Thursday, April 28, 2011

DROPPING THE BALL

I enjoy playing football sandlot style.  There is little chance of getting hurt because no one is wearing pads.  It seemed to me that if someone was coming up to hit me with a full set of pads on, they were more likely than not to really throw themselves at me to get me down while if a player was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans they would be a little more hesitant to hit as hard as they could.

I played a lot of pick up games here and there.  Most of them were up at the church where we had a nice strip of grass to play on.  At night we would play touch football in the church parking lot where the lights were, but on a sunny weekend afternoon we would go tackle out on the grass.

It was mostly the same group of kids that we played basketball with so much.  Every once in a while a change is good though and we would play baseball or football to break up the pattern.  I was fast and have big hands so I made a good receiver while Larry could throw a football on a dime most f the time.  We had trees planted in the middle of the grass track that served two purposes.  First off, the were more or less out first down markers.  Second thing that they served as were nice pick to run a defender into while you were running a pass pattern.  They worked equally well in either case.

I got a lot of scrapes on my elbows and knees playing sandlot tackle but I didn't get any concussions or broken bones.  My ribs did not hurt after an afternoon up at the church.  We played sandlot football with a little common sense and let ourselves be tackled a little easier nin exchange for not getting elbows thrown into your teeth.

I did play real tackle football for Mr. Allard a few years though.  I didn't mind defense so much because I usually played line backer and didn't get blocked that much or knocked on the ground.  Defense was fun.  The amount of energy put into a hit was up to me since the offensive player was trying to avoid me.  One day sticks out in my mind from a defensive point of view.  It was a raining muddy afternoon and we were having a scrimmage between ourselves.  I remember Bill Fish was quarterbacking the offense while I was playing middle linebacker.  Bill was a rather small kid.  He was very intelligent and was fairly fast but he also only came up to my shoulders and weighed about a third of what I weigh.

We had been playing awhile and I had spent most of the time doing what Mr. Allard expected me to do.  That was to sit back in a zone type defense and cover the middle of the field from passes or runners that would happen to get through the linemen.  It was a rather relaxing time and I was enjoying myself in the rain and the mud.  Then something popped into my head.  I am not sure when it happened but I remember Bill standing back in the tail back position waiting for the ball to be hiked.  I noticed the center had his head down and was looking through his legs to be sure he got it to Fish okay.  Suddenly when the ball was snapped I just put my hands on the centers shoulders and leaped frogged myself over him   one of my feet touched the ground launching me straight at Fish.  I still remember his eyes as my body cam crashing down on him putting him down for a substantial loss.

Even though in my mind it was a great blitz play, Mr. Allard did not agree.  I was chewed out because I wasn't following his directions of staying back and protecting the middle of the field.  You couldn't win with Mr. Allard.  It was his way or no way.  We were suppose to be working on a certain defensive formation and I had broken the formation by burying Bill Fish in the mud ten yards behind the line of scrimmage.  I knew better but something in me said to go after Fish and bury him.  Anyway, no accolades for what I considered a brilliant move.

Mr. Allard had me play wing back on offense.  This meant I was a wide receiver that played off the line of scrimmage.  Most of the time the plays that involved me were sliding over to the middle of the field to block for a runner or to run a crossing pattern across the middle for the quarterback to either fake a throw to me or to actually throw it to me.  Not many passes were thrown in that situation as a half back was running right behind me and usually would get the pass so I could run interference and block.  Another play was not used often but when it was used usually was successful.   The player in my position would simply run out about ten to fifteen yards and hook back to receive a pass.  I usually didn't mind this play because it kept me close to the sideline where I could step out of bounds before getting my body crunched or there would be a miss in the defense that allowed me to run for another ten yards or so before I stepped out of bounds before getting my body crushed.  I was okay with this play except for one time.

We were playing on Mr. Allard's field a team that we didn't know.  Mr. Allard had all kinds of connections throughout the city and often would schedule games for us in baseball or football.  These kids were big.  They were fast and they were hard hitters.  These kids played football like the rest of our team did only harder.  I was playing a decent game.  On defense I was doing a fairly good even though their running backs and receivers did not seem to care if they got hit or not.  While I was use to running backs running away from me to avoid getting tackle, these kids seemed okay with running right over me hoping not to get tackled.  As we entered the fourth quarter my body was starting to feel a little pain from more contact then I have ever been accustomed to.  I do not like pain.  I do not tolerate it very well.  I was absorbing a lot of pain during this game.

It was a tight game though and as the time began to wind down we found ourselves with the ball and moving towards what could be a game winning score.  We were running the ball throwing short passes and doing basic stuff that did not involve me too much.  I found myself waiting for the clock to finally run out and if we won it would fine and if we lost then I wouldn't have lost sleep over it.  All I knew was my body was starting to stiffen up and feel a little painful.

Then Mr. Allard sent in the play where I run down the sideline and hook back.  Ok, I thought, I can do this.  All I got to do is catch the ball and get out of bounds before anyone hit me too hard.  We went up to the line of scrimmage and I listened as the signals were called out.  The ball was snapped and I began running down the field,.  I did the little hook pattern and turned to see the ball was already in the air.  I also noticed that the ball was thrown a little high.  If I were to catch it I would have to jump.  As I left my feet to catch the ball, I saw a figure closing in on me fast out of the corner of my eye.  If I caught this ball I was going to be hit hard on my legs while they were not in contact with the ground which could very possibly cause my body to flip.

It only took a split second for me to make the decision that I did not want to get flipped in the air.  As the ball came to me it hit me right in the middle of my chest.  It was a ball that should have been caught and ordinarily would have been caught I I hadn't realized that I was about to get hit hard.  As soon as the ball bounced off my chest I felt my legs go out from under me and felt my body starting to turn in mid air.  I finally landed hard on my side but without the ball.  I had dropped the ball intentionally in order to prepare myself for a hard collision that there was no avoidance of.  Mr. Allard was not happy with me.

He pulled me out of the game and wanted to know how I could possibly drop such a well thrown pass.  I knew the answer but there was no way I was going to give it to him.  I think he pretty well knew the answer anyway, but I decided my best bet at that point was to keep my mouth shut.

We lost the game and although I suppose a few fingers could be pointed at my dropped ball, I figure we would have lost anyway even if I hadn't dropped the ball.  I didn't lose any sleep over it and Mr Allard seem to put it behind him as well.  Dropped balls happen once in awhile.  That is a fact of life.  Not all of them or intentionally dropped but sometimes you have to drop the ball to protect yourself a little better than you would be able to if you don't drop the ball.

I dropped the ball.  I am okay with it.

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