With the Super Bowl upon us, I’ve decided to share my one tale of gridiron glory – or more accurately – my one personal football story worth telling.
I played organized football for three years – eighth, ninth and tenth grade. That final year I was on my high school’s JV team. I was not a particularly good football player, the smallest guy on the team, with hands of stone (couldn’t catch.) I had done weight training all summer and drank protein shakes twice a day and managed to lose five pounds. I was second string cornerback, third string tailback, fodder during the week’s practices as we scrubs simulated next week’s opponent and got pounded into the turf by our first-string teammates.
But I was the fastest guy on the team. No question, I was fast. So I became the “gunner” on the kickoff team, what used to be referred to as the “suicide squad.” My job was to be the first guy down the field, get there as fast as I possibly could and get to the ball carrier before the blocking had a chance to form. What I really was doing was getting knocked down by the first wave of blockers so that the rest of our team could get there and tackle the runner, but Coach Pack was too polite to actually say that.
The last game of the season, we were just killing the other team. We scored a lot. And that meant we kicked off a lot. And the other team’s biggest, toughest, meanest player was on their kickoff return squad and his job was to KILL the first guy down the field. That was me. I would run down the field full tilt, get obliterated by this guy (No. 64, I can still see it.) Then I’d pick myself up and jog off the field and coach would scream, “BAUR!!! You’ve gotta get down there faster!!” Like he hadn’t seen me get pulverized, as far as he was concerned I just wasn’t running fast enough.
We scored one more time, and the other team was pretty sore about it. This was like our seventh touchdown. We weren’t trying to run up the score, their defense just wasn’t very good. So we scored, and then we kicked off. From the corner of my eye as I raced down the field, I could see 64 setting up. But my sights and my attention were on the guy catching the ball about 10 yards beyond him. This time I was going to get him and make the tackle, I told myself. As it turned out, I was wrong.
It happened at about the 20, maybe 15 yards from the other team’s sideline. No. 64 got me with everything, and he got me square. I mean, he just unloaded. I don’t know exactly what happened but it must have been pretty spectacular, because the last thing I remember was everyone on his side of the field screaming, “GREAT HIT!!!!” I heard it clear as a bell, and then nothing. I assume I was airborne for a while but I really don’t know.
The next thing I remember, I was somehow on my feet, jogging off the field towards our bench, my head spinning and my ears ringing, and coach was screaming at me, “BAUR!!! YOU’VE GOTTA GET DOWN THERE FASTER!!!!”
Thank god that closed out the scoring.
It also was my last football game, but not because I suddenly realized the idiocy of my love for the sport. I’d have played on. But the school closed (FYI, the building is now a senior citzens residential facility) and by the time I got settled into my new school, classes were in session, the team had been practicing for a month and it was too late to try out.
Probably just as well. I might have gotten myself killed. But at least I got a story out of it.