gridiron gone

long before the game became
what it is today,
which, by the way,
is not a game,
an entertainment industry,
boys played it in backyard dirt and scrub grass
with no grownups around,
wearing shirts or skins,
blue jeans and sneakers
after they all stood around
while the team captains
appointed by some mystifying process,
picked them one by one
the last one picked felt a little unwanted
yet thrilled to be selected:
although occasionally
someone would get slapped in the head,
or scratched on the back,
or skinned on the arms,
or poked in the eye,
or bruised pretty much anywhere and everywhere
it did not matter,
what mattered was
making the run
or making the tackle
or throwing the pass
or catching the pass,
or intercepting the pass,
crossing the goal,
what mattered more
was not getting spanked
for being late for supper,
afer showing up grimy, sweating like a hog,
oh man, it felt so good, so good;

then, the boys thought they were big, grown up
when they went to junior high
(nope, they weren’t middling; they were junior-ing)
early practice,
tossed their uniforms with
shoes too big and stiff with cleats they could feel on their soles,
helmets large enough to rotate on their heads,
padded pants too long, knee pads hanging down to the shin,
shoulder pads,
those magic instruments designed for invincibility
they went out to the recess playground,
another place for dirt and scrub grass
in the heat and humidity of August
to whack and push blocking sleds,
learning gee 36 and haw 37, 6-2, 7-1, 5-3,
until they were completely spent
before the showers,
leaving the uniforms in their lockers
in the open bay
where they would stink and stiffen
overnight from the sweat and dirt,
even a little splotch of blood
before their mamas picked them up
to take them home to supper,
then a game with spiffy uniforms,
gridiron field with stands,
sprinkled with parents,
while cheerleaders yelled,
outside the
painted lines,
between the goal posts,
oh man, it felt so good, so good;

a couple of years later,
they advanced to the big time in a small town
high school freshman pre-season practice
after being tossed
shoes too large, helmets that could rotate,
pants too long,
those magic shoulder pads of invincibility
to run out to a practice field
with dirt and scrub grass,
the day after the first unforgiving coach’s shouts,
they thought they would die
from muscle pains and stiffness
to lay on the floor
in the morning before
grimacing, rising to hit
the practice field once more
to get in shape
then playing real games
on that gridiron
with no one in the stands
except mamas and papas;
yet it didn’t matter because
oh man, it felt so good, so good;

the next August, it was time for the real thing
when the trainers tossed
shoes, helmets, pants and invincibility,
which were no longer so ill-fitting
the practice field was still dirt and scrub grass,
the blocking sleds seemed heavier,
the other players bigger, hitting harder
with warm-ups more demanding,
practices where you were a sissy if you drank water
after you had gulped down salt pills
perhaps suffering from injuries
serious enough to warrant hours in the hot whirlpool bath
the big day
with packed grandstands on the gridiron
with immaculate green grass and painted lines
while they donned the uniforms that felt like silk,
the invincibility spreading from the shoulder pads
to produce a hero in their minds
for the game, the game
for nine or ten autumn weeks,
the highs, the lows, the wins, the losses
took their souls almost to heaven,
repeated for two more years
oh man, it felt so good, so good;

then, it was gone;
the superb players went on to college,
only a few, of course,
to perhaps become part of the entertainment industry
while the others turned in
cleated shoes, helmets, padded pants, shoulder pads
that once made them invincible;
hung ‘em up;
went home to supper;
went to college or work
for a while, they played touch again
in vacant lots with dirt and scrub grass
it was never the same again
because they had touched the grail
oh man, it felt so good, so good.

1960 CHMA Tigers after beating Marion (Alabama) Institute Junior College, 7-6.

3 thoughts on “gridiron gone

  1. Vivid memories growing up playing pick up sports at local school.
    Oh-those were the days!, Good job, Jim.

    Ps- Tim has a scar that is now above his knee feat required 30* stitches. Damn metal sprinklers n wreck less youth!!

  2. Jim,
    Thanks for stirring up memories that are mostly dormant. I still remember those times from JR. High at Lebanon, thru Post-grad at Heights. Probably 65 years of those are still in my mind.
    Thanks again,

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