Anyone who played high school football almost certainly enjoyed a few glory days, or at least glory moments. One of mine came when I was a Junior and we were playing an Oklahoma team called Pocola.
Pocola had a running back with something of a reputation. He was nowhere near as big as the Huntsville Sasquatch halfback discussed in my last football post, but he was fast and shifty. He painted his shoes silver, no doubt to show how cool he was, and we didn’t much like that. In those days, showing off was still considered a bad thing.
The upshot of it all was that we hammered that poor running back mercilessly all night long. I don’t think he had any gain longer than about seven yards, and most of the time it was considerably less.
Toward the end of the game, though, Pocola was driving toward our end zone. We needed to stop them because our offense hadn’t done any better than theirs throughout the game and the score was very close.
Pocola got a first down at about our twenty-five, and on the first play after that their quarterback dropped back and lofted a pass toward our end zone. I was playing cornerback that night and the throw was in my direction. I intercepted it at about the two and returned it a good twenty yards up field before being tackled.
I didn’t have to climb to my feet after that; my teammates hoisted me to my feet with much slapping of palms against my helmet and pads. The defense ran off the field and the offense came on. Every one of them cheered me on the way to the sideline. And once I reached the bench the whole team gathered around to congratulate me. I even saw our coach smiling in the background, an expression not commonly to be discerned on his face. I basked in the glory.
As our offense started churning back up the field on the momentum of the turnover, the other players gradually moved away from me and the coach came over. He squeezed my shoulder pad with one huge hand and leaned his six feet, five inch frame down about a foot to look me in the eyes.
“You know you were out of position, don’t you?” he whispered softly, so that no one else could hear.
I gazed back at him. “Yeah, coach, I know,” I said. He nodded, straightened, squeezed my shoulder pad one more time, and moved away.
He was right, of course. But only he and I seemed to know it. Now I guess I’ve just told the rest of the team, although I doubt any of them read my blog.
You see, because we’d been focused on the run all night, I’d started inching closer to the line of scrimmage on most plays. And on the play where I intercepted the pass, the receiver I was supposed to be guarding beat me fair and square. He was at least three yards behind me, in the end zone for an easy touchdown, when the Pocola quarterback threw his ill-fated pass.
And did I say I “intercepted” that pass? Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration because it sounds like I did some work in the affair. The ball was woefully underthrown and hit me square in the numbers. I do give myself credit for closing my hands over it as it hung there against my chest.
Better to be lucky than good, they say. It was true for me that night. Though, you know, I’ve gotta wonder just how many “glory days” memories are based on that same kind of luck. Probably more than many would like to admit.