The countdown has officially begun.
Twenty-one quiet evenings must pass until Friday Night Lights returns. Football is drawing ever closer as high school teams in Illinois and Missouri enjoy two more days of vacation -- or 48 hours of final prep work -- before practice begins Monday morning.
It gives them two weeks to condition, install offensive schemes and build tenacious defenses before unveiling a few things during jamborees or intrasquad scrimmages. Then comes game week with all preparations geared toward that first opponent and setting the proper tone for the eight or more weeks that follow.
As we wait for kickoff, there is a question that seems to be tough to answer.
What makes Friday nights so special?
Really, it just leads to more questions.
Is it the anticipation building all day, knowing kickoff won't happen a minute before 7 p.m.?
Is it the blankets taped to the bleachers, guaranteeing those seats are reserved?
Is it wearing school colors so the stands become a sea of blue or red or purple or green?
Is is the button with her player's picture mom proudly pins to her chest for all to see?
Is it the smell of pork chops and ribeyes on the grill, which when slapped on a bun and slathered with BBQ sauce makes them the perfect $5 pregame sandwich?
Is it the smoke that bellows from those grills that gives Friday night a distinctive smell?
Is it the bag of popcorn, perfectly popped and salted?
Is it the parents and families playing bags in the parking lot, throwing their own tailgate party while waiting for the public address announcer to tell them kickoff is nearing?
Is it finding the perfect seat, be it in the back of a farm truck lining the sideline or in the end zone where you can see holes open up and running backs break free?
Is it the quiet moments in the locker room when trainers tape ankles and wrists and players immerse themselves in pregame rituals?
Is it that first step onto the field to stretch, feeling the grass beneath your feet and your cleats grip the earth?
Is it the perfectly straight lines as you warm up in unison, the first sign of the night each and every teammate is in sync?
Is it bursting through the paper banner the cheerleaders painted and letting loose with a barbaric yawp as you stomp your way to midfield?
Is it the nerves gripping you and the prayer you say just before a kicker boots the ball end over end?
Is it the sound of pads crashing against each other?
Is it exhaustion or exhilaration or both at the same time?
Is it one thing or is everything?
Maybe the best answer is this: It's football. That's enough to make Friday nights glisten.