by Harvey L. Gardner
Like millions of Americans, I love football. I love watching it and I loved playing it. People from all walks of life and every social strata play football. Presidents, Supreme Court justices, and criminals have played football.
I learned a lot of valuable lessons from this sport: teamwork, leadership, pride in accomplishment, and humility. Humility? That's right. Football isn't all glory.
I'm not as famous as the player who ran the wrong way and scored a touchdown for the opposing team. I'm not as famous as the guy who jumped from the sidelines to tackle a player, in effect giving him an instant touchdown. Heck, I'm not even famous.
But when you make a fool of yourself in front of thousands of people, that's hard to forget. You can't even hide. You have this big number--mine was 51--on your shirt. Everybody knows who you are. They won't let you forget.
Since I was a lineman, it was not my destiny to get a lot of publicity. That's just the way it is. They say football games are won or lost in the trenches. Linemen play in the trenches. Quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers get all the glory. The "skilled positions," they call them.
I did, however, have moments of glory, but they were few. The one that stands out for me was the first game I got to play. Martin High School was playing the Milan Bulldogs. The blue and white against the purple and white.
The purple and white kicked our butts in the first half, and we were behind 18-0 when the coach sent me in at defensive guard. He didn't send me in to save the game; he just didn't want the starters to get hurt, figuring we'd just get more of the same in the second half. But what did he know?
The coach was so shocked, he left me in the game to play offense. On the first play from scrimmage, our fullback ran right past me up the middle sixty yards for a touchdown.
No, I didn't make a key block; I just ran along behind the fullback jumping up and down like a crazy person and acting like a cheerleader in shoulder pads. It was 18-7.
Thankfully there were no coaches in skyboxes in those days to figure out what went wrong, so I just kept tackling the quarterback for losses. We won the game 26-18. It was a great night for the Martin Panthers.
I was a bona fide American hero (at least on my block in a tiny town in Tennessee), and I loved it. I earned a starting position with that performance, but it wasn't long before jubilation was replaced by faded glory.
Not many games later, the place kicker shanked his kickoff and sailed the ball directly to me. I made a dazzling catch and took about three steps when a Greyhound bus hit me, I think. The ball shot straight up high into the air, like a pop foul. When the ball came down from orbit, the opposing team covered the fumble. So much for a big lineman running the football. They don't refer to players having "good hands" for nothing. How embarrassing!
Once I was playing linebacker and stared at the opposing quarterback so hard he threw a pass right to me. I was so grateful that I immediately batted the thing into the ground. How embarrassing!
Then there was the time we were playing McKenzie. They had the state's top running back and I was determined to show him a thing or two. I dropped to my hands and knees and scampered between that guard's legs right into the backfield at the same time Mr. Big Shot got his hands on the ball.
Once the coach called me to the sidelines for a play or two to talk strategy. While Coach gave me instructions, his arm encouragingly around my shoulders, the officials came along in front of us with the yard-marker chain. Unknown to either the coach or me, the chain was across my feet. When the play was over, the coach shouted encouragement, slapped me on the back, and shoved me onto the playing field. Tripping on the chain, I fell over like a six-foot domino, landing face down with a thud. The collective laugh from the crowd was the most noise they made all night.
Harvey L. Gardner is an author, columnist, freelance writer, and public speaker. He is a former newspaper editor and publisher, and has authored two books. He writes a popular human interest/humor column, "Tantalizing Trivialities," a mixture of fun, frivolity, nostalgia, inspiration, humor, love, marriage, tall tales, work, and other absurdities. He publishes an online newsletter, "The Gardner Letter," on motivational topics.
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