Fall arrived here on Saturday the 22nd at 11:49 AM Eastern time. Well, at least astronomically, it did; that lazy old summertime sun crossed the equator on its way south for the winter. Weather-wise around here we have about 4 weeks of summertime temperatures to go before we get that cooler weather.
But back in the Florida of my youth, summer weather hung around for almost another two months. That was two months left to round out our summer activities and get serious about the cooler weather coming. For us guys that meant we had to get baseball out of our systems and get cut over to football for the rest of the year. This was our cross-over season where we had to make the decision which sport to play in our neighborhood pick-up games. Baseball was like summer, lazy and introspective. I liked to play outfield, that way I had lots of time to enjoy the day, shagging that occasional outfield fly and concentrating on my strong suite, batting. I remember that I always confused the opposing team by throwing and catching left handed but batting right handed. When I did play infield, I usually played the left hander’s position, first base. I was long and lanky and could reach a long way to catch that ball while keeping my left foot on the bag.
But football beckoned too this time of year. Every other pick-up game became a football game. Because it takes more people to field a team in football than in baseball, we rarely had enough players to put two full teams on the field. Most of our games were played with five or six players. Early season games were almost always tag games, we reserved the tackle games for later in the season, when the summer sandspurs had faded away from the school-grounds we played on. What can I say, we were wimps! I hated pulling those sticky things out of my hands and arms after tackling someone or being tackled into a mess of sandspurs.
The style of play with smaller teams was definitely different from that of the full teams. Almost never was there a defensive play called. We would all “read” what the offense was doing and then react. It was easier if it was a running play, we would all chase the ball carrier. If it was a pass play, one or two would rush the passer and the rest would chase the receiver. There were not a lot of interceptions in this kind of game but everyone was involved in every play. Another benefit is that despite playing this way every weekend we never had an injury that required more than a band aid or two.
In fact, the only time that I ever got hurt playing football was playing in an organized game of tag football with full teams in PE class at school. In this game, we had organized offensive and defensive plays. And everyone played “both sides of the ball” that is both offense and defense. On the fateful day in question, I was playing a linebacker position and was in a pass rush. Now, I was not a great athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow I got past the lineman and into the backfield. Amazingly, I realized that I was going to get to the quarterback’s left flag; I snatched it as I passed him at an angle Unfortunately Jim Snyder was mirroring my play on the other side. We flagged him before he could get a pass off. Then Jim and I collided as we criss-crossed behind him. The crown of Jim’s head hit me right on my left eyebrow, splitting it open. I never saw so much blood! I was horrified to hear Coach Pete telling the school office that someone needed to get me to the hospital to get sewn up. I will never forget the look on my father’s face when he met us in the emergency room. The Novocain injections actually hurt more than the collision itself. I wound up with four stitches right in the hairline of my eyebrow; you can still see them 50 years later. That is one game I will never forget!
It is not lost on me that the only time I ever sacked a quarterback, that I was the one sacked. I never found out if we won the game or not. Oh MY!