All of this hot and humid weather makes me yearn for fall, my favorite season. Fall means football. I’m not talking about the professional-type football played on television by steroid-pumped millionaires; I’m talking about grassroots football.
This time of the year, in most rural parts of America, any gathering of youth usually includes a football. They’re out there in parks, backyards and frequently in the middle of the highway.
Usually they’re playing a seemingly benign form of the game laughingly called, “Touch.” This name came about in an attempt to allay the fears of female-type parents who usually nix anything fun that involve collisions at full speed.
“Touch” sounds gentlemanly and kind of classy. The kid who came up with the name is to be commended, he was far ahead of the person who came up with the name for another favorite kid game, the very poorly named “Kill the Man with the Ball.” The average mother, given the choice for her little darling to engage in team athletics, will choose “Touch” over “Kill the Man with the Ball” every time.
I was a big touch-football fan. I played whenever I got the chance. I can still show you scars and X-ray evidence of my past participation.
The Gang gathered on the weekend. We were all farm kids and this was usually the only occasion for social interaction with our peers. We had all the required equipment — basically a ball. Our Field of Dreams was a corn field after the fall harvest. It was level but covered with rows of corn stubble six inches high, left after the corn had been cut.
Getting tackled (I mean touched) and landing on a sharp corn stock will leave a mark, several of which I still have.
Our usual uniform consisted of flannel shirts and jeans; some of us wore barn boots for the traction they provided, while others preferred the speed our high-topped black Converse sneakers provided. Several of The Gang, having gotten a corn stock in the ear, chose to wear their red and black checked wool hunting caps with the ear flaps down. It looked a little dorky but did offer some protection.
Our pre-game warm-up was handled by the fact that most of us rode our bikes to the field, pedaling through the deep sand on the road left us so warmed up that heat exhaustion was a possibility.
As soon as enough bodies had arrived, the game could get underway, usually two to a side was considered a good starting point. And so the fun began.
The first decision of the day was who were going to be the captains. Once these were decided upon, the picking of the teams began. This process required much discussion and whispering among the team members already picked and the captains. After an hour or so, the teams were picked and the game could begin. The goal lines were picked and the out-of-bounds lines decided, and the teams lined up at opposite ends of the field and the mayhem began.
There were really no rules. If you were near a member of the opposing team, you ran into them and tried to knock them down; one never knew, they just might have the ball.
We tackled each other with wild abandon. The game was called “Touch,” but we always figured that if you tackled the guy with the ball, there would be no arguments about whether or not they were touched.
These were our days of glory. The battle continued until chore time. We left the field battered, bruised and, not infrequently, bloodied. The game would be the topic of conversation on the bus and at school for the coming week, ending only with the coming of the next game.
Even today, whenever we gather, the memories rise into the conversation and we remember why our knees ache on rainy days and why we walk a little weirdly when cold weather comes. It’s “touching.”
Thought for the week — Every one is gifted, some just open the package sooner.
Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.
Reach Dick Brooks at Whittle12124@yahoo.com.