On Football (Part 1)

It’s football season in America. Football tackles my mind. I want to write about it. I want to tackle the subject and then give it a helping hand up so it can return to the huddle. Wait, they don’t huddle in football anymore. That says a lot about the country these days. In huddles, players confer, encourage, and yes, excoriate. I’ve been in huddles where I witnessed the gamut of human emotions and intelligence. I’ve been in huddles where players cried. Not huddling anymore is sort of like the way we mostly communicate with each other these days—signals, not face to face.

Recently, I drove by a practice football field, an abandoned one, with an ungodly, absurd crown (you have to really know football to know what that means), a crown practically three feet in height, (this is where the phrase running downhill comes from, now lost for all time because of flat artificial turf surfaces). The field once belonged to a now-defunct school district, a bumpy, dandelion-ridden gridiron, where sons of farmers, loggers, roofers and fishermen once drilled.

The goal posts were rusted, peeling and tilting. Blackberries had engulfed ancient blocking sleds. Someone was still mowing the field, but why? Perhaps it was for a secret dog park. The dogs had taken over and thundered their shits with glee where padded and helmeted teenage gladiators once tried to damage each other, but rarely did. That came later.

I could see faint traces of yard-lines on the forlorn field, from decades of applying lime. Oh for the return of lime on a football field! I want to write a book about called, “The Last Limed Football Field in America.” It might the one in Elkton, Oregon. Or Eddyville. Or Alsea. What football fields they are! The elk come right out onto the field during a game! They’re great defenders for the long passing game.

These fields are also known to receive the occasional salmon washed up in the end zone if the rivers adjacent to the fields flood at precisely the right moment. I’ve heard stories of players taking them home after practice and frying them up for supper. That means something in Oregon.

Recent news reports have documented a dramatic decline in the nationwide participation in youth, junior high and high school football. What does that augur for the sport, the business, our popular culture? I’ll let others sort that out and either lament or jump for joy. I do find it interesting to witness up close when a once-popular cultural pastime begins to fade, ultimately to near or total extinction. Drive-in movies, bowling, record stores, mixed horny doubles, writing postcards, fondue, jello desserts, crocheting doilies. Is football going the way of fondue in the next 25 years?

I have fond and unsettling memories of football, playing and coaching it. Let me revisit a few of those memories during football season and I will write about football in non-linear fashion and as if I were play calling a long offensive drive, slyly mixing run and pass, and perhaps throwing in a gadget play—or two. Gadget plays are fun! More gadget plays in our lives! Non digital ones. Sometimes gadget plays succeed. But the point of a gadget play in football is that you are willing to call them and must go deep into the creative mind of the players and coaches. Timing is everything.

The drive begins. Here’s the snap. First play—power sweep, both guards pulling. It’s starting to rain. They’ll expect us to stick to the ground. Sure we will.

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