Inspired by a recent blog post (admittedly, by someone that I do not really know) concerning his Top 5 favorite moments in athletic competition – I thought of my own.
Granted, most of my memories are clouded by the many athletic achievements that I cruelly pressed at the subjugation of others – so considering this, I instead chose to focus on different sorts of achievements. Moments when the “will to power” was suppressed beneath the child-like love of Sport – as well as, the affection and loyalty of my teammates.
Here is the first in a forthcoming series of my Top 5 favorite sports memories – in no particular order, of course:
#5 – September 29th 1988 – Longview, Texas
Being a new kid at a new school, I had fought my way up the “public school hierarchy” to attain the distinction of being the 7th grade starting quarterback at Spring Hill Junior High School – the Panthers.
However, due to my “exemplary” performance amongst my own peers, I was soon moved up a division – as the back-up to the 8th grade quarterback, a brash outspoken kinda guy, and one who belittled my middle-class “skater punk” appearance, and how seriously I took myself as an Athlete.
In spite of this, a friend from my neighborhood named Brett (or “Brett the Jet” as we called him) was an 8th grader and starting wide receiver. Having played with and against me in local “ athletics, he was actually eager to see me in action. The other 8th graders were not so welcoming, offended that a mere 7th Grader had been deemed worthy of their level. Heh… yeah, boys can be so foolish about such things. “
So… on this delicious evening, we were playing against the Roughnecks of White Oak Junior High – a zealous cross-town rival, whose undefeated record matched our own. They were a fast team, with a surprisingly sophisticated defense for the junior high level. Indeed, this nucleus of players would later bring their varsity squad to local prominence – and this match-up was only the precursor to many great games between the two schools during the 1990s.
A brisk night, with a perpetual breeze that was just cool enough to keep a constant chill. In the air were the smells of pine needles and concession stands – sounds of cheerleaders and marching bands – colliding bodies and crackling leaves. It was a beautiful Autumn evening, and I was young. So much a boy, but almost a man.
What a game it started out to be! A gritty stalemate. Both defenses ground on each of the opposing offenses until the halftime whistle. Leaving weary boy-men sauntering into the locker-rooms with the scoreboard knotted at 0-to-0.
In the locker-room, our Coach praised the defense for its valiance in rising to the challenge of White Oak`s speedy backfield. However, for the offense he spoke naught but scorn. He carefully diagrammed their poor execution, and called upon several miscues and missed opportunities. He was firm but fair – not ranting (as is often the stereotype) but acting as a stern teacher and leader.
Despite this, as the second half wore on, our offense was continually stymied by White Oak`s hyper-aggressive and ever-shifting defense.
Late in the fourth quarter (as our offense again had failed to move the ball in a sustained drive) the coach motioned me to him.
“Can ya go?” he said.
I paused. My stomach fluttered and a slight mist came to my eyes, I was nervous. The thought of actually getting into the game had never occurred to me. Since moving up to the 8th Grade squad I had only played when the game was already out of hand – when the outcome had already been decided and the play-calling was quite reserved. No pressure, just calm execution and running out the clock
I felt my eyes widen, and the Coach (noticing this) said again: “Well, can ya? Can ya go?!”
Quickly coming to my senses and nodding my head, I gasped: “Sure, yes, I can – I mean, I will or I can… uh, go.”
“Awright,” said the Coach. “Next time we get the ball, yer in. Go get warmed up,” he said, jerking his thumb to the space along the sidelines where I was to start loosening up my arm and taking practice snaps from the Center.
Overhearing this exchange, Brett ran over to me: “Yer goin` in? Really?! Awesome – I`ll help ya warm up!” he said, trotting a few yards away to catch my warm-up passes.
I licked my lips and tried not to look nervous, but I was. I was excited but completely befuddled. As I continued to toss warm-up passes, I would look out onto the field – actually hoping that White Oak would sustain a drive and run down the clock, so that the game would end in a “noble” Tie, and that I would not have to go out there and make a complete fool of myself.
