Posted by: paywindow7 | December 24, 2011

Football

I loved to play football when I was in high school. Hated practice though, especially at the beginning of the season when September in Texas is still blast furnace hot. The ground is hard and dry and you can almost smell the heat. That time of year is one of anticipation around here, waiting for the seasonal tilt of the Earth to start drawing the polar fronts down from the north that signal the beginning of the fall season and relief from the heavy, humid, oven like temperatures of the preceding few months.

On those hot, dry afternoons after school during practice sessions the heat of the day was magnified by the weight of the pads, the stink of yesterdays sweat comingled with last season’s sweat and when coupled with the hot, choking dust stirred up by the activities of practice, made for a miserable three hours.

But like I said I loved to play the game. Not that I was particularly good at it, I wasn’t. As a freshman I only weighed about 115 at best while most of the other kids were starting to put on some serious maturity poundage and would generally outweigh me by forty to fifty pounds. I also did not have any unusual speed capability. My only cache’ with the team during practice was that I was quick off the ball and had good lateral moves. So the coaches often used me as cannon fodder for the starters during the endlessly long practice sessions. I was always on defense and played as a sort of linebacker. When the ball was snapped I would float left or right along the line of scrimmage behind the battling linemen in front of me until I could see where the ball carrier was heading. If I timed it just right I could hit into the line just as he was coming through and knock him on his ass before he knew I was even in his time zone. Looking back I think the coaches got a kick out of it. I ran into one of them at a bar in Ft. Worth a few years later and drank free that night.

My fifteen seconds of football fame came during a game with our cross town rivals who had a half- back with blazing speed and moves that could fake entire defensive teams out of their jocks. The kid was very good and later went on to play for TCU at a time in history when the Horned Frogs were a Southwest Conference powerhouse. Not only was this kid good but his whole team were either All City or All State caliber. My team was not and so on this particular night we were getting beat to shit.

I’m not sure why but sometime during the second half the coach, either in desperation or frustration, crooked a finger in my direction and I went in as the right defensive end, a position I had only played a couple of times before in practice so I was virtually clueless as to what I was supposed to do.

Now on this particular night my father had come to the game. He never came to games but for some reason my sister had been able to badger and cajole him into coming to this one. So he and she were there and happened to be seated directly behind our player’s bench on the sideline.

So I’m in the game, the ball is snapped and I charge, untouched, from my position on the defensive line, straight ahead about four steps into their backfield to cut off the “outsides lanes” I had heard about somewhere. When I got to that position I set and looked left toward where I thought the action would be and was greeted by the image of two of their pulling linemen each about the size of a Mac truck heading in my direction. They ran shoulder to shoulder to block for this future All American kid half back and were looking for someone to kill and eat.

Then a series of small miracles began to unfold. When I had come onto the field I had accidentally positioned myself way wide on the line of scrimmage and so now I was too far away for the two mountainous blockers to consider as meat and after a brief glance in my direction they
both simultaneously turned hard right into the line and I could hear the screams and sounds of breaking bones as they tore through my teammates towards the secondary.

All of the above had taken place in about three seconds and now there I was standing all by my lonesome in their backfield as the two trucks disguised as football players continued their quest for food. I was now looking across the field at my coach and team mates on the far bench. The coach was gesturing wildly and I thought “how nice” and started to wave back.

Then I could see why he was going ballistic and my heart stopped. Coming straight at me was the All State, All City, All God scat back with the magical moves and mach 2 speed. I had not even seen him before as he had been trotting along behind his massive swat team escort waiting for the two of them to cut right and kill all his enemies so he could score again and assure his chance of getting his hand up Mary Lou’s skirt later that night. Now I had never been one to screw up anybody’s love life, intentionally, but I had been hearing and reading about this hotshot all season and I actually remember thinking “well hello podna’ ”.

My old man said later that even with all of the crowd noise he thought he could hear me laugh as the play developed over the next few seconds. I started for Mr. All American and the kid saw me coming and almost casually reversed his field, hit passing gear and began to disappear into the distance, running back across the field towards my coach and team mates on the bench.

I charged after him knowing that I couldn’t catch him but as he neared the far sideline he looked left to find a place to make his cut downfield and greater glory but unbelievably all he saw were the surviving members of my secondary cutting him off. I saw them too and I knew I had his ass. First laugh from me that my dad thought he heard.

He tried to reverse his field again and as he came around he saw me coming about three strides away and got that “deer in the headlights look” and mouthed something obscene. He wasn’t huge as some high school runners are today and had come into his local glory using speed and finesse plus he was also at a slight disadvantage as he had almost stopped to do his second 180 before plowing back across the field and over me to score again to the delight of Mary Lou.

So he was almost flatfooted and off balance with no momentum and here I came as fast as God would allow and I hit him square on.

Laugh two that my father thought he heard.

My sister said later that when we collided my momentum caused us to both leave the ground and sail entangled through the air the last few feet before slamming into the coach knocking him backward into and over the bench that was home to our excess players. They all fell in as many directions and spilled the water barrel and caused all of the extra footballs to seem to levitate in the air. It was chaos. Flailing limbs, curses and bouncing gear. When gravity took over again and all of the gear and people had stopped bouncing the coach jumped up in a state of football ecstasy laughing, screaming and pounding me on the back and helmet. Mr. All American even swatted me on the butt in that kind of battle field camaraderie that only we seem to understand as he went back into the game to work on his resume.

They won big of course, but I was glad my old man was there.

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