Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Don't Wanna Play Football

Hi Bill

I have already written about my love for baseball and what an important part of my magical young life it played. You may remember that football was also part of my childhood and adolescent life, although it was not a particularly endearing part of it.

Just like baseball, our West Plank Road neighborhood also played football. Yes, we would put on those flimsy plastic helmets and our equally flimsy plastic shoulder pads and crash into each other as hard as we could during our pickup games between teams of three or four players each, depending on how many guys were available. We also had practices under the tutelage of the older guys, i.e., you, Mike H, Mike O, and Victor P.

You were older than the Mikes and Victor and you continued attending high school in the city, where you had many good friends. You also had a part time job in the city. However, we were lucky that you made time to help us with our football skills (or lack thereof). You were especially helpful to me, teaching me how to throw and catch a football (although my hands were not big enough at first to do either of those very well). You also showed me how to block and to protect myself when I got blocked or tackled. My mantra was: “Please God don’t let those big thugs tackle or block me! Please don’t even let me touch the ball!” However, you also inspired me to “Take it like a man!” without crying, even though I felt the pain and was very scared. Eventually, you didn’t have enough time to help with our neighborhood activities due to your school, band and job responsibilities.

Mike H and Mike O continued as the neighborhood organizers/team captains and they recruited all us younger kids to play football. Well, by “recruited” I mean they told us that we were going to play! Even though we all knew that we were going to die on the field because some big ape would pulverize us, we couldn’t let them know how frightened we really were. I remember putting on the helmet and shoulder pads and feeling invincible. However, that invincible feeling vanished when I got hit with a body block or tackled when I accidentally (and reluctantly) found the ball in my hands. I tried very hard to avoid that frightening twist of fate, but I had to take one for the team every once in a while.

As we all got a little older, our neighborhood team captains (the two Mikes) began arranging games against other neighborhoods. That was a terrifying change for us younger kids, because we knew that we would have to subject our bodies to extreme brutality to be victorious for the neighborhood. We couldn’t just fall down or jump out the way when a big bruiser was barreling toward us. We had to show our prowess during those games, but us younger guys really didn’t have much prowess and didn’t want to show what we had. We just wanted to get it over with and somehow go home without any cuts, bruises, broken bones, comas, or deaths. Oh yes, we also wanted to go home as winners, but eliminating the cuts, bruises, broken bones, comas, or deaths was our biggest concern. These neighborhood teams each had conscripts of many different ages. So there would be 8 to 10 year-old’s who just tried to survive and older teammates who looked like monster trolls that wanted to win at all costs. Unfortunately, younger guys were usually sacrificed by being pushed in front of big bruisers to maybe trip them as they stomped over us. There was always lots of fear and pain, but of course crying was not to be tolerated.

It is amazing to me that those neighborhood experiences did not dissuade me from later trying to play football for our school team. I guess I reckoned that if I could survive football in the neighborhood, I could survive school football with proper equipment, coaches who hopefully know what they were doing, and officials who kept the players under control during the games. You’d think that … but naaaaah, I just wanted to impress the girls through my manly football brutality.

In any case I tried out for the football team when I was in 9th grade. I must say that I was fairly athletic, fairly strong and tall at that time. However, I certainly did not have the kind of muscular body that most football players have. Surprisingly, the coaches decided that I should be an “End” and hopefully do some blocking and catch some passes, which sounded good to me. I would also occasionally have to try to block someone or even tackle someone. Mostly I just wanted to be a hero and catch a pass or two and run like hell with the ball – hopefully toward the appropriate goal line and without getting pulverized by some 200-pounder. However, I just couldn’t get beyond those childhood football terrors!

I was surprised by the grueling hours of practice that was required to be on the football team, but I endured. Unfortunately, right before the season schedule began I injured my shoulder in practice. I’m not sure how that happened, but it could have resulted from hitting the blocking sleds or from being hit in a scrimmage game during practice. In any case I saw a doctor and x-rays revealed a slight fracture of my right scapula. I thought my football career was over, but it was not! I had to wear extra padding on that shoulder blade and lighten up on hitting during practice. Amazingly, I was able to play the entire season and I even caught a pass or two.

It was no surprise that my 9th grade football experience did not persuade me to continue playing football. It made me realize that I was just too thin and not muscular enough to endure the physical traumas that come with football. Or perhaps I was just too much of a sissy to endure it! Whatever - my football days ended after 9th grade.

Amazingly, I have fond memories of all those neighborhood football activities and my 9th grade team experiences. I don’t regret anything about those them, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to tweak those experiences just a little to make me a superstar if I could. Wait … being a superstar includes too much pressure and responsibilities! Clark is happy to be a fan.

Bill - I don’t remember whether you saw any of my 9th grade football games, but they were not very memorable.

I hope you and your family are well and happy.



This was a great group of guys that I was very lucky
to have as teammates and friends.

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