Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Getting Hit: Urbandale 1973

I played football in junior high and high school. I was a good football player--but not so much in organized ball. While a star in sandlot ball, I was always a second stringer when I put on pads and helmet. Why? Some of it was my own general timidity and foolishment, some was that I saw football as a game of finesse not one of brutishness--as said: foolishment. Anyway, I quit football my senior year (the year the Urbandale Jayhawks won the state AA title--my usual luck, though can't say being a member of the 1976 State AA Champs of Iowa would be one of my biggest accomplishments).
But what I'm recalling is a short episode during practice one day when on junior varsity. It was during punt coverage. I was on offense and, best to my memory, ran downfield after the ball was kicked and almost got in on the tackle. So, there I was standing after the play was over when--WHAM--some kid comes and slams me from behind. Blindsided. After the whistle. I get myself up and look at him, some guy I knew but did not know, and he yells at me that the coach said I should have done this or that on the coverage.
I was bewildered. Not because of the hit but because of the penalty enforced upon me--this blindsided wham by coaches orders. I didn't get angry (one of my many failings in the game of football, but I didn't know that at the time). I just looked at the kid and then at the coaches who were yards away and shrugged it off, went back to practice. Yet, that stays with me. It was demeaning and embarrassing. Who was this kid to just come knock me off my feet when I was completely unaware and defenseless? Who was that coach (not the head coach of varsity who was a nice guy--for a football coach at least) to think of and then order such a thing?
And that incident is one of those incidents where I wish I could go back in time. I'd like to go back and when I got hit I'd like to pick myself up and--first off--yank off the perpetrator's helmet and smack him in the goddamn nose. Then I'd like to run up to the coach and tackle him and smack him in the nose. Perhaps that would have impressed them. maybe that's what they wanted from me.
But, though a big guy, I wasn't that kind of guy.
Here's what kind of guy I was: I was a wide receiver, but due to my lifelong bad hearing and general shyness, I got in the wrong line for practice and became a lineman instead. I was big enough to be a lineman and that's where they kept me. So, one practice as a lineman--tackle--and again during punt drill where I was blocking the rush, I recalled the instructions which was hit your man but if the man next to you misses his block, pick up that man. On the play the person next to me was one of my good friends. When the ball was snapped, I saw him miss his man and so I came over and picked him up. My man was not picked up and glided in to the punter, almost blocking it. For this I was yelled at, by both coaches and teammates. They asked why I didn't pick up my man. I said nothing. I didn't want to blame my friend for not picking up his man, so I just said nothing.
That's the kind of guy I was.

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