I’ve been wanting to chronicle my experiences as an athlete for some time now, but have held off because I think they are stories that will only be interesting to me. Still, for the purposes of finally just doing it, and getting some practice in a style of writing that I am not very good at, this is the second in a series detailing my experiences with sports.
Unlike hockey, I grew up with football. The first sporting event I can remember is the Bills – Redskins Super Bowl playing on two TVs in my parents’ Rochester living room, and I used to be able to recite every Sunday’s slate of games by memory by the time we arrived at church (so I could kill the boring service by picking winners and losers).
I played it extensively as a youth, but never in any organized fashion, frequenting pickup games with the other children in our development, the kind of half-tackle half-touch affairs wherever we could find room. ‘All-time’ quarterback if the teams were uneven. I don’t know if it was a natural ability, or I developed it by tossing things, really anything, to myself for hours in my room, but I developed elite pass catching abilities. And I’m not saying ‘very good,’ I’m not saying ‘good for an amateur,’ I’m saying elite. I don’t think anyone that has played football with me will debate that distinction.
I never played or tried out for the high school team for a combination of reasons. I didn’t want to put in the time, I was never a fan of organized activity, and I didn’t like the coach. The kind of excuses any shy youth uses to talk themselves out of something. Not that it was a total loss as our high school team was known for averaging three-hundred pounds a kid on the offensive line and passing as little as three times a game.
I did play intramurals in college, brutal padless eight-on-eight affairs under the poor lighting of Baghdad Field that were supposed to be touch for liability purposes, and never were for fun purposes. That environment wasn’t conducive to catching passes either as the dark north country skies and yellow lights dissuaded from any sort of aerial attack. Plus, without a legitimate quarterback, I was often left either playing that position or Larry Fitzgeralding my way into obscurity.
Senior year we did find a guy that was pretty good at finding open targets and I had some success. I caught my first touchdown on a go route, having to switch shoulders to track an under-thrown ball (no easy task) that evaded the defenders arms. My second catch, also a touchdown, came easier that game on a well placed ball that would have been harder to not haul in, again in double coverage. By the end of the game, I had a corner playing man, a linebacker playing zone on my side short, and a safety playing deep zone.
Unfortunately our quarterback was unreliable and I often found myself forced into the quarterback position again. Preferring to utilize the running game with a center that was an all-league right tackle for the local semi-pro team, and a generally oversized line at the other two positions, along with a bowling ball of a running-back, we bludgeoned teams into submission, selectively utilizing play-action passes and quarterback draws, riding all the way into the championship game where our defense just couldn’t hold onto things for our offense. I ended the year factoring in nine touchdowns in eight games, three receiving, three rushing, three passing.
Knowing what we now know about CTE and the ever-present risk of concussions, not to mention all the other injuries that come with football, I don’t regret never attempting to join an organized team. That I’ve already been to the hospital three times for injuries sustained playing football, a sprained thumb, strained knee ligament, and deep ankle contusion that looked broken, solidifies this decision. To put it simply, hockey is more fun, and I’m not dependent on a quarterback for my success.