The Short History of an Oregon Seventh Grade Football Season (Part 3)

They made Eubanks a tailback and cornerback and a member of the kick-off coverage team. He was the safety assigned the duty of laying back after the kick to wait and see if the returner broke containment. If he did, Eubanks was the last man to make the tackle or at least slow down the ball carrier until the cavalry arrived.

It was an important responsibility. Eubanks other responsibility was alternating with other players to carry in the offensive plays called by the Son. He would take a 3 x 5 card with the play’s name and diagram, run it out to the huddle, and then run back to the sideline. He fell down a lot doing this.

It was quickly apparent to the Father and Son they didn’t have any real offensive firepower. If the Raiders were going to score, they would need to use surprise and deception. Thus, the coaches installed various reverses, shovel and halfback option passes, and an absurd Statue of Liberty gadget play excavated with a hand trowel from the prehistoric days of the gridiron.

On defense, it was basic: turn Garbonski loose on stunts and blitzes and hope he wreaked havoc in the backfield and caused some turnovers. Other keys to success were not committing penalties and occasionally quick kicking on third downs to gain better field position. If the Raiders could keep it close, they might win a couple of games.

Every player suited up in uniform was going to play on both sides of the ball and on special teams. It didn’t matter if the the game was close or a blow out—everyone played. The coaches made this known to the team early on and it became part of their essential character.

The season opener approached. The Son had bestowed a few nicknames on some of the players, something football coaches never do today because they aren’t clever enough. Garbonski was called Ray Nitschke after the legendary Green Bay Packer middle linebacker. Casey Jones was called Engineer. Jimmy Dickerson (JD) was called Whiskey and Tommy Eubanks was called Touchdown Tommy, which Garbonski quickly shorted to T Squared and it stuck with everyone.

The morning before the Raiders first game, the Son went cleat shopping for Eubanks. He found a pair and then patronized a hardware store where he bought two cans of spray paint, sky blue and gold. The Son decorated the cleats with a badass design. He twirled them aloft and blew them dry.

It was a giddy day in the locker room when Father and Son issued game uniforms. The Son had his Mother alter Eubanks number 7 jersey so it wouldn’t hang like an overcoat on him. Nevertheless, when he tucked it inside his pants, the numeral disappeared. No problem. The Son just got out the spray paint and went to work.

When the Son presented the cleats to Eubanks he told the team they were more than just cleats; they were talismans, a magical force that would guide the Raiders with honor. The players ate it up and right then and there, Garbonski started the tradition of touching Eubanks cleats before a game. Even the coaches! It was a wild sight to behold and relaxed everyone before kickoff.

The referee came over and asked for the Captains. The Son appointed Garbonski on the spot and he sprinted out to midfield for the coin flip.

The rest of the team and the coaches gathered in a huddle and put their arms around each other. They started chanting Raiders, Raiders, Raiders. They were becoming a team, a brotherhood. If you’ve never been in such a huddle, and the same thing can happen before opening night of an amateur theatrical performance or new restaurant, you haven’t lived.

Garbonski returned from the coin flip, joined the huddle, and said he’d lost. The Raiders would be kicking off.

It was then the Son espoused the team’s philosophy. He’d thought about what he might say for this inaugural and defining moment, but never written anything down or rehearsed it.

Team first. We are a team, not a a gang. We never cheap shot. We never talk bad about teammates to their faces or behind their backs. If one of us screws up, we all take the blame and we pick up our teammates and support them. We are family on this field, in the classroom, in the halls. We play hard every down. We talk with our pads.

The Son stuck his right arm into the middle of the huddle and told the players to, “Put your hands in here.” They did. So did the Father. They counted off to three and then screamed, “GO RAIDERS!” They broke the huddle and the kickoff team raced onto the field. Eubanks fell down.