On Football (Part 3)

I coached junior high football with my father for two seasons back in the 1980s. We often reminisce about this experience and consider it one of our best times together. I coached the backs and he coached the lineman. I called all the offensive plays and defensive sets. My greatest joy came from rolling out gadget plays on offense and the players loved the bravado even more. Sometimes they even worked. I frequently would call the same gadget play two times in a row, provided the first take didn’t result in a touchdown or disaster. That’s unheard of in football coaching.

We finished 3-3 and 4-2 and had several memorable victories, including one over a Woodburn team whose star player was a girl, undoubtedly a farm tomboy. She played fullback and middle linebacker and in the first half, ran roughshod over us. None of my players wanted to hit her and we trailed 6-0 at halftime.

At halftime, I gave the only fiery speech of my brief football coaching career. It just wasn’t my forte and I never responded to them as a player. But this one time, as my players knelt in the end zone around me, I delivered the Hollywood goods. It basically came down to this: YOU HAVE TO TREAT HER LIKE A BOY AND HIT THE HELL OUT OF HER! RUN HER OVER, THEN PICK HER UP. It worked and we won the game 12-6.

I was once knocked out during a football game. I caught a punt, started running right and got smashed out of bounds by three tacklers. I was revived by smelling salts and went back in the game. I was an eighth grader. No concussion protocols then and coaches rarely allowed the drinking of water during games or practices! They thought it made you soft.

I once separated the shoulder of a player I tackled by swinging him out of bounds and into the pole vault pit.

Football on the beach where the incoming tide serves as one sideline makes for some novel playcalling opportunities that can utilize the retreating tide for huge advantage. Moreover, you have sand at your disposal to draw up the perfect play and everyone in the huddle can see how it will work.

I have the distinction of scoring a touchdown in every way a touchdown can be scored: running, receiving, kickoff return, punt return, fumble return, interception return. I also threw a touchdown pass.

It used to shock my students when they learned I played and coached football. Several refused to believe it. I suppose my personality, dress, cultural interests, personal mannerisms, writing life, and room d├ęcor didn’t match their image of what a former football player might look like. I always won points from the athletes for my football credentials and talked the jargon with them on game days.

I recall some really great dates where all we did was throw the football around and talk. You get to know a lot about someone doing this.

In 1993, I watched the Super Bowl in a deserted hotel bar in Bodrum, Turkey, on the Aegean Sea. It was three in the morning and my Turkish girlfriend I was traveling with arranged with management to allow us to watch the game. There we were, freezing in the unheated bar, drinking beers we had brought along, and we watched the game and I tried to explain the rules and objectives. She thought American football incredibly boring but liked the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. She told me she wanted one of the outfits!

I often used the football fields at various teaching jobs as a place for writing instruction. Sometimes we just went out to the field on a nice day, spread out, sat down or splayed on the grass, and wrote in our journals about clouds or whatever floated through our minds. Sometimes I gave specific football-related prompts, such as moments attending Friday night games or, far, far more interesting, non-football stories related to the field. It was fascinating to later read how so many students (the non football players) used the field for late-night hi jinks that involved everything from sex, stripping, drinking, poetry, vandalism, witchcraft and forbidden meetings. I could have published a scandalous literary review of these stories!