The calendar is turning to September, and with that football season will be in full swing. And while guys get made fun of for this, I can honestly say that I would give anything to go back and strap it up one more time.
While I have had a full life – and it just got fuller with the birth of my first grandchild – I have never been as content as I was playing middle linebacker for the mighty Cubs of Anderson High. Well, mighty is a relative term. Before my tenure and after, the Cubs were in the championship hunt more often than not. During my years, we fit into the “not” category.
I started playing youth football in fifth grade – and it was determined after the season that I shouldn’t have played because I was 25 days too young. I was not very good – I was “husky” and out of shape and I cried a lot. I wanted to quit, but my father would not let me. He told me I did not need to go out the following year, but I had to finish what I started.
And in those days, there were not four levels, there were two: the big team and the little team. I came back the following year on the little team and then played two on the big team.
While my eight-grade year was quite rewarding – I was named the scholar-athlete of the league – I think that came at a pretty significant cost. In those days, weight limits were significantly less than they are today. The maximum for the big team was 125 pounds, and I tipped the scales at 142. I got down to 122 in four weeks, and since then I have not grown vertically by a single millimeter. I am pretty sure I stunted my growth, so by the time I was a senior quite a lot of my contemporaries had caught up to and even passed me.
But nothing was going to get in my way of starting at linebacker when I got to the varsity level – not even having to look up to see the bottom of the depth chart to start my junior year with two returning seniors at linebacker.
By the time the third game rolled around my junior year, I had deposed one of those linebackers to defensive end and by the end of the year I had led the team in tackles.
To be a Cubs linebacker was a step ahead in the race for all-league consideration, and to lead the team in tackles was a lock.
Not in my case. The defensive end and the other linebacker got the all-league nods and I got bupkis. I was told it was because they were seniors and my time would come. Little did I know my time had already come.
We started my senior year 2-0 and should have gone 3-0, but some of our players had inexplicably bad games Week 3. I found out years later those players got high before the game, and that loss sent us into a spiral. Week 4 I tweaked my knee and that cost me half a step the rest of the season.
The year ended on a good – make that great – note. We beat the dreaded and previously undefeated Enterprise Hornets 8-7 in a fog bowl. Unbelievable. Nothing has come close to the shear elation of that moment. In seven years I had never been on a squad that beat Enterprise. What a way to go out.
While my senior year was pretty respectable, along with a tweaked shoulder the knee took its toll. But I fought through it and thought I would get the all-league patch I deserved the year before, but it went to our other linebacker – a junior.
He was good – better than I was that year and he went on to play in the pros. That was the first time in my life the goal posts had been moved on me, and it was not going to be the last. I am still bitter about it to this day, but when the field is named for your coach, not a lot of people will question his judgment.
I did not recover. My senior track season was absolutely horrible – and it was mostly my fault. The fact that I had told the coach’s daughter to take a long walk on a short pier and then he became my coach was just the absolute manure icing on the cake.
I played one more football game in the military, and then my career ended painfully on the junior college practice field after I got out of the service. I coached while still in high school, in the military, and at the youth and high school levels in this town.
But now I chronicle the games. While I am on the periphery, there are a few times each season when I am transported back in time and I think I can see my parents in the stands, right next to the press box where they sat for eight years.
But like the old man said, do the best you can today because you can never go back.
If I had listened a little more to him I wonder how things would have been different.