Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ah, Football!

(Note: On Sundays I am posting a Sabbath blog, my logic being that the Sabbath is a good day to post about things that I enjoy. Fun writing is recreational writing, I figure. So, here is Sabbath post #2.)


I never played football.

Well, practically never.

I did try to play Pee-Wee football when I was eleven years old. I should have been good at it; I certainly fit the “pee-wee” bill. I wasn’t unusually short, but I was amazingly skinny. At the tryouts, just before we showed off (!) our passing arms, we had to shout out our weight. With as deep a voice as I could muster, I bellowed/whined, “Ninety-three pounds.” All the while I was thinking, Charlie Brown-like, “I’m doomed.” I was chosen to play for the Falcons, the second-best team in the four-team league; the Vikings were by far the class outfit. Unfortunately, I didn’t last the season. I wish I could say that I suffered a season-ending injury or something like that, but the truth is that I just got tired of it and quit. It’s not one of my proudest moments.

Still, some of my childhood memories of football are pleasant ones. Here’s one of them.

I grew up in Barnesville, Georgia, the home until around 1970 of Gordon Military High School and Gordon Military College. Both schools fielded football teams. Both teams were called the Bulldogs. The high school played in a regular region; the school was both the city’s public high school and a boarding school. I remember several rousing games against Manchester High School; I still shiver a little when I heard the phrase “Blue Devils.” The college, which was a two-year school, played other two-year schools (Georgia Military was naturally a big rival) and the junior varsities of four-year schools (this was before freshmen were eligible to play varsity sports in college). Many a weekend I was at Summers Field on Friday night to watch the high school Bulldogs play and again on Saturday night to watch the college Bulldogs play.

Other military schools were natural rivals for the Gordon Military College Bulldogs. When Georgia Military or the Citadel came to town their cadets would fill up a section on the visitors’ side of the stadium. Gordon’s cadets would fill up a section on the home side. There they would sit, like the Philistines and Israelites on opposite sides of the valley, hurling taunts at one another. They had to hurl them at one another; neither side had a Goliath to do it for them! I seldom sat in the stands; my place was on top of the embankment on the home side at about the twenty-five yard line. As at all such events, their side hung banners and our side hung banners. I don’t remember who the visiting team was on the night that the event I’m about to describe happened, but it was one of those military schools.

Just as the teams trotted off the field at the end of the first half, a brave or frisky or silly or crazy (take your pick; I was only about ten years old and couldn’t tell) Gordon cadet ripped down one of the visiting team’s banners. The enemy cadets, seeking justice or at least retribution, came pouring out of their stands and charged across the football field toward the Gordon cadets who were innocently sitting in their seats eating hot dogs, drinking Cokes, and nuzzling coeds. I sat still as a statue, petrified by fear at the sight of the charging army. Standing near me on the top of the embankment was a solitary policeman whose name was Opie Pitts. He was, as I recall, a man of small build who nonetheless wore the uniform of the Barnesville Police Department with dignity. He just stood there, waiting. Then, just as the horde reached the sideline on the home edge of the field, he raised his right hand. The charging cadets screeched to a halt. Then, he made a circling motion with his finger. The entire cohort turned around and slunk back across to their side of the field.

I have come to think of it as The Charge of the Slight Brigade!

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