Suddenly a great roar poured out of the grandstands. One of our defensive backs had intercepted a White Oak aerial in the End Zone, giving us the ball on our own 20-yard line with 1:56 left in the game!
My stomach lurched, and I felt nauseous. I became light-headed, causing my final warm-up pass to flutter well over Brett`s head.
He ran over to me, “You alright, buddy?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, buckling my headgear, “I`m fine.”
“Good,” he said, “Relax, baby – let`s go have some fun!”
Walking over to the coach, I thought about these words in a matter of nanoseconds – and it all started to melt away. “This is – a game. A game I love, a game I`m good at – why am I nervous?”
Small though this was, it was enough of a “spiritual” kick-in-the-pants to bring my considerable talents to my own attention. Emboldened, I bounded up to the coach on the balls of my feet, eager. He gave me a series of four plays to use and I ran out onto the field. Kneeling in the huddle, I called the first play: a “counter-sweep” to the right sideline. After breaking the huddle, I told the halfback that if he did not have considerable daylight inside, to hit the sideline and stop the clock.
He did not listen.
In his zeal to make a big play he slashed inside spinning and, after several gutsy jukes and cutbacks, was brought down for a gain of a paltry 3 yards. But it came at the cost of too many precious seconds, and the clock was still running!
The next play was a pass, a safe one, with all of the Receivers cutting to the sidelines. I would have the option of throwing the ball away if no one was open.
Unfortunately, the Defense blitzed and, without sufficient protection, I was quickly buried for a loss of five yards. The clock continued to run! Disoriented by the pile-up, I hastily called our last time out.
3rd Down and long – with about thirty seconds left in the game.
Running to the sidelines, the coach assured me that using the time-out was fine – if for no other reason than to just stop the clock and give us a well-thought play call. He gave us two plays and said that if the first one didn`t work, than the second one didn`t matter. But if the first one worked, than the second one would have to win the game.
The first play worked.
“Pro Left, Backs-In, 8-8-6,” was an aggressive pass play. The wide receivers would run 15 yards and angle towards the sidelines, while the tight end would fade down the middle of the field as a last resort.
Backpedaling to pass, I saw that both receivers were double covered, but that the tight end was only being shadowed by the middle linebacker. I stepped forward and gave a hard pump-fake on the left to Brett (who was completely covered), which forced the middle linebacker to hesitate and move in that direction – just as I knew he would.
I fired a tight spiral over the middle to our tall gawky tight end, who caught it clumsily and loped another fifteen yards before being brought down. We had reached mid-field!
The clock was still running… 20… 19… 18… 17…
I waved away the huddle and just bellowed, “Same play, same play!” But I pulled Brett aside as the players were hastily milling about, trying to get lined up. “Hit the 30-yard line, fake outside and run to the Goalposts – the ball will be there,” I rasped into the side of his helmet. He grinned and ran out to formation.
“Blue 88!” my voice echoed out across the hushed field, “Blue 88!” as the scoreboard counted down from 10… to 9… to 8… I called the final cadence and the oblong leather sphere was thrust into my hands. I backpedaled furiously, looking to the right, but watching Brett (on the left side of the field) out of the corner of my eye.
At this point… I should mention that during the disorder between the previous play and this one, the White Oak defenders had not made a specific defensive call – so the defensive backs just played “Man-to-Man” coverage, while the linemen and linebackers “jailbreak” rushed the passer… the passer, that is, being me. I could feel their hot breath and thundering footsteps as I was running back into the Pocket – I knew I would only have a second (at most!) to throw.
Stopping and planting my back foot firmly into the soft grass, I stepped into the crush – my right arm slicing the air in a bold arc before them. Rewarded only with an overwhelming gangtackle that sent me sprawling backwards under a hail of heads, shoulders, and curses.
I never saw the ball in flight, but I know what it probably looked like… wafting higher and higher against the inky blue Autumn evening.
Hovering at first, and lightly falling…
…and falling into Brett`s clutching arms, who gaily high-stepped into the end zone and was summarily enclosed under a dogpile of jubilant teammates.
Spring Hill 6 – White Oak 0