I was never on a championship football team. I played on a few championship Little League and high school basketball teams, but in Little League I was a six-out, one-at-bat guy and in basketball, I was the eighth man in a seven-man rotation, so I did not really feel like I contributed.
I know, it takes a team and all that, and it was not like I thought I got the short end of the stick with limited playing time – truth be told, I just was not very good. My claim to fame in Little League was that as a 12-year-old I was the first pick in the draft – for the minors. In those days you had to really earn a spot in the majors, and I just was not good enough.
But football was a different story. I earned the player-scholar award in Pop Warner for the entire league – as a linebacker – and went on to have a respectable high school career. I joined the service to play football and shocker of shockers, I was lied to as football did not exist at most posts when I was in. (One of my buddies was an all-state wrestler from Ohio and showed up to basic training with his head gear – he never did get to wrestle).
But I got to play a year of football in the service, even though Fort Campbell would not sanction the team. We had to get hand-me-downs from local high school, and the biggest helmet we could get was a 7 ¼. Considering my melon is a 7 7/8, practice was not fun for me. We only got to play one game and that was against a Division I school’s varsity reserves, and we got shellacked. My football career ended a year later on the third day of junior college practice when I destroyed my shoulder – it still does not function well to this day.
During that career three times an official’s call – once through incompetence and twice through a lack of rule knowledge – kept us out of the championship.
Those three plays are forever engrained in my mind. The first occurred in Pop Warner when a win in our last game got us in the playoffs – a tie did us no good (there was no overtime in those days). We scored late in the game to tie and our quarterback, who was a real knucklehead, was angry because he was hit after the handoff and picked up dirt and threw it – right in the official’s face!
One rule that has changed many times over the years is a dead-ball foul on the offense following a touchdown. Then, it was to be enforced on the kickoff, but for whatever reason the official enforced it on the conversion. We got close, but didn’t make it and did not make the playoffs.
My senior year we needed a win against Shasta to make our season finale with Enterprise (Manteca fans know all about Enterprise) give us a shot at the playoffs. Again, late in the game, we were driving for the winning score and were near midfield when we ran the option to perfection. Our tailback was 20 yards downfield with nobody around him when the whistle blew – the referee thought the fullback had the ball and we never got another chance that game. We did, however, beat Enterprise.
I know flag football is not really football, but in the service it is a big deal. While in training school we were in the semifinals against the faculty team – with faculty officials – and had the lead with time running out. On fourth and forever the faculty threw a pass underneath to a lineman whose flags fell off. Our defenders stopped as the rules said with no flags the ball was dead, but he ran into the end zone and the ruling on the field was that the game reverted to two-hand touch with no flags.
To this day I still get angry when thinking about those plays.
This summer, I have been chasing Little Leaguers for the last six weeks, and I still am. However, I have one less team to chase now – the Manteca majors. In their ensuing years they will look back on this summer with some joy but they too will be angered as incompetence and ignorance of the rules cost them two games in the recent playoffs and they are now at home as the team that was the beneficiary of those gifts has moved on to the next level.
Both were close plays at the plate and both were rally killers in one-run games. On one an incorrect application of runner interference – the Buster Posey rule – was applied as not only did the Manteca player try to avoid contact, the catcher did not even have the ball. On the other the umpire was out of position to see the tag application – he should have been third-base extended and was first-base extended – so the runner shielded the tag attempt and there was no way to see if it was made or not. (The coach was adamant that the tag missed by at least a foot, and he had the perfect angle to see it).
I have many friends who are officials and their life is a tough one, but basic knowledge of the rules and proper game-time mechanics are two essentials that would prevent a lot of problems.
So Manteca majors, I feel your pain. A valuable lesson you will have learned from this is that sometimes, life is just not fair. No amount of what-ifs or coulda-shouldas can change that. But sometimes, karma pays us back further down the road and you definitely have a few chits in the karma bank coming your way.
That is what keeps us going, and in the words of my dearly departed father, you never know from where you are sitting what the band is going to play next.
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