Thursday, November 17, 2005

Touchdown king

Yes, for one glorious season, I was a football player. So many good, macho, hard-hitting moments, I hardly know where to begin.

Let's start with the uniform. Freshman year at Middleboro High School, I decided to sign up for the Sachems freshman football team. Like many things in life, this seemed like a good idea at the time. After signing up and taking the physical (basically standing in front of an elderly, white-haired family doctor who waved a stethoscope in the general direction of the prospective players) the first order of business was picking out a uniform and equipment. Shoulder pads, helmet, knee pads, thigh pads. The only piece of equipment that all the players had to pick up at the local sporting goods store before practice the next day was a mouthpiece.




So I went to Steve's Sporting Goods, bought my mouthpiece and a couple of rolls of athletic tape and thought I was ready to go out and hit the gridiron the next day.

Unfortunately, never having played football before, I went into the first practice painfully unprepared for my first challenge - getting dressed. Shoulder pads and helmet were actually fairly self-explanatory. Okay, I figured, kneepads and thigh pads, this can't be too bad since I have my rolls of athletic tape. Shoved the pads down my pants and wrapped about 10 feet of tape around each pad. Didn't really notice that no one else on the team looked like Boris Karloff in The Mummy. Actually got about half-way through the season until I realized that there were little pockets inside my pants that neatly held the pads. Hell of a lot more comfortable, actually.

What I did notice, however, was that all the other player's mouthpieces seemed to be molded to their teeth. What the hell? I decided I would suck it up and deal with figuring out what to do with the mouthpiece before the next practice, besides, who would notice whether or not I had a mouthpiece?

So I get out onto the practice field, pads taped to my leg, no mouthpiece and line up with the other players in front of the two coaches. First question from the coaches - Does everybody have their mouthpieces? Crap!

I tell the assistant coach that I forgot my mouthpiece and he tells me I'll have to run laps after practice. Crap! Smoothly, I go back to the coach about 15 minutes later and tell him that, ummm, I really did have my mouthpiece, it was, ahh, attached to my shoulder pads. Boy, I'm really starting to look like a seasoned athlete. I spend the rest of the practice gagging on the unformed mouthpiece.

Eventually, I get the mouthpiece situation figured out (put it in boiling water and bite down when it's soft - who'd have thought.) Luckily for my athletic self-esteem, but unluckily for our teams hopes of ever winning many games, I'm far from the only player on the team with little or no organized football experience. Our only hope for winning lies with Derek Kelley, who, of course, gets moved up to the varsity team before our season has even begun.

Me, I get picked to be the starting split end on the team. This seems pretty exciting, until I realize that being a wide receiver on a freshman football team is about as exciting as being a play-by-play analyst for chess. Even the best varsity high school teams are lucky if they throw the ball 100 times in a season. For a freshman team with a bunch of first time players, the playbook consisted primarily of running the ball up the middle of the field and hoping the opposing defense was really, really bad. My job as wide receiver was to basically run down the field on the off chance that whoever was the quarterback might throw the ball that week and then run back to the huddle.

With the odds seemingly stacked against our scrappy band of underdogs from the start, our season gets off to a not so horrible start as we somehow manage a 6-6 tie in our first game. After that, our season quickly degenerates from not so horrible to being the Washington Generals of the South Shore freshman football conference. I'm not exactly sure of the final scores of all of the rest of the games, but I'm pretty sure we went on a seven-game streak of losing games by a score of either 30-0 or 30-6.

Before the first game, the coaching staff thought it would be a good idea to make the team run one hill behind the high school for every point we gave up to the other team.

During this long streak of futility, I do have some isolated moments of individual glory. Around the fourth game, I catch my first pass. Of course, I was so excited that I didn't drop the ball that I forgot to run. Unfortunately, the guys on the other team didn't forget to tackle me very hard. Man, football hurts. I even went on to catch a second pass in the game with pretty much the same results. Even with my big offensive production, we still went on to lose the game 30-0. Or 30-6.

A little later in the season, I had the highlight of my football career. I caught a touchdown pass. By the time I caught the ball in the back of the end zone, we were already down 30-0, so I figured it would have been a little unprofessional to do my Billy "White Shoes" Johnson touchdown dance. Another benefit of catching a pass in the end zone - no one needs to tackle you.

Coming off the high of being able to close a four-touchdown gap, the nadir of my football career came the following week as the team made a late fall trip to play Hull. Hull was the longest bus trip sports teams from Middleboro had to make when I was in high school, and the football field was on a godforsaken peninsula that had Siberian-like wind chills in the late fall. During this game, Coach Nelson must have decided to change his usual game plan of running the ball up the middle in favor of airing the ball out downfield. Maybe he was deluded into thinking he had the next Joe Montana and Jerry Rice on his side, or maybe he just thought that we were going to lose 30-0 (or 30-6) anyways and it really didn't matter whether we lost by land or by air. So we get the ball on the first series, and the coach calls a post pattern to the flanker, John Pooler. John runs down the field, bobbles the ball, and drops it. Not to be undone, the next play called is a post play to me, the split end. I run down the field, somehow managing to outdistance the defensive back, and watch a perfectly thrown spiral arcing its way down towards my hands, then the ball hits my hands, I bobble it once, then twice, then drop it. That was the end of our bombs-away passing attack.

Dropping the ball wasn't only issue I had on the field that day. Somehow, either because we were down to a total of 17 players on the team or because I accidentally tackled someone hard in practice, I was the starting free safety in the game against Hull. I played a perfect game, perfectly misjudging which side of the field the ball was going to on every play. Running back taking off down the right sideline? Then I must of been jetting for the left sideline like someone playing for a "special" team. The one time I was in on a play, I got coldcocked and practically had to be dragged off of the field.

So we lost again, 30 to not-a-lot. Luckily by this point in the season, the coaches had given up on the making us run one hill for every point we gave up. I think it might have been because the excessive number of hills we had to run during the course of the season were causing irreparable ecological damage to the poor hill behind the high school.

Somehow, we managed to put it altogether for the last game of the season (and last game of my budding football career) and beat East Bridgewater 16-0. I was happy, but boy, that team must have been really bad to lose to us. Maybe they saw the scores from the games we played earlier in the year and just assumed that they automatically got 30 points for getting off of the bus. Or maybe their coach had them too worn down from running hills for the entire season, whereas our legs were fresh and rested. Anyways, my sophomore year I went out for the cross country team. I was pretty sure I wouldn't have to worry about taping pads to my thighs in that sport.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Scudder said...

Okay...that induced actual tears! I couldn't stop laughing!

God I forgot about that Hull game. I was playing Montana to your Rice. We were down to so few kids by that time I was playing Nosetackle on defense as well. That season might have been the single worst "sporting" experience I had in my life. It was so bad, that joing the soccer team and losing 16-0 was actually considered progress!

2:18 PM  
Blogger Talisa said...

Haaaaaa!!!!!!

8:37 PM  
Blogger Amie Nay said...

I may or may not have snorted whilst reading this.

10:49 PM  

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