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