Football was by far the favorite sport in my youth and I was very good at it. I loved to hit people during football, and if that sounds bad, then chalk it up to atavism, the cave, the fire, the hunt. I never cheap shot anyone.
I wasn’t very big. I used my brain to be a great football player. It worked.
We played football every month of the year but of course, preferred it in rain, mud or snow. Those snow games in the parks and back yards were the greatest. Football on a dry sunny day is a remarkably ordinary experience for a kid. Most of my football was unorganized, meaning adults didn’t organize it. Almost all of my best moments came from unorganized football. Do kids get to experience that anymore? I haven’t seen kids playing football in a park or field or street or on the beach in 20 years.
In every unorganized football setting in my Oregon City youth, I designed every play when my team huddled. My friends never contested my authority. They knew I knew football and trusted me. I quarterbacked us until the organization came. The systems of coaches and the oceans of cliches. That’s when football began to suck.
As I kid, all I read were military and sports biographies. I read about all the football greats, but only pro: Bart Starr, Bronco N, Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, Gayle Sayers, George Halas, Jim Brown (they left out the activism), Ray N, Joe Willie Namath, Vince, you name it. I accrued an encyclopedic knowledge of professional football history and draw upon it all the time, like right now!
My favorite childhood toy was an electric football game, where the metal field vibrated, and the players went everywhere except where they were supposed to go. I never completed a pass. I used to sprinkle baby powder to simulate snow. I never once played with another person. It was always me against me and the Dallas Cowboys always seemed to win. My pet beagle used to chew the heads off the players if I left them out and wasn’t around.
Note to self: I’d love to bust Paul Ryan up in a “touch” football game. He’d reveal his true character after he came across the middle and I was waiting for him with my cousins ready to coverage. We’d go Jack Tatum on his ass. The return of the clothesline.
I never had a romantic, sexual, or vandalizing experience on a football field. These have become the staple of books, movies and TV shows since football has been played. Think Dazed and Confused or The Virgin Suicides or Catcher in the Rye or Friday Night Lights.
I quit playing organized football my sophomore year in high school. I broke my ankle in a JV game and that was it. A short time later, I started writing a novel about my high school football experience. I never finished it and don’t think it had a title. This fragment was lost decades ago, but it had a Holden Caufield kind of narrator, a defensive back, who loathed everything associated with high school football, except for the actual playing of the game and the chess of being a smart defensive back and trying to outguess the opposition quarterback.
My first regularly paid professional writing job was covering Nestucca High School football for a Tillamook newspaper. I truly enjoyed it and loved roaming the sidelines, finding the little epiphanies here and there. I’ll never forget the season-opening game after 9/11. For a moment, it was America the Decent. That all vanished, though. We punted that unique opportunity. Three downs, loss of 25 yards, kick. I learned how to write on deadline and in the active voice as a sportswriter. I also loved supplying the headlines that offered subliminal conservation messages ….such as Bobcats Clearcut the Loggers.
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