The Worst Football Hit I Ever Experienced

If you had the pleasure of playing football with me, you know I wasn’t the top talent to ever go through Beardstown High School.  In fact, it seemed as though I got progressively worse as my experience grew.

I’m joking.

… Mostly.

I loved running the football.  Loved it.  Defense, though?  I didn’t care for defense a whole lot.  Initiating contact wasn’t really my thing.  More on that in a moment.

Honestly, I thought about getting hurt back then–a lot.  More specifically, I worried about breaking my neck.  I know now it’s pretty unlikely, but it happens in football more often than people think, and it sometimes even results in paralysis.  I knew I wasn’t great at football–not even good enough for a small college.  (Not that I had my sights on a small college).  The thought of permanently injuring myself for a sport that wasn’t going to take me very far … it always lurked in the back of my mind.

During my junior year, I broke a bone in my left hand while at practice.  I thought it was a sprain, so I kept playing on it.  My right hand is my dominant hand, so it wasn’t too bad.  Three months went by before I went to the doctor.  I thought it was a sprain–everyone thought it was a sprain.  Turned out a little tiny bone was broken kind of where the thumb attaches to the hand.  I had to wear a cast up to my shoulder for three months.  The same cast.  (I actually ran track with it on, which made it, well, a little smelly by the time our relationship ended.)  Needless to say, that was enough football for me.  I didn’t play my senior year.  There’s more to the story … but I won’t get into it here.

When I think about my old football days, one hit sticks out to me more than any other.  Keep in mind, I got tackled all the time.  I played second-string on varsity, so I had to practice against the first-string defense, which resulted in getting hit a lot.  The fact that one hit is as vivid today as the day it happened over twenty years ago is pretty astounding to me.

We were playing a game during the daytime on our home field.  I couldn’t begin to tell you who we contested.  I was playing secondary on defense.  Remember how much I liked defense?  I saw a running back break through the line and so, without even thinking, I rushed at him.  We hit helmet to helmet and both fell to the ground.  Everything went instantly quiet.  I didn’t have a ringing in my ears–just the opposite.  Everything went silent.  I popped right back up, and so did the other guy.  The whole thing lasted only a few seconds.  I looked over at my coaches and saw one of them, usually a pretty stoic guy, losing his mind and congratulating me on the hit.  The game continued.  I didn’t have a concussion or any other injury, but even in that moment the impact struck me as unnatural and it still does to this day.

I imagine that guys at the collegiate and professional level experience those kinds of hits literally all of the time.  I can’t even begin to fathom what that must be like.  More and more research is coming out connecting football collisions to brain damage, and let me tell you, that one hit I had scrambled my circuits for a moment or two, no doubt.  It’s probably one of the most violent blows I’ve ever experienced.

I wish I could tell you that I miss those glory days.

I don’t.

I love to watch football.  I love the sport.  I especially love the Chicago Bears.  But, I’m totally fine without playing tackle football ever again.  Even though it was my senior year and I’d played since seventh grade, I was relieved when I finally had the guts to give it up.  Isn’t that crazy?  I felt like it took more courage not to play.  I don’t begrudge anyone who lets their children play tackle football, but there’s no way in hell I’d let my son play the sport–if I had a son, that is.  That single time I got my bell rung told me all I personally needed to know.

I don’t think of myself as a wimp, but maybe you do after reading this.  If that’s the case, that’s fine.  I’ve been called a lot worse, trust me.  But take it easy on those families who don’t let their kids play football.  Give those boys who don’t want to play a break.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid injury.  Some might say it’s even smart to try to preserve your health if it doesn’t seem as though a professional career awaits in the future.

Below is a picture taken by Ralph Sabetti for the Beardstown newspaper.  My mom kept a scrapbook of all my childhood and teenage doings.  She gave it to me a few years ago.  I’m running the ball with pure joy in my heart.  I’d like to tell you that I broke the tackle that guy is about to put on me and ran for a touchdown, but I honestly don’t remember.

I’m guessing not.

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 (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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