Let's play a quick game of word association.
When I say "football," what's the first word, phrase or image that pops into your mind?
I'm no psychologist - heck, plenty of people would say I'm not much of a writer, either - but I feel safe in guessing that most of you immediately latched on to an element of the game's brutal nature.
Muscle-bound bodies locked together in battle. Pads smashing together with violent force. Snot bubbles creeping out the nose of a wayward wide receiver who foolishly dared run a pattern over the middle and came face-to-face with a free safety with anger-management issues.
I used to feel the same way about football. I used to embrace my inner John Madden each and every weekend during the fall.
Then, I became the guy in charge of high school football coverage at a daily newspaper, and I added a fun new mental image to my gridiron catalogue:
Sunshine and lollipops.
You see, both are in steady supply here in this little corner of the world. It goes a little something like this:
When your favorite hometown high school football team is winning games and riding high - just as a hypothetical, let's use De Soto, McLouth, Oskaloosa, Ottawa or Wellsville, chosen completely at random - the sport is nothing but sunshine and lollipops.
Life is so cheery, the head coach will even take the time to call the local newspaper, gushing about how Johnny Runningback ran wild, Joe Quarterback played with the poise of Joe Namath, and the defense, well, dadgummit, looked like it stole a page directly from the Pittsburgh Steelers' famed Steel Curtain.
Cliches flow as smoothly as fine wine. Everyone's ready with a hearty greeting as soon as you pick up the telephone receiver, and a big thank you before you finally set it down. Life is one big party.
And fans actually have something to read in the Saturday morning paper.
Oh, but how things change once Team Happy-Go-Lucky comes up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
With his sunshine and lollipops taken away, Coach Lip is suddenly Coach Zip. The phone doesn't ring, not even for a quick lament about - gasp! - a loss.
Which, in turn, leads to the HOW DARE YOU CALL ME AT HOME AND WAKE UP MY WIFE AND CHILDREN!!! episode. Or the more creative, "I left the stats in my truck. Hold on just a second," followed by a dial tone trick. Take your pick.
Of course, it's possible I'm just overreacting to the circumstances of last Friday night.
Maybe it's just a coincidence that every single area football team that lost failed to call in and report game scores and stats. Maybe it's a one-time random occurrence the Saturday morning football roundup included three teams that are a combined 15-0 this season.
Or, maybe it's simply a case of too many grown men with overly fragile egos acting like my three-year-old daughter when her sunshine and lollipops are taken away.