Suffice it to say, Our Boy’s biggest fear back in those days was that nothing was in his control…a Child is born//With a Heart of Gold//The Way of the World//Makes his heart Stone Cold…
Before We start this installment, let’s put this narrative in a “pitchable” form; boiling it all down to a thumbnail sketch. This extended representation of a probable past, although not exactly a history; more interpretation or portraiture than detailed photo or snapshot; at it’s core, is the story of a fourteen year-old boy; who read way too many Harvard Classics and assorted college books, that he couldn’t possibly have understood, at the time; and decided he had an idea about what power was and what it wasn’t; what social class, religion, sex and sexual preference and of course, race; especially as they were, historically speaking, generally known; and thus couldn’t help but be a repository for; all the secret and dark little corners; where hatred and fear love to hide and pull the strings they love to pull; and destroy who and what they exist; to destroy; the illusion what we may mistake ourselves for; if aren’t paying attention.
To make a long pitch shorter; this fourteen year old African American; at the time Male; but these days; more Non-Binary; about most things; particularly those things under the hood; this kid thought he had an idea; and spent the next three decades, and some change; attempting to reveal to himself more than anything or anyone else; whether it was sound; or merely noise.
At the time, he really didn’t fully understand precisely what he would have to sacrifice; over the years of inevitable life and necessary error; but something in those books told him; sung to him; hypnotized him into believing that he would eventually find what he was looking for; what he thought at that age; he would indeed find; either that, or die trying; a happy man for the attempt perhaps; but nevertheless, a dead one; maybe.
Hence the title of this installment and the next few to follow; in some way, shape or form; helpless…helpless…helpless; like ripples moving across the face in a pool of water; the wake of a fallen stone; let’s look at 1978; at what happened; and also, probably, did not happen…those many many years — ago.
We’ve said before that Our Young Man, the subject of this narrative, felt like, at some point early in the Football Season of his Senior Year; he started playing football for the wrong reasons; looking for other young men such as himself, in this case, to vent his frustrations on; his conflicting feelings; perhaps stemming from his parents’ divorce; perhaps on the other hand, from his feelings of incompleteness; like there was a part of his story; his upbringing; something in his past; that never happened to either his sister or his brother; as far as he could ever tell; something that all the adults in his world at the time; kept from him; for whatever reason; almost like the time in his apartment of today; trying to shave in a bathroom mirror in the dark; because of a short in a light socket; grown old and worn out over time; so too was his sense of himself; back in those days; when he told his Aunt Connie over the phone not to worry; that he would save it all — for the football field.
Well, the way things turned out, the football field must have seen Our Young Friend coming, long before he got there. Actually, it is probably more accurate to assume that it wasn’t all that difficult for any of the opposing teams to do their homework. A good scouting report, for example would tell any future opponent a host of important information.
It would tell any future opponent, for instance, that the defense Our Young Friend’s team mainly ran was a 3–4 Scheme; meaning that he was in the middle; all 210 pounds of him; right there in between four line backers and two defensive linemen.
We have to mention here, that normally, defensive linemen, regardless of whether they are an inside nose tackle, or an outside down tackle; are generally a lot bigger than 210 pounds. In other words, Our Young Man would have been better suited, physically speaking that is; had his opponents been trying to tackle him; or in yet another situation; trying to catch a pass thrown downfield; as opposed to him trying to get past two, three, sometimes four of them; since he was much faster; and who knows; maybe even smarter; had his Football I.Q. been as sharp as his hands and eyes always seemed to be; more so, than he was ever big; at least big enough to command a battlefield as daunting as a football gridiron; in the the trenches; at the line — of scrimmage.
It is here at this point in Our Narrative, We have to consider Our Young Man’s head Football Coach; Ted C. Guthard; an as we do this, let’s also consider; not necessarily the games the team played; whether or not they won, for instance; instead, let’s focus Our attention on Our Young Friend’s behavior in those matches; in general, of course.
In the first match of the season, against Walled Lake Western, anyone could look at the films, even Today; and clearly see, all of Our Young Man’s hits at the line of scrimmage; his pursuit of the ball; his tackles; everything he did was completely clean; and also very, very quick. Violent? That’s the nature of the game; but Mean Joe Green-like? No Never; not in any of the films; if One is fortunate enough to find; after all this time; and water under the bridge.
When things started getting rough for the team; basically due to really good scouting reports, and poor adjustments to unfamiliar offenses and blocking patterns; tactics that defensive stunts; countermeasures if you will; could not account for or answer in a consistent enough manner; consistent that is; enough for much needed stops on third down conversions.
The whole process, from the moment the ball is snapped to the time the referee blows their whistle; generally moves fast; but as fast as it flows; it still develops like a ticking clock; where plays like Sweeps; either orchestrated Bootleg Patterns; when the play (the ball) moves horizontally to the side line; to a point, in space; when usually two timely blocks; one from a back out of the back field, perhaps; the other, probably from a tight end and or Offensive Tackle; effectively sealing off both, or either, the Outside Linebacker; and or, the Defensive End; depending on whether or not; they themselves are in their proper positions.
Or that same ticking clock; always moving with a particular rhythm; Our Young Friend could always hear; but since he was usually down on the line; in the trenches so to speak; could never see; could also develop in to some sort of Option Pitch; to either the other back; or to a Wide Receiver Crossing from the opposite side; often times, but not always, the strong side.
The basic idea, at least that’s how Our Guy figured it; from a Nose Guard’s Point of View; was to swing the Strong Side around; so it could have a kind of Boot Leg Kick into the Opposite Weak side; at least, that was the general theory, Our Friendly Neighborhood Undersized Nose Guard was led to believe.
As this Writer writes these words, here Today; his recollection confirms; what Our Young Man, at the time was thinking; as he sat there alongside his team mates after five of the six losses; watching those damned game films; when Coach Guthard would either loudly bemoan: “God Bless America, So and So!! Where are you? How Come You are out of Position — Again; a phrase denoting frustration, as well as a strong desire not to take the Lord’s Name in Vain; a promise he had made earlier; to his Wife.
Although not married, Our Young Friend often uses this same phrase Today; in fond memory of his Head Coach; but of course, his usage is tailored to reflect his general understanding; of his current state of mind and affairs; “God Bless America, How Come I’m homeless again? How Come my hemorrhoids keep coming back? Why is the ceiling in my bathroom, not quite collapsing, yet; but if dry wall were skin; it would certainly look worse; than a third degree burn?
Moreover, as one might expect; given Our Guy’s Foot Ball Coach’s tendency to turn a creative phrase; Coach Guthard would often remark, almost as if in awe, a phrase that adequately described Our Young Man’s Play on the field; especially when he found himself double or tripled teamed; sometimes encircled by by four or five offensive players; a bull in the box; on the one hand, referring to the rectangular chute that holds a bull; before riding event; in a rodeo for example; on the other hand; much like a billiard ball in a game of pool; Our Guy would bounce off one, then another, then another; as they often merely encircled him; containing him as it were; much like a bull in a box.
Hence the term; and no; nothing was dirty. What his coach probably found most remarkable, was that Our Kid would never give up. He would go full blast; his eyes following the movement of the ball; until it was out of reach; generally; touchdown territory; all clean hits. No punches, no swearing; nothing to ever be ashamed of; almost as if it were some sort of exercise.
It wasn’t until the last game of the season, against Andover; the school’s crosstown rival; where Our Young Metro Suburban Activities Participant; didn’t actually give up; he just got plain old — tired.
(to be continued)