The Short History of an Oregon Seventh Grade Football Season (Part 4)

They started with two victories, 18-6 and 12-6. The second victory was a curious experience for the Raiders. The opposing team featured a girl. In fact, she was the star player, fullback and middle linebacker, just like Garbonski.

No one wanted to hit her, especially Garbonski. She was creaming ball carriers on defense and stampeding over tacklers on offense.

At halftime, the Raiders trailed 8-0 and showing no signs of life. The Father and Son conferred for a few seconds and nodded their heads. The Son addressed the team and asked what was going on with the lackluster effort, although he already knew.

“She’s a girl, Coach,” said Garbonski.

“You’re going to have to hit her,” said the Son, “and hit her hard.”

“She’s cute, too!”

Everyone erupted in laughter. That shattered the tension and Garbonski went out in the second half and clobbered her over and over again, but also helped her off the turf with an apology every time. The Raiders won 14-8. The stories at the pizza parlor after the game about the roughneck female football player became instant lore. As the victory feast neared its raucous conclusion, the Son asked Garbonski, “Did you get her phone number?”

The team exploded into a guttural laughter so loud, so sustained, that the Son would remember it for the rest of his life.

In the first two games, Eubanks managed to avoid any serious contact with an opposing player and he also fell down a lot. His favorite activity was to dive on the pile after a tackle on a kickoff. Luckily, he was so tiny referees never bothered to throw a penalty flag.

Then elk season arrived. A dozen players, including Garbonksi and Eubanks, missed the next two games to go hunting with their families. The Raiders lost 36-0 and 18-2.

The Son tried imagining Eubanks carrying a rifle and stalking elk in the forests of Eastern Oregon and it simply didn’t register. Upon his return, Eubanks presented the Father and Son with frozen elk steaks. It was the one and only time the Son ever ate elk.

The Raiders regrouped and won their next game 24-12. The coaches had a mild scare when Eubanks substituted in at cornerback late in the fourth quarter. There he was, alone, out on a deserted island like Robinson Crusoe. The opposing team hadn’t run a sweep to that side of the field all game, so the Son felt confident nothing injurious would happen to Eubanks.

Sure enough, the opposing team ran a power sweep with an army of blockers bearing down on Eubanks. A cornerback’s job in such instances is to turn the runner back inside. The only way a cornerback can do this is to take on the blockers at the knees and try to undercut as many as possible. A player sacrifices his body so someone else can make the tackle. It’s the kind of play that never shows up on a stat sheet or newspaper headline but what football is really all about.

The army was thundering toward the Raiders’ sideline. Eubanks didn’t move.

The Son said to the Father, “Dad, he’s going to die.”

“I know,” he said.

Garbonski must have sensed the danger as well, because he smashed through the line with demonic force, wiped out the blockers, pulverized the ball carrier, and caused a fumble. The ball squirted toward Eubanks. It was five yards away! He didn’t move. The coaches were yelling at him to make the recovery. The sideline was going nuts. He somehow snapped out of his trance and ran toward the pigskin. There was no around it. He could scoop it up and ramble 70 yards downfield, and score a touchdown! Touchdown Tommy Eubanks!

He fell down.

One game remained and the Raiders stood at 3-2. It was a home affair and against Gardiner. A winning season was at stake and the coaches mentioned this during practice, but didn’t go overboard. It was just another game and everyone would play like they always had.