Donald Pinson, Bobby Putman, Arden Reynolds, Kelly Dill…..I remember the names like it was yesterday. You don’t ever forget your first heroes. Roland Argo didn’t run down the football field…..he glided! I saw Kenneth Branon tackle that big running back from Lexington so hard it rattled MY teeth. And I was standing on the top row of the stands!
I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine. This was way before we got our first TV. So our entertainment was of the “roll your own” variety. Mostly that meant fighting with your brothers, throwing rocks at Pet Milk cans or sliding down that steep bank behind the swimming pool on flattened out pieces of cardboard.
And listen, nothing was wrong with that. Don’t think simple or boring here. We made every day an adventure. I dare you to find any other time or place in the history of the known world that was more fun filled and action packed than our little hometown in the early fall of 1955.
High school football was just the cherry on top. We’d never heard of “Friday Night Lights.” We would have thought “Roll Tide Roll” was a washing detergent advertisement. And the only knowledge we had that professional football existed came from a few pictures in the sports pages of the Commercial Appeal.
To say the season opener against Grove High School was the only game in town would be the understatement of the century. You can’t imagine the excitement. We were so lucky not to have TVs, internet, Bluetooth, Roku or Netflix……NOTHING interfered or divided our attention on game night!
I’m not even sure Mr. Clericuzio opened the Park Theatre on Friday evenings during the football season.
You couldn’t believe the grace with which Joe Morris could catch a pass unless you had been there. I saw Nicky Joe Stafford chase a guy down from behind and jerk him to the ground. And listen, Howard Bomar could outrun a scalded gazelle.
I studied on how the offensive line took their stances. I began to grasp the rudiments of the “T” formation. I discovered the linebackers had better be pretty good football players. And, of course, dreamed of the day I could play on this field.
We’d never heard of Red Grange. Or Otto Graham. When we chose up sides for the backyard football game, we’d fight over who got to be Kelly Dill or Bill McCadams. Our hometown heroes were truly……hometown heroes.
Two things happened by the time I made it to junior high. A single bar facemask had been attached to the helmets. And names like Jerry Poston, Kenny Bouldin and Dennis Coleman had been added to my hero list. I was disappointed when I didn’t get jersey number 42 as a seventh grader. That number had belonged to Bobby C. Melton and he was about the best I ever saw.
I figured the first day at a real organized “school” practice I would throw eight or ten touchdown passes, maybe make a spectacular catch and, of course, make every tackle like Kenny Branon.
The first thing I noticed was those big shoulder pads interfered with my throwing. That helmet was heavy. And it was hot under there! My pants were so long the knee pads hung down to the top of my shoes. And those shoes were a whole ’nother matter. They weighed a ton…a piece! Just think how fast Howard Bomar could have run barefooted!
We didn’t throw any passes that first day of practice. Mostly we did calisthenics and wind sprints. Then, when we were too tired to do any more and I wanted to go home, the coaches backed us up about ten yards apart and had us run into each other just as hard as we could! We did that for an hour or two. And then we ran some more wind sprints.
I don’t remember seeing any of this on those Friday nights of old. I just thought you threw touchdown passes and took a cheerleader out to Frank’s Dairy Bar after the game.
The big saying back then was that football imitates life. Whew! That wasn’t too encouraging as I limped back to the locker room after that first day. My nose was bleeding. My left arm was broken. I couldn’t feel a thing in either leg and the concussion had me seeing double.
I collapsed into bed that night and wondered if this was the way Donald Pinson, Nicky Joe Stafford and the others did it…….
Of course, it is exactly the way every one on them did it! Folks can do all the slick talking they want to, pontificate to the cows come home……but in football, and life, there are no short cuts. You’ve got to give before you get.
And just think how much greater that makes these heroes we’ve remembered today.