If the sun has turned to sweltering in Ohio, you know football season must be around the corner.
If humidity nears triple digits, transcending sweaty all the way into sticky and uncomfortable, the preseason camps must be under way. And all is again right with the world.
After those boring acclimatization days and interminable hours of walk-throughs and conditioning sprints, the pads go back on and the time to hit is renewed.
Nowhere else can you find that sanctioned violence, the encouraged ferocity with just enough protection to let inhibitions fall away. A wonderfully unconscious moment sandwiched by fear and joy then rushing thrills of adrenaline. Perhaps a little pain. Even when you get the best of it, a reverberation comes back your way. A worthwhile and welcome sacrifice…
Even now, the smell of dewy grass alerts my nostrils to tell my brain it’s time for football practice. Then I get a little wistful.
Most of the time, I don’t miss the soreness and the bruises.
I’m always thankful I still get to at least talk football every day of the fall, and I don’t have to shirk duties at work to do so. This is exactly what I wanted to do when I reasoned that I may as well combine sports and writing to try to make a living.
That was in junior high. In 8th grade we had to pick a profession to study for a project, and I pragmatically landed on sportswriter because I like to write and I like sports. I can’t remember how long that was after I had realized Division I colleges don’t take 5-11, 210-pound offensive linemen, even if they love the game and can play a stand-up end in the old Oklahoma 50 defense, too. Later, I decided rather than pursue a D-III opportunity my time would be better spent getting started on the writing thing full time. (Again with the pragmatic approach.…)
I usually thought a little more than I should have on the field, too. I remember my brain sometimes slowing down my feet. I wasn’t a big hitter, at least not without a good setup, but I could usually get the job done. It’s easier to be crafty in Division VI because anyone who’s just too big to handle was generally too slow to do anything about a trap block. Angles were my best friend. So Woody’s offense still worked then if you executed it, and my old coach used it long enough to win nearly 250 games.
It was a pretty thing to watch those traps break open in the middle of the line, too. Or to see the defense finally wear down and the “Fullhouse 34” break for a long one. I still remember the adrenaline rush in the fourth quarter, even when almost all of us played both ways.
Then the locker room was so sublime afterward. A few yells of joy and exultations to beat the next opponent, then sighs of relief another ‘W’ was in hand as the bruises started to surface and soreness set in.
That was truly living. Now I’m just trying to have a life.
I’d love to go back but not to trade in today. That wasn’t a better time, just a different kind of good. There is no denying 2012 has been a tough year for me personally. I’ve endured some setbacks, but still I have a lot to be thankful for.
I always felt the football field was a place a young person, so far from really having accomplished anything, could really feel like he’d built a life. There was something unspoken and intangible built by our teams, and I suspect that is the case most places. That was our answer to the big presentation that gets an adult that big promotion at work. There were few better ways to really accomplish something at 16, with life still being laid out before us.
What training grounds those were, east of the school and north of Route 42.
How the sunset bathed the field in light you might find on a movie set, and what a surreal saffron picture it painted for a couple of hours on five Friday nights each fall.
The playoffs always began after the end of daylight savings time, so the sun had long ago gone down. Maybe that had some purpose, some way of reminding us we’d reached a new challenge, to be happy with the earlier goals we’d achieved and set our sights on something new, something we’d never attain but that we were happy to fight for anyway. Our winnings felt more permanent that way. The season was no less meaningful, the losses no less painful, but we knew there were just different sets of goals and we could be happy with them all.
I was not happy when the lights went out for the last time. That was tough. The tears flowed long and naturally in the old locker room at the big concrete stadium in Troy after a playoff loss to Marion Local, the eventual state champion.
I got home from my last game and found my college acceptance letter had come that day. What a fitting irony. The type of perfect transition for which I’m often searching now when I try to piece together quotes and facts for the next story I’m writing.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into then, but I can take solace in seeing how well things came together after the fact, like a 32 fullback trap where the tackle sealed off the ‘backer and the other guard shoved aside the nose guard and the defensive tackle who thought he’d lucked into something big saw just a second too late me coming from his left, and that fullback cut back just off my butt to gallop toward the goal line.
I often still wish I’d been more decisive then so I could have made more plays (defensively, especially) but I’m glad I was there anyway.
Now those dilemmas play out in their own real world way, but I’m happy to be in the game in my own way.
Another season awaits. Hope you’ll follow along. Should be a hell of a journey.
Isn’t it always?