Sabbatical: The tackle

The competitive fire is still in the belly - of the chimenea anyway

The competitive fire is still in the belly - of the chimenea anyway

The tackle

 

   I played center on a boys football team where the minimum weight to qualify for the team was 70 pounds. On weigh-in night, I weighed about 69 ½ pounds, and had to eat bananas and drink water to finally make weight. The maximum weight for the team was 90 pounds, and several of my teammates on the offensive line spent that evening throwing up in order to make weight.

   I played center because I was the only one on the team who could center the ball all the way back to the punter. Our offense being what it was, we punted a lot. To keep me from being steamrolled by bulimic 90 pounders, my coach put me in deep safety with the command, "Don't let anybody hit you; we'll need you for punting the next time we get the ball."

   Somehow, we found ourselves on the verge of a championship, needing only to get by a very weak team of lumbering mastodons from below the parish. They were led by an extremely fast halfback named Luigi, who was anywhere from ten to 22 years old depending on what birth certificate he needed to produce for the age level of the team he was trying out for. He was certainly the only kid in our football division that traveled with a shaving kit. A word about his weight qualification follows shortly.

   Before the game, coach gave us one piece of advice. "Don't let Luigi get outside. If he gets outside, he's gone." Late in the fourth quarter of a scoreless game (I was earning my stripes on the punt team that night) Luigi got outside. I saw him as a shadowy, but well-shaven blur clearing our defensive line, and breaking away down the sideline and quickly into the clear.

   During the course of the game, coach kept pushing me farther back from the line of play on the hunch it might come down to a punt to preserve the tie and win the championship, and was making sure I would not be involved in any sort of football-contact play. When Luigi broke into the clear, I was far enough back that I was in a position to take an angle and catch him before he could score.

   It was just me and Luigi now for the championship, and somewhere outside our ten yard line, I caught up with him. I leapt and wrapped myself on his back, and then…nothing. Luigi continued on as if bothered by a mosquito, swatting at me and sending clouds of aftershave my way. It was like climbing onto a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. I thought, if this kid weighs 90 pounds, I must weigh ten. No matter what I tried, I couldn't tackle him. But then, somewhere near the goal line, I felt Luigi's legs buckle, and the two of us crumbled to the ground. Luigi's team failed to score, the clock expired, we won the championship and I was a football hero. My teammates smothered me with cheers. One said, "What's with the Aqua Velva?"

   That was my first and last Glory Days moment. I looked for Luigi to congratulate him on a good game, but I never found him. I did hear later that after that game, he was offered a scholarship to Notre Dame.