EJ Photo/Travis Charlson
It’s football season – the most wonderful time of the year!!! I have so many great memories of this sport from being a fan and playing the game, and learned so many lessons along the way.
My earliest pigskin recollections are from watching the Vikings of the late 70’s and early 80’s. I would spend hours trying to recreate the miraculous one-handed catch that Ahmad Rashad made in a season finale against the Browns, or scramble around like Fran Tarkenton and Tommy Kramer on the blacktop turf of St. Ansgar Elementary.
I became a double Hawk fan in early grade school when I changed my NFL allegiance to the Seattle Seahawks, and started following the, gulp, Iowa Hawkeyes. We would play pickup football as much as we could, pretending to be Chuck Long, Ronnie Harmon, Larry Station and the like. If we only had 3 guys available, we’d play Offense / Defense. If we had enough for a game, we’d play for hours, usually ending when either someone got hurt enough to cry, or whoever brought the ball had to go home.
One of my favorite games was 10-yard Fight. If we had a limited yard (or often times a basement or living room if it was raining) we would line both teams up across from each other and fight to cross or defend the goal line. If it was indoors, we would usually resort to being on our knees.
We learned a lot of things in those early years of unscheduled and un-coached gridiron battles. One of the most important was how to comfort a younger kid to stop crying so we could keep playing, and hope that they wouldn’t tell their mother.
In 7th grade, we finally got to play organized ball for Mr. Peterson, who assigned positions the first day of practice. We went from all being quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, to a full-fledged 13-man football roster. We thought we were Big Time. We got knocked down a few pegs the next year under the tutelage of Mr. Rohlfsen, who would often run plays himself against a fully padded defense. He demanded discipline and effort on every play. Our last game of the season I came off the field after a facemask landed on my arm during a tackle. He calmly rubbed it down and gave my wrist a few yanks, telling me over and over “just a bruisy, just a bruisy.” I went back in and finished the game. The next morning I got my cast fitted for the next 6 weeks.
In high school we were blessed to spend a few months every fall on Saints Acres with our best friends and mentors. The best thing I’ve ever tasted was the cold water from the fountains after the second hot practice of two-a-days, and the smell of that sweaty locker room is an odor I recall with fondness. I’d never said the word “Oski” other than during defensive back drills with Mr. Luense; never had to shave my legs, except for Mr. Mayer (Tom, not Bryan, who was in 5th grade at the time) to tape my ankles; never heard a complete sentence made up of only cuss words like Mr. McCaulley was fluent in doing; and never saw a player that Mr. Moses wouldn’t tease.
We played for each other, for our town, for our parents, and for ourselves. But the one we really wanted to win for was The Ball Coach – Mr. Sherman. I used to think that he was a younger brother to either Tom Landry or Don Shula, with his calm, yet stern demeanor and square jawed face. There was nothing more rewarding than a pat on the backside after a big play, or a comment on a job well done during Monday morning film sessions before school. Every Thursday, after walk throughs, Coach Sherman would ask us what time it was.
“4:30!” someone would shout, and he would reply “No, it’s Star Time,” and the coaches would hand out star stickers for our helmets to reward performances during the previous week’s game.
The next week he would ask again what time it was.
“Star Time!” we would shout. “Nope. 4:30,” He’d calmly say.
After Thursday walk-through we’d go to a senior’s house for a meal and hang out. On Fridays after school, we’d go to Ma Alder’s for our pregame meal, then head back to lay in the dark gym with Metallica, AC/DC and Quiet Riot going in the background, waiting for our turn to tape up, pad up, and head out to play under the lights.
I feel a familiar excitement as I write this, and hope that my son gets to create some football memories of his own. I try on my old #8, and don’t understand how I ever fit into it, especially with shoulder pads on! Then I grab a football and tell my son we’re going to go out to play catch. Pretty soon it turns into one-on-one and I think about quitting because my knees and back hurt. But then I remember what Coach would say when you were in pain, but not injured.
“You’re fine. It’s a long way from your heart.”