Any Given Saturday
I played football with my brother and his friends from age four thru age fourteen. My brother, Don and I were unbeatable on the same team. Don was quite often Ken “The Snake” Stabler or Fred Belitnikoff of the Oakland Raiders. I was either Larry Czsonka or Mercury Morris of the Miami Dolphins. I usually wanted to be Mercury or Larry. But had to play defender (bodyguard to Don), because he was usually, “The Snake”.
Don was two years my senior, so he was kind of the boss of me. The way Don wanted to play the game, was just the way you did it. Me, I didn’t care. I just wanted to play.
Saturdays before we’d head out the door Don would be carrying the football. Mom would look at us and say, “Young lady, now you know your Dad doesn’t approve of girls playing football.” I would respond nodding my head, “Yes Mom.” She continued, “So be careful and...” She gave me that look, “And don’t let anything happen.” I knew what she meant, ‘you are your brother’s keeper.’ It was said to me on more than a few occasions.
To have a game, we’d get kids from the block, the next town over, around the block and once in a while we’d recruit some of Don’s new friends from our Regional High School to play. Don and I always secretly said to each other, “Anyone who plays with gear on, has got to be a wimp.” The other unwritten rule Don and I had was, ‘running through the middle was tougher than running around’. That was considered the easy way, the wimpy way to play the game. Only a pure Sissy would do such a thing. To really play football, you had to know how to grind the body.
We usually had between three to six kids on each team when we’d play. So, there was only enough blocking for the quarter-back. You had to take the hits. Get up faster than anyone could imagine. If you didn’t, you were a “WIMP!”
Only one blitze was allowed per every four downs. You had only four downs to get across the field and score a touchdown. The field was about fifty yards long. The other three downs we counted to ten ‘Mississippi’. Then, you’d charge the blockers to get the guy with the ball.
We once had this kid who got upset because I stretched out his shirt to tackle him. What a WIMP! Hey, man you’re weren’t supposed to wear your Sunday best here. This was real football. We were nearly pros. The kid never played football with us again. He was a real whiner. I felt like yelling, “Hey, you want some cheese with that?” We rarely razzed our competitors. We played fair. There was no trash talking. We focused solely on the task at hand. That’s the only way to win. I remember being so involved, I never thought of anything else when I was playing football. I had to survive, tackle, and protect. I had no time to think.
So, this one Saturday in March, cloudy, high forty degree temps, and slightly muddy field we met a bunch of kids from around the block. They had their friends who played on the Haworth Rec Team together. Now these kids were built for football. They ‘WORE THE GEAR’ and played regularly during the season. I was out to prove that gear wearing was what made wusses.
There were a couple of bullies on the other team from my class. I knew they wouldn’t play fair. I warned Don. He knew. We made play after play. After our second touchdown, they had scored none. They decided to have their fattest kid, Robert oppose me. Me being Larry and Mercury (tough) knowing the kid was a follower of crowds and convinced he was a wimp. I was up for the challenge.
I weighed about sixty-seven to seventy pounds. Robert weighed more than double that. He played on the Haworth Rec Team. I knew what that meant. His ‘raw flesh’ had never hit the dirt too much. His bare head never got crushed beneath a leg or a pile up of bodies. Mine had, and I survived. He was protected all those seasons from getting kicked in the ears, jaw, mouth and head by a knee or a foot. Not I. I took the kicks to the face and head. Did they hurt? You bet. But you see I was girl. Boys were not allowed to cry. ‘But girls playing football were NEVER allowed to cry!’ For after that, you would not be given the ball. Hec, you might not even be invited back to play. That was an unwritten rule. I just knew it in my soul.
So, here we were face to face. Robert and I. My brother, Don makes the call for the hike. He gets the ball. Not too much of a to-do between Robert and I. The pass is incomplete. Robert felt if he flattened my brother then he’d become more popular. I was the occlusion. Again, my brother made the call for the hike. This time as I awaited the tenth Mississippi. Robert lunged short of the completed tenth count. He grabbed and nailed me in my chest. My breath was taken away. I was just developing, and I was sore to begin with. I wanted to die. I could barely make a sound. I slowly got up in pain. Hurt that someone would play so dirty.
I mentioned briefly to Don that a foul had occurred, but told him it was okay. I knew the guys on the other team would make fun of me if I spoke, because I was a girl. As well, not a popular girl at all. I devised my own plan that would work for the team and would reduce the bullying that this kid thought he could do.
We lined up, third down. Don made the call again to hike the ball. I knew that Robert was going to go for my chest. He smirked. I stayed focused and determined. I wouldn’t allow an unfair person to prevail. Not in my presence, it just won’t happen. I knew where Robert would place his hands. This time I pretended to wear a shield that no matter how much pain I felt. It could not penetrate my determination to flatten Robert. It just wouldn’t.
I knew what I had to do. Put my head down and my right hand up and left arm across my chest and barrel right into Robert, head in the stomach, hand in his face. Pain would ensue, I’d make him cry.
Then, it happened. I shocked him. As he laid on the ground crying, tears rolling down his face, “It’s not fair. She fouled me.” He cried. I remember it was probably one of the few times in my life I felt no feelings of remorse or compassion for another human. I would be tested in the future again and wonder why I was able to be so callous. The answer, I don’t question true justice. I just dish it out. It comes from my soul.
We won the game. Robert stayed out the rest of the game and sulked for an hour. He was bewildered. He never said a cruel word to me again.—Jody-Lynn Reicher