The pain of mob football
Most sports enthusiasts are in the process of switching their attention span from baseball to football. It’s an annual event that requires one to transfer his or her thought process from a slow and calculated game to one of constant action.
Varsity high school football is especially exciting. It brings out droves of fans each Friday night. Nearly every high school in the state fields a team with high expectations for a winning season and capturing a spot in the playoffs. Back when I attended high school that wasn’t the case.
Before consolidation, many Iowa high schools lacked the necessary number of students to field a football team. Heck, the high schools had a hard enough time coming up with enough participants to play varsity basketball. That didn’t mean that there weren’t football teams. Well, not exactly teams, I guess “mob” would be a better description.
The mob I played with were certainly not under the supervision – or authority – of our high school. The only connection the school had to us was the fact that we held our “games” on the school baseball diamond.
We wore no color-coordinated uniforms nor fancy protective gear such as helmets and padding. Far from it. The players came attired in the same clothes we had worn to school. (Much to the mother’s displeasure.) Shoes varied from tennis shoes to loafers to engineer boots.
It was a matter of elimination to determine who would play for what team. Usually each team had a captain and those captains would take turns picking their teams a player at a time. The first few chosen were always the biggest and toughest. After that the selection process went much faster as one captain would simply say, “You take those four and I’ll take those three.”
The quarterback had to be fast or he would be squashed within seconds of the snap of the ball. There was no such thing as “getting into the pocket” because a pocket didn’t exist. Lack of numbers made it impossible for much of an offensive line so it was every man for himself.
Fancy plays didn’t happen either. A couple of basic plays were used to advance the ball. A quick handoff to anyone crazy enough to put the ball in his hands was the mainstay. The other was a very hurried pass (toss) over center.
Anyone caught with the ball in his possession was quickly and thoroughly smothered by the defense. A penalty for piling on was unheard of.
Another fancy frill these makeshift teams lacked was cheerleaders. I guess there was little need for organized cheering when the only spectators were injured players and those who were too smart to go out and get their bells rung.
What the games lacked in cheering they made up for in excitement. There was the challenge of carrying the ball – it’s called survival. The only defense the runner had was his legs. You’d be surprised how fast a guy can run if he’s got someone twice his size about to squash him.
The games weren’t high scoring affairs because there were no set time periods. About the time the majority of players felt they had enough bruises and cuts to keep them limping for a week or so, the game was called by popular vote.
Not everyone was always in favor of stopping the action, but when it got down to just a couple of players still standing even the most foolhardy would toss in the towel.
As if the pain on the field of battle wasn’t enough, there were always a few more things to look forward to. If the game was up to par each player had usually picked up an enemy or two. The guy you blindsided or the fellow who saw you make the jump unto the pile of players he was under was out to get you for at least a week (or until the next game.)
Not only did you need to keep a watch out for your new enemies, there was also the problem of going home. Usually a player had managed to tear his jeans or discolor the elbows on his new shirt with a grass stain. That meant Mom was not going to be happy.
Your game shoes probably were the same shoes you were expected to wear to Sunday School. They still looked good enough to you, but that wouldn’t cut it at home.
Ah, the glories of the old gridiron days. All you have to show for it now are memories and a constantly nagging pain in your left knee.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.