On the Football Field:
FootballAn old leather shoe? Or a "little punkin"? Up until my sons became kickers -- due to their early soccer training? Or more likely because I made them take ballet! -- anyway, up until then, my comprehension of the game rivaled that of Andy Griffith . If you're not familiar with Andy's "What It Was Was Football," click here to listen and have a good laugh! My siblings and I grew up listening to Griffith's classic routine on my dad's old 45rpm, and to this day can still quote all our favorite lines:
I take the snap from the center, fake to the right, fade back...
I've got protection. I've got a receiver open downfield...
What the hell is this? This isn't a football, it's a shoe, a man's
brown leather oxford. A cousin to a football maybe, the same
skin, but not the same, a thing made for the earth, not the air.
I realize that this is a world where anything is possible and I
understand, also, that one often has to make do with what one
has. I have eaten pancakes, for instance, with that clear corn
syrup on them because there was no maple syrup and they
weren't very good. Well, anyway, this is different. (My man
downfield is waving his arms.) One has certain responsibilities,
one has to make choices. This isn't right and I'm not going
to throw it.
by American poet, Louis Jenkins (b. 1942)
in Nice Fish: New and Selected Prose Poems
What It Was, Was Football
It was back last October, I believe it was.
We was going to hold a tent service off at this college town,
and we got there about dinner time on Saturday.
Different ones of us thought that we ought to get us a mouthful to eat
before we set up the tent.
So we got off the truck and followed this little bunch of people
through this small little bitty patch of woods there,
and we came up on a big sign that says, "Get something to Eat Here."
I went up and got me two hot dogs and a big orange drink,
and before I could take a mouthful of that food,
this whole raft of people come up around me
and got me to where I couldn't eat nothing, up like,
and I dropped my big orange drink.
Well, friends, they commenced to move,
and there wasn't so much that I could do but move with them.
Well, we commenced to go through all kinds of doors and gates
and I don't know what- all,
and I looked up over one of 'em and it says, "North Gate."
We kept on a-going through there,
and pretty soon we come up on a young boy and he says,
And I says, "Friend, I don't have a ticket;
I don't even know where it is that I'm a-going!"
Well, he says, "Come on out as quick as you can."
And I says, "I'll do 'er; I'll turn right around the first chance I get."
Well, we kept on a-moving through there,
and pretty soon everybody got where it was that they was a-going,
because they parted and I could see pretty good.
And what I seen was this whole raft of people a-sittin' on these two banks
and a-lookin at one another across this pretty little green cow pasture.
Somebody had took and drawed white lines all over it and drove posts in it,
and I don't know what all,
and I looked down there and I seen five or six convicts
a running up and down and a-blowing whistles.
And then I looked down there and I seen these pretty girls
wearin' these little bitty short a-dancing around,
and so I thought I'd sit down and see what it was that was a-going to happen.
About the time I got set down good I looked down there
and I seen thirty or forty men come a-runnin'
out of one end of a great big outhouse down there
and everybody where I was a-settin' got up and hollered!
And I asked this fella that was a sittin' beside of me,
"Friend, what is it that they're a-hollerin' for?
Well, he whopped me on the back and he says,
"Buddy, have a drink!" I says,
"Well, I believe I will have another big orange."
I got it and set back down.
When I got there again I seen that the men had got in two little bitty bunches
down there real close together, and they voted.
They elected one man apiece,
and them two men come out in the middle of that cow pasture
and shook hands like they hadn't seen one another in a long time.
Then a convict came over to where they was a-standin',
and he took out a quarter and they commenced to odd man right there!
After a while I seen what it was they was odd-manning for.
It was that both bunchesfull of them wanted
this funny lookin little pumpkin to play with.
And I know, friends, that they couldn't eat it
because they kicked it the whole evenin' and it never busted.
Both bunchesful wanted that thing.
One bunch got it and it made the other bunch just as mad as they could be!
Friends, I seen that evenin' the awfulest fight
that I ever have seen in all my life!
They would run at one -another and kick one- another
and throw one another down and stomp on one another
and grind their feet in one another
and I don't know what-all and just as fast as one of 'em would get hurt,
they'd take him off and run another one on!
Well, they done that as long as I set there,
but pretty soon this boy that had said
"Ticket, please." He come up to me and said,
"Friend, you're gonna have to leave
because it is that you don't have a ticket."
And I says, "Well, all right." And I got up and left.
I don't know friends, to this day,
what it was that they was a doin' down there,
but I have studied about it.
I think it was that it's some kindly of a contest
where they see which bunchful of them men can take that pumpkin
and run from one end of that cow pasture to the other
without gettin' knocked down or steppin' in somethin'.
by American entertainer, Andy Samuel Griffith (1926 – 2012)
for more poems about football,
both real and imaginary!
Despite having a British dad and a childhood of inner city soccer (@ Taney & Fairmont), my boys were attracted to the game of American football since toddler - hood. Finding a play area wasn't always easy, though. How we dreaded those forbidding city signs: "no glass, no bottles, no skates, no skateboards, no frisbees, no balls." No ball playing? But as Sam once declared: "Well, it doesn't say anything about imaginary football, does it?
