A Time Out From Politics for a Little Football

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Sep 05, 2006 4:31 PM

I was watching the Florida State-Miami game last night when it occurred to me that our Townhall readers might appreciate a football column instead of the usual political fare on the site.

So, I took a trip back to my last profession, as a sports writer, to write about my favorite football memories:

Where I come from, the air sweats this time of year. Sweats hard. The soft whisper that was the spring air has been hitting the weights all summer long. By late August, it’s just learned to lug its new bulk through a series of wind sprints, and it’s hurtin’ from the exertion. The result is heavy and thick. It slows the mosquitoes down, making them easily swattable out of mid-air.

That gummy, summer air is the bane of every football player who pulls on full pads and helmet for late-summer dailies or two-a-days. They stand under the sticky canopy, in line for drills, flicking mosquitoes away by the dozen, hoping the air doesn’t gum them up enough to make them similar targets for linebackers.

They ponder that thought lazily, wiping sweaty hands on slick pants until a whistle blows, and they explode off the line, grab the ball, find the hole, and beat back the air and the O-men on the strength of a summer spent on the leg press.

I invited Townhall readers to share some of their memories, too. Here are some of them. I knew they'd be good.

Witnessing history at a football game:

My most vivid football memory is a game I went to with my father at Forbes Field on a frigid late November day. The Steelers were hosting the Chicago Cardinals. It was into the third quarter when a buzz arose in the stands behind us. Information was hastily being passed along among fans. At last a man close to us shared the news: "Someone shot Oswald," he said. JFK's murder had been avenged.The Steelers went on to lose, the last play a desperate and slighly hilarious series of laterals. It's a day I haven't forgotten.
Ahhh, 1980:
As a fellow UGA graduate, I have to recall the 1980 UGA UF game. My wife was 8 1/2 months pregnant with our third child. Some nice Florida fans (there are a few), allowed her to use their RV for a much needed pre-game rest room break. Well, she almost had the baby on the spot after the 93 yard Belue to Scott pass play with less than 1 minute to go in the game propelled the Dawgs to victory, and on to the National Championship. You may recall that Notre Dame was No. 1, but ironically, out biggest rival, Georgia Tech, tied ND on that same day. Go Dawgs!
For real Friday Night Lights:
My best football memory occured in 1970 when I was a senior at Cooper High School (TX) and quarterback of our football team.  We were playing Commerce, our biggest rival, and with seven seconds left in the game we scored a touchdown to come from behind and win the game 21-19.  We hadn't beaten them in several years and everyone was ecstatic.  Our school superintendent was so excited he declared Monday as a school holiday.  Imagine that, getting a day off from school because we won a football game.  Nothing like Texas high school football!
A foreigner meets football, helmet-to-helmet:
I've coached high school for a long time, so I've got lots of memories, but here is one that always makes me laugh: About two weeks into the season a foreign exchange student, Ivan Zurbriggen from Switzerland, came out for his first practice. My head coach told me to teach him some football. I figured the best place to start was with tackling. After about 15 minutes, Ivan really seemed to have the hang of it. The head coach yelled for Ivan and he trotted onto the field. Unfortunately, the head coach meant for me to teach him wide receiver routes. I watched as Ivan lined up at wide receiver and sprinted off the ball at the snap. He ran straight to the cornerback and hit the bewildered defender with a solid tackle. At first the head coach didn't think it was very funny, but eventually even he started laughing.
Nathan's an Auburn fan, but we'll forgive him, given his dedication to the game:
See, I am a college student at Auburn University. I grew up in a town (if it is really large enough to be called a town) called Slapout, about thirty miles north of Montgomery, Alabama. I was in a four-wheeler wreck at age thirteen that left me in a coma for thirteen days, my leg broken between my knee and hip, and every joint in my hip dislocated. But that's not the story: once I was out of the coma and thinking clearly, the first words out of my mouth whenever the doctor walked in were, "Can I go to the Auburn games?" See, my parents had bought season tickets for the first time in my life so that I could go to the Alabama game...I ended up going to every single home game that year, in 97, as Auburn marched to an SEC West Title behind Dameyune Craig, Fred Beasley, and Takeo Spikes (they would lose to Peyton Manning's Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC Championship Game).
Teammates:
However, what I and likely every football player find most memorable is the camaraderie of the locker room.  It wasn't something that was instant, but was developed over the course of a season, with each season's team having that same tight-knittedness, though each team was as individual as the players it was built from.  Once developed, it's lifelong, reappearing anytime a group of us gathers together, regardless of venue.  Ask anyone who has left the game behind what they miss most about it and this is what their answer will likely be.
Brian speaks the truth:
I've never understood these people that argue whether life begins at conception, or nine months later, or somewhere in between.  Everybody I know understands that life begins with the first fall kickoff of the season...
The important things:
I was stationed in Miami during their undefeated run in '72.  Don't remember the games much, but the women attending the games were gorgeous. 
Soccer game lost on "interfering helmet" call:

In the fall of '73 I was a lineman on my high school football team in Valhalla, NY.  Our practice field was very close to the varsity soccer field.  One day there was a soccer game going on while we linemen were doing drills at the closest spot to the soccer field.  One of my friends, call him Nick, just couldn't stay onsides during the drill.  After jumping off sides for the 4th or 5th time, our exasperated coach yelled "Every time you jump offsides it costs the team five yards!!!" 

Nick, not seeing the problem (or the coach's simmering rage) calmly asked the coach, "What's five yards coach?"  Our coach exploded and kicked a nearby helmet lying on the ground.  The helmet then rolled onto the soccer field in the middle of the game just as our guys were kicking a penalty kick that went in, but was taken down because of the  interfereing helmet.  We lost the soccer game by one goal.  Our coach dislocated his big toe, and spent the remainder of the season patrolling the sidelines and practice field on crutches.  And Nick never again jumped offsides in games or during practice for the rest of the season.

Thanks for sharing, guys, and I'll keep posting as they're sent my way.