Notes from the Southwest Corner – 012: Football, a Legacy Gone South

This is one of my favorite stories about my illustrious and extremely short football career. i have added a few comments in this revised edition. They are in green italics.

SAN DIEGO – On my second birthday, after my father returned from the war, my uncle, Alvin “Snooks” Hall, gave me a football. In my mother’s albums, there is a snapshot of me at four in my cowboy hat standing beside a little red wagon. In the middle of the wagon bed is the football.

Even though I played other sports, football was my passion. I played imaginary games in the yard. On Saturdays, I could hear the Castle Heights announcer calling the Saturday afternoon games. I was Doak Walker, the Heisman award winner from Southern Methodist University; the triple threat star Bob Waterfield of the Los Angeles Rams, who was also married to Jane Russell (my aspirations were high); and Bobby Lane, the feisty quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Then, there was Johnny Majors, the triple-threat, orange-jersey, white-pants, black leather high-top shoes who should have won the Heisman instead of Paul Hornung (in my 12-year old opinion), and Vanderbilt’s “The Chief,” Phil King were two of heroes.

My father took me to the Lebanon High games at the juncture of Fairfield Avenue, South Greenwood Street, and East High Street, urging me to scream the entire game.

We would watch the Sunday games on the black and white television. Red Grange, the “Galloping Ghost.” announced the games. On the radio, I listened to the Commodores and the Vols as well as the Tennessee Tech and Middle Tennessee Thanksgiving games. Occasionally, we would go to Nashville and watch Vanderbilt play at Dudley Field.

At Lebanon Junior High, I played two years with one loss in 16 games. It was my acme in football. but I continued to play with some notoriety as “Mighty Mouse” at Castle Heights (Mike Dixon, The Cavalier sports editor gave me that moniker) while my friends were having the Blue Devil magic undefeated season in 1961.

As a junior, five-six, 135 pounds, I incongruously played blocking back and linebacker. We traveled to Baylor, just outside of Chattanooga for an afternoon game. My aunt and uncle, who lived there, arrived at half-time. I suspect Coach Jimmy Allen saw them waving to me. Regardless, I was sent in on defense in the third quarter.

A signal from the sidelines directed us from our normal “6-2” defense into a “7-1” alignment, seven down linemen and one linebacker. Using the same reasoning, which got me in trouble most of my life, I volunteered and stepped into a defensive guard position.

I split their right guard and tackle. Both were all-conference for two years. The guard weighed 240 pounds, the tackle topped off at 265.

I think I saw the quarterback licking his lips. As he called an audible, I rationally concluded they were going to run straight at me, deciding my only chance was to “submarine.” That meant I would dive low and hopefully split through the two mammoths in front of me.

Good idea. Unfortunately, the two giants in front of me also figured that out. They double- flopped on me, trapping me under more than 500 pounds of flesh and gear. I was spread eagle on the ground.

I squirmed and waved my arms as much as I could to breathe and to get the lummoxes off.

The halfback cut next to the massive pile with this puny linebacker underneath. As he cut, he tripped over my frantically waving left hand, falling forward for a one-yard gain.

As I retreated to the sideline, teammates pounded me on the back. Reaching the sideline, Coach Frank North rubbed my helmet. I could see my aunt and uncle smiling and cheering.

I thought, “If they only knew…but I won’t tell them.”

Yesterday, the San Diego Chargers played the Indianapolis Colts. As I write, the game has yet to be played. Amidst the hoopla, gauntlet of commercials, and incessant inane analysis, there will be some good football played.

The playoff game was in a dome, filled with fanatic, costumed crazies whooping as much to get on camera as to root for their team. The majority of the players far outweighed the two behemoths who flattened me 47 years ago. There will be more coaches and staff for each team than the players we had on the 1960 Tigers. The game was played in mid-January.

I will think how much more fun it was to get crunched by offensive linemen on a perfect autumn afternoon with a sparse crowd in Tennessee than it will have been watching the NFL extravaganza.

Of course, I will watch. Somewhere in the course of the game, I will think, “If they only knew…but I won’t tell them.”

1 thought on “Notes from the Southwest Corner – 012: Football, a Legacy Gone South

  1. I too love football. Mother took us to the Castle Heights games when we were little because my brother played and she was a teacher there. Our neighbor kids would gather in our front yard to play on the weekends. I got a black eye once when Randy Johnson and i bumped heads while playing on opposing sides as guards. My sister Mimi and i would sneak into the living room (after everyone was in bed) on Monday nights to watch the Chicago Bears play on the delayed telecast. Going to school the next day was awful. We were in high school. Good times.

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