Away he went to entertain himself. Knowing he was safe, I allowed my eyes to scan the book I had brought along -- until one of the dads at the park, with a better appreciation of football than I -- nudged me and said, "Look at your son!" It was an endearing sight, even for an uninformed mother such as myself, who at that time had no comprehension whatsoever of O - lines or P.A.T.s There was Sam, playing an entire game on his own: offense, defense, commentary -- running from one end of the playing field to the other, he had the entire game mapped out in his head and he was good to go, football or no!
Over the years, I learned a bit more about the game. As Sam explained at his Senior Football Banquet (2010 - 2011:
"I want to thank my mom for always driving me to practice during my football career in Little Gridiron, Junior High Football, and the early years of High School football. For making me breakfast during the summer after conditioning and double practices. I also want to thank my mom for underatking and accomplishing the endeavor of understanding the game of football.
"I want to thank my dad for filming my kicks during the games this year. For driving all over the state of Indiana to watch my games. For driving me all over the Midwest to attend football camps. I also want to thank my dad for undertaking and accomplishing the endeavor of helping my mom understand the game of football."
Funny and true!
Writing recently about some of Sam's current musical favorites reminded me of a song from several years ago, which provided the title for narrative reminiscence that Sam composed in Senior English, describing some of those early football encounters and what he learned from them:
As a young boy, living in the Mecca that was downtown Philadelphia posed many problems for my love of fresh air, but more so for my love of football. The blocks and blocks of man - made material were like a Soviet Blockade. But it was the obstacle, the wait, and the anticipation in my search for an area in which to play football that made my love for it so much stronger.
I scampered ahead of my mom, trying to turn the next corner as quickly as possible. I was keyed p by the mere thought of going to an area where grass could be cultivated. My mother, weary from the tribulations of raising two young boys, was nearing the end of her patience. She refused to let me out of her sight.
"Sam," we are almost there. Just wait."
Realizing that I could not squander my mother's tolerance so early in the day, I sulked back to her and slouched at her heels. As we walked down Delancey Street, every twenty steps the palpable fumes from the sewage drains wafting by my nose, I couldn't help feeling sorry for myself. Trudging down the 300 year - old brick walk, looking at the Benjamin Franklin "History Signposts," I was constantly reminded that Philadelphia would always be stuck in its past. Looking up and seeing skyscraper upon skyscraper made me feel doomed in the urban forest.
Lost in my thoughts of resentment, distance and time eluded me. My other looked down in confusion.
"You have wanted to come here forever. Go play!"
I woke from my daydream and felt as though a cool breeze had swept over my whole body and blown away everything that ever could have been bad. There it was: Washington Square Park, like a mirage of water in the midst of a desert. I could not contain myself. Football in hand, McNabb jersey on, and Red Converse All - Stars strapped up, I was finally ready to, as they say, toss the old pigskin around. It was like no other sensation I ha ever experienced. The invisible shackles of the inner - city dissolved in thin air, and I could now live out my wildest fantasies. I felt the rush of blood, the pure exhilaration from head to foot of imitating Freddie Mitchell's catch on 4th and 26 against the Green Bay Packers. In my head, I had just been tackled by the ferocious linebacker, but then I looked up.
"Boy, no footballs are allowed in the park."
How could an upstanding police officer possible crush my dream like that? I watched him strut away, with that smirk on his face, and I could tell he loved exercising his false sense of power, much the old lady standing behind the counter at the BMV. My clenched fists and glaring eyes, focused on the austere officer, barely scratched the surface of my fury. What confused me more was why he would want to stop me from enjoying my time at the park: grass, grass everywhere and not a blade to play on.
I knew that if my mom saw me sulking, which was no rare occurrence, we would leave the park. So, with no football, I had to think of something to do. As I gazed up in the sky, the sum seemed to shine just a little brighter as I realized how I would jump this hurdle. No football did not mean that the game had to end.
As I lowered my head, I realized the stadium was full of raging Packer die - hards, decked from head to toe in green and gold. Their cheese - heads were just as amusing as their maniacal jeers were frightening, but the Eagles needed me. I readjusted my chin strap, put in my mouth piece, and got back in the huddle to hear the next play. As the evening wore on, he game was finally decided in the eighth overtime. I had six touchdown receptions, broke every single NFL record, and led the team to victory, clinching a spot in the Super Bowl.
I strolled home, head held high, like a conquering hero surveying my new dominion. I recounted all of my fabulous diving catches, amazing jukes, touchdown upon touchdown receptions and obviously the postgame interview with the press. On top of the universe, I thought back on the police officer. I was proud of myself that I had created an alternative solution and that I had still allowed myself to enjoy my outing. At that moment I realized it is not what people tell us that determines what we can do, but it is how we react.
for sharing this experience
and for permission to reprint!
And thanks to Uncle Bruce for sending
Little Ben the Kansas City Chiefs version,
back before we were Eagles' Fans
Additional Musical Recommendations
from Ben ~ "Duets"
and Sam ~ "Forever Young Again"
SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS FOR MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, March 28th
Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ "Millennials & Music"
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST ~ "Climb Inside and Live There"
my running list of recent reading