CASTLE ROCK — For the bargain price of a $5 ticket to a prep football game, you can see the way out of the mess we're in.

Faith in a country believed to have gone soft in the belly can be renewed under the Friday night lights, where adolescent boys build dreams five tough yards at a time.

They are called Rebels. They play football for Columbine High School. Their revolutionary idea? Nothing worth building ever comes easy.

"Columbine football is not what you would call pretty. But it's all tradition. All about winning," senior offensive lineman Brady Young said. He stood on the field, cotton gauze stuffed in his broken nose, and smiled at the scoreboard.

The undefeated Rebels beat Douglas County 21-0, winning in a style that harkened back to the time when American cars, education and pride were No. 1 in the world.

It might be 2010, but Columbine treats throwing the football as a passing fad. In this victory, the Rebels ran 52 times for 321 yards. They completed one pass in three attempts.

Too many stories about the United States in the 21st century read like the same tired parable of a distracted, self-absorbed driver gabbing on the cellphone, racing 65 mph down Easy Street and plowing straight into the ditch.

We've fallen and can't get up. As a country, we've lost our mojo. Sure, we want it back, so long as it can be simply retrieved in 140 Twitter characters (or preferably less).

So here's why it's so easy to cheer for the Rebels of Columbine.

They refuse to take shortcuts.

"If you want to play football here, you better be ready to get hit," said junior Cameron McDondle, who paced the Columbine ground game with 222 yards and two touchdowns.

Whether we're arguing about the race for U.S. Senate, how to fix the economy or why the Broncos are stuck in mediocrity, what passes for debate these days seems to quickly devolve into the same one-line insult on both sides of every spat: I'm 100 percent right, and you're a knucklehead.

Hey, pointing a finger of blame is way easier than rolling up our sleeves and getting down to work.

Football can't reduce unemployment or repair the nasty dent in your 401k. Football is a distraction, not the answer for all our problems.

But plunk down your five bucks and take a seat in the bleachers when Columbine buckles up the chinstraps. As an orange sun sets behind purple mountains on a late summer evening in Colorado, football can return a glimmer of happiness to faces that have forgotten how to smile. Football can remind us the next generation of American wage-earners still believes in sweat and sacrifice to get ahead.

"All Columbine does is grind and grind and grind. Nothing fancy. Then, the next thing you know, you look up at the scoreboard and it's 21-0," said Joe Torres, father of the quarterback for the Rebels.

Football can be beautifully uncomplicated. Like pickup trucks and hamburgers sizzling on the grill, something about football speaks directly to our souls. The message is as straightforward and as strong as the black coffee that Bill McCartney sipped on a recent morning, as he reminded me why Americans will always love this game.

"Football is all about getting knocked down and finding a way to pick yourself up and move on," said McCartney, the once and soon to be future coach of the Buffaloes, if University of Colorado administrators are smart.

Coach Mac would love the Rebels, who live for heavy lifting. Snap after snap, what you can count on is five tough yards at a time, accompanied by a chorus of grunting. At the end of four quarters of football, it's a good tired.

I hadn't seen Columbine play in years and needed a fix, because this is a group of young guys unafraid to dream big or get dirty. The Rebels are grounded in old-school values. In victory or defeat, they keep pressing forward, and never, ever take Easy Street.

These days, in this country, maybe that's what makes them Rebels.