My football career started in the front yard. The south end zone was the front sidewalk. The north goal line stretched from the telephone pole out by the Como Road to the drain pipe under the driveway. The teams consisted of me and David Mark on one side and Leon on the other. We blamed the scarcity of players on Mom and Dad; that was all the children they had. And they moved to a remote area out on the edge of town.
The side boundaries were marked by a couple young maple trees that bordered Stonewall Street on one side and the house on the other. We didn’t have white lines running across the grass so we had some serious rhubarbs as to exactly where a runner stepped out of bounds between those trees. It was a little easier on the house side. We just looked for the blood or the dent in the wall.
Leon was five years older than me and he had six and a half years on David. Those were light years in terms of growth, strength and power when Leon was ten and me and Dave hadn’t entered kindergarten yet. We played “tackle” football, of course, and one of us had to snap it back to Leon and then turn and attack him.
Leon mostly ran over us and scored at will. But, listen, we didn’t just stand there! None of us had actually seen a real football game. But the objective was crystal clear. David would dive at Leon’s knees, I’d jump on his back. We couldn’t spell teamwork but if we were going to get him to the ground, we had to do it together!
And I can still remember to this day how my little heart would beat with fear and trepidation when I tried to run around the right end with mighty Leon bearing down on me from his middle linebacker position! He knocked the wind out of me so many times I showed up for the post game meal looking like a crumpled up sail.
I also remember how my heart would soar on those rare occasions when Dave would toss me a pass that Leon didn’t deflect and I’d take off toward Como Street! The score didn’t matter. The shellacking I’d been taking against the house, the trees and the ground forgotten. The blood on my shirt glistened as courage marks. I raced across the goal line in triumph!
Of course, the euphoric tide tuned in a nanosecond. We had to kick off to the giant! Football can lift you up to unbelievable heights one minute……and humble you to a spot lower than a whale’s belly the next. I never had a football coach that didn’t compare the game to life. And those same coaches, in between yelling and blowing whistles at you, taught that it didn’t matter how many times you got knocked down…..it was how many times you got up that counted!
Our games grew as Joe and Richard Gooch, Terry Kennon and the King boys moved to the neighborhood. We didn’t know didley squat about social networking, playing by the rules or that grease paint you could put under your eyes. We chose up sides as to best enhance the game and went to playing. There were never any grown-ups in these back yard affairs. No officials. No timekeepers. No cheerleaders and no commercials. And very little arguing……
We were playing a game. For fun. And excitement. And for the shear joy of living! Listen, it sure beat the heck out of cleaning fence rows and pitching heavy bales of hay onto a slow moving wagon.
We took road trips to that “stadium” over on Forest Avenue between where Ricky Hale and Jimmy Mabry lived. I near’ bout broke my leg in the Gwaltney’s side yard across from the Methodist Church. I knocked myself out running into John Ingram in that vacant lot beside Betty Scates’ house. Our world was expanding!
Dad bought a TV. We learned to throw slant passes, “bring” an outside linebacker and double cover a dangerous wide receiver. We all went out for the junior high team and moved on to high school where the aforementioned coaches dispensed their life lessons in between “bull in the ring” and the grass drills.
Those were the days my friend……
Another football season is upon us. We will hear chants of “We’re Number One” till we all go stark raving crazy. Nike, Gatorade and Under Armor commercials will rule the air ways. We will tolerate prima donna quarterbacks and overpaid kickers because they might help us win. We will hear teeth whitened analyst give us way more information than we care to digest on why Texas A&M won’t make it to the title game, what happened to Frank Beamer’s special teams, can Alabama three peat and where will Tim Tebow land next. And that’s just in the first week!
It all seems a little over the top for me. You talk about big business. Big money. And big egos. I can’t figure out if we are playing a game or providing some type of frenzied mayhem to the masses.
I don’t pretend to know much about football. But I hope it’s still about young boys learning to get along, facing square up to adversity, accepting a few defeats, growing more than just a tad and, most of all, feeling that wind rushing against their faces in that special moment of individual triumph.
“It’s all in the game”.