I really had two moments of glory in my eighth grade football season, and one of those was sketchy at best.
The first took place in the last game of the regular season. For reasons of pity more than ability, coach decided that I would start at defensive end that game. Now when you’ve been a backup all year and your team is coming off a great year, and suddenly you’re thrust into the starting spot, your first thought is “Lord, help me to not give up any game losing plays.” Not exactly oozing confidence.
Now the assignment for defensive ends at the grade school level was pretty straight forward. Box the ends and keep the plays from going outside. It was that simple. Every down, box the ends. So there I am boxing the ends and doing a decent job of it. The exception being on one particular “sweep” to my side of the ball where I was pancaked by two blockers who were running interference for the tail back. I remember getting up and spitting dirt out of my mouth. It was humiliating. As I went back to the huddle, our linebacker complimented me on breaking up the interference. It showed how no effort was overseen on this team and made the hurt easier to bear. It didn’t do much for the dirt in my mouth guard however.
The moment of glory came on a pass play on the next possession. The opposing quarterback had a secondary pass receiver on my side of the field. Either the quarterback did not see me or underestimated my speed because I anticipated his throw and jumped in front of the ball and picked it off. I was tackled almost immediately, so any thoughts of doing an end zone dance were quickly vanquished.
As I returned to the sidelines, I was so busy being mobbed by my teammates that I missed the cheerleaders saying “Jim, Jim he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can!” Superstar for a play I think they call it.
The other thirty seconds of fame I had in my brief young football career took place a couple of weeks later in the City Championship game. As it would be, I was back to my role as a backup. The upside to this was that the coach usually put the benchwarmers on special teams, so I got to do kickoff duty for the big game.
The game was a close affair. We had just scored a touchdown in the second half to go up by seven points. On the ensuing kickoff I ran down the field at full speed despite the kick being to the opposite side of where I was lined up. The kick returner fielded the ball and started up the field. He avoided the first and second wave of tacklers. Now all he had to beat were a couple of guys like me from the opposite side who were pursuing him from behind, and he would score.
As I chased the guy valiantly, I saw one of his blockers coming at me from my left side. Judging from the angle he was coming at me, I figured his only chance to hit me would be to block me in the side or back. I don’t know if I consciously turned my shoulder when he finally laid his block on me, but I must have done a convincing job of flopping to warrant the penalty flag that the referee threw as a result.
The runner continued into the end zone much to his teams delight. They celebrated with
great zeal in the end zone, apparently unaware of the yellow flag I had drawn. A minute later the referee had nullified the touchdown and the celebrating turned to groans of despair. Our defense went out and kept them from scoring and we went on to win the game.
Was this my proudest moment on the gridiron? Of course not. No one should have to claim that they helped win the game by getting blocked badly by an opponent. Unfortunately rules are rules and both teams have to abide by them. The fact that I remember the play is actually kind of sad in a way. However, when you don’t have a ton of ESPN highlight moments to draw from, you have to capitalize on the few contributory plays you may have made throughout the season, and this was one of mine.