the Class S title over Putnam at Central Connecticut State University.
A couple of years ago I called Dennis to do the fall preseason soccer preview and asked him how his summer had been. “Oh, I got married and had a brain tumor.”
He’s seen both sides to the extreme.
It all didn’t make Saturday any easier or the time since then. Many, in fact, most will tell you Fowler’s Lewis Mills girls soccer team was the best team on the field in the Class M championship game. The scoreboard will tell you that in terms of state titles it didn’t matter. The story is a cruel one.
Outplay your opponent for the most of 80 minutes then have you heart ripped out and stomped in a 20 second scenario that won’t go away. A handball call which Fowler says is absolutely the right call gives Suffield a direct kick from 20 yards away.
With three seconds remaining – one, two, three – that quick, Suffield scored for a 1-0 win, a devastating development that will last long after the time it took to occur.
A four or five goal defeat would have been easier. This was nothing short of tease and torture. The finest girls soccer season in Lewis Mills history over. Fowler’s finest team and probably the school’s finest team done, one goal short.
Fowler had seen his team control play and told himself in the second half, “we’re going to win this game.” It didn’t’ happen. A title dream ripped away at the last moment.
Fowler struggled with it all Sunday, trying to deal with that relentless punch in the stomach that leaves your insides churning and hurting for his kids. He is is the prince of positive, mercilessly upbeat. It was a struggle to find that persona the day after. He is not the first coach of the first team to lose in the final seconds. There is no attempt at martyrdom here. It still takes a heck of a gouge out you.
He went back to his game-winner 15 years ago.
“My father said, `now you know what Putnam felt like,” said Fowler. “I remember the Putnam coach Tony Falzone saying `I’ll remember that shot the rest of my life. I’ll remember it jumping into the Quinnebog River. What do I do, jump in the Pequabuck River?”
Fowler did what all coaches do after the stunning conclusion, he tried to pump some life, some perspective into his team. He told them they were a state championship team. He spent some time with his charge that had the hand ball called on her.
Shannon Larkin was devastated. Fowler remembered it was Larkin who made a diving play, stretching out her body to prevent a goal in the semifinal, allowing Mills to make it to the last dance.
It was a tough day.
Sunday Fowler texted all eight seniors on his team and told them how proud he was to be their coach and thanked them for the great ride. He thought about the four years it took to get to the first championship game ever for the brilliantly successful program.
He thought about the players that don’t play another sport and were in uniform for the last time. It would have been a smiling thought if not for the result.
Before the final game, Fowler did something he hasn’t done in a long, long time. He brought out his 1995 scrapbook. He looked, remembered and soaked up the memory of a different time, a different ending, seemingly yesterday, seemingly a century ago.
His day had a different ending, but to be there on the last possible day of the season in the last possible game, meant something before the ending unfolded. He told the players to remember the day and how they would carry it with them the rest of their life.
And he looked forward. Basketball season for his Lewis Mills girls team had already started with conditioning practice and he called his All-State center Amanda Adamski.
“I’m not helping anybody being a pouting mess,” said Fowler.
Still, he struggled. He did what he could to get himself going, to ease the hurt his team was feeling. He got busy, he kept busy. Time will help, seasons change.
He will forever exault in the season and agonize in the ending. He will forever relish the ride and down the road his team will too.
Fowler has been on both sides. He has delivered the devastating blow that will forever put him on the mountaintop. He has felt the numbness of the other side in the biggest game.
They are both part of him. But he sure likes being on the delivering end better. Saturday and Sunday were tough days.