I don’t really think of myself as a sports fan. I don’t watch much baseball or basketball. I’ve never seen a soccer game all the way through, or a hockey game. What I am, is a football fan. I love football, and have ever since I can remember.
When I was a little bitty tyke I had a helmet my dad bought me. It was painted red to look like the Arkansas Razorback helmets, and had the number 10 in white on the side of it. 10 was Billy Moore’s number. Billy was the Razorback quarterback in the early 1960s and was my first football hero. He led the Southwest conference in rushing in 1962. I wanted to play football when I grew up. Not pro football, which we almost never watched, but college football for the Hogs.
The first year that they had competitive football in my town when I was growing up was 7th grade, and I went out for the team. I played halfback on the 7th grade team but I think we only had four games. I played in the 8th and 9th grades as well, mostly at running back, or sometimes at defensive back. I was little but I was fast.
10th grade was the first year of big-boy football. I weighed 112 pounds; I wasn’t a very big boy. All the running backs on the Senior High offense were upper classmen but we had less than 30 boys out for the team so there was room for me on the defense. Me and a couple of other Sophomores traded off time in the defensive backfield at safety and cornerback. I found that I preferred hitting other players as a defensive back to getting hit by other players as an offensive back. That is, until I learned that offensive players can hit too.
We were playing Huntsville. They had a very big running back who had made All State the year before as a Junior. I was playing safety that night. I remember strongly encouraging our defensive line and linebackers to tackle the monster halfback. I assure you it was for the good of the team and had nothing to do with wanting to protect my own hide.
As luck would have it, on this one particular play our line and linebackers failed to bring down the creature and he burst through into the secondary. I was in the secondary. I believe my entire thought process at that moment consisted of, “Oh Crap!”
We are at about the fifteen yard line. Our fifteen yard line. I was the last man between this Huntsville Sasquatch and our end zone. My training kicked in. I met him with a textbook tackle, my body squared, my legs braced. I planted my face mask directly into his chest.
In later years, I twice hit the concrete during motorcycle accidents. The concrete was quite soft compared to the blow this guy landed on me. I remember that he didn’t even try to give me any moves. I wonder if he even saw me through the red mist no doubt hazing his bloodthirsty vision. He just lowered his shoulder. The chin strap on my helmet broke as we collided and the helmet twisted to the side. I flung my arms around the runner, perhaps in hopes of still getting the tackle, perhaps in fear of my life should I be trampled under his feet.
I hung on as he churned on toward the end zone, but began to slide down his body. I tried to wrap my legs around his, failed at that, but then got hammered in the chin by a knee pad and found myself grasping his lower legs. I’d like to say that I realized I had to take his feet out from under him. That would be a lie. I realized nothing except the pain in my face.
But then he was down, tripped up by the wadded form of my body entangled around his ankles. I heard a cheer. I had a fleeting thought that it might have been for me as I saved a touchdown. I let go of the runner’s legs and rolled over. I was looking out through the ear hole of my own helmet. There was grass in my teeth. I climbed shakily to my feet to find that we were in the end zone. The guy had dragged me fifteen yards. Huntsville had scored.
Welcome to Big-Boy football, I thought to myself.