On Football (Part 4)

My fifth and sixth grade flag football coach at Mt. Pleasant Elementary in Oregon City was the best and kindest football coach I ever had. What an innovator! It was from him that I got the idea to run the same gadget play twice in a row. We had so many things going on offensively that we bedazzled our opponents and were 11-1 in those two seasons. This coach taught me a lot of football and about sportsmanship. Other coaches taught me football but very little about sportsmanship. It’s a strange thing as a kid to see an adult running up the score on another team. I had coach in junior high who was particularly notorious for doing that, and once ran up the score on my father-coached team at a crosstown rival. I scored three touchdowns in that game, against my Old Man! We beat him 50-0. On one of the touchdowns, I ran right past him on the sideline and sort of nodded in apology.

I am ashamed of my participation in bullying a player on my eighth grade football team. He was too poor to afford cleats and played in hand-me down black loafers! This bullying was aided and abetted by a coach. I never allowed this sort of harassment during my tenure as a football coach. I intervened aggressively to stop it.

A couple of years ago, when I was in extreme crisis, I returned to a football field of my youth to try and makes sense of my demolished life. On this field, I grounded myself, and figured out a football metaphor to employ to get back in the game of caring and creating.

I see flag football is coming back for youth. It should have never left. It’s way more fun than tackle and no one ever leads with their head. None of us ever got hurt. I imagine pro football going that way in the next 25 years.

One of the more curious cultural developments in recent years is the meteoric rise of American women becoming serious football fans. I dated two football cheerleaders in high school and they both dumped me in short order. One of them has the distinction of being the only person besides myself to write in my journals. Decades later, we read her entries together and laughed. I’ve written a lot about her and plan on writing more. I don’t think she’ll ever know how large she loomed in my life. The uniform may have had something to do with it.

As a preacher’s kid, I had access to the big lawn in front of the church. It was shaped like a football field and my friends and I would play there for hours, with Dad quarterbacking for both sides, tackling, stiff arming, huddling, running, scoring touchdowns, all under the watchful eye of a huge metal cross affixed to the front of the church. My friends and I also played football in the spacious basement of the church, on carpet, tackle. We once tried to make coffee in one of those towering church percolators and failed.

There was something else interesting about being a preacher’s kid. I often skipped the Sunday sermon because I wanted to watch the Dallas Cowboys play and this was long before ESPN an endless replays. If you didn’t see the game live, you never saw it. My parents were perfectly fine with my absence and I look back today and think that was pretty incredible. I never had to lie and say I was sick. I just said I wanted to watch football.

I sorely miss Howard Cosell’s commentary on Monday Night Football. You won’t hear the words “scintillating” or “pejorative” coming out the mouths of contemporary announcers. You’ll also never hear sophisticated analysis of civil rights issues as they pertain to players, which Howard could provide at the drop of his hat. Howard would have loved Colin Kaepernick’s stand and become his fiercest advocate, just like he was with Ali.

Woodsmoke is the smell of football. I just caught a whiff of it wafting through the neighborhood and wanted to go out and throw the pigskin around.

I long to see my foolishly discarded football card collection. They were good friends to me. I once chose my “All NFL Name Team,” which was a lineup of the best football names at each position. Dick Butkus made the team every year. He probably had the best football name of all time.