I need a football. I used to always own a football but it’s been at least a decade since I had one. I have so many memories associated with footballs that I could go on for weeks. But, when I walk outside on days like today it instantly takes me back to snow ball, circa-ish 1985.
At that time, there was a vacant flat lot a couple of houses down, and I would say it was a solid 30 yards long or so with plenty of room side-to-side for a pickup game. We played a lot of ball there in the summertime, but on this morning I had my heart set on doing it up right with my brother despite the snow and bitter cold conditions.
I don’t know why, but I absolutely had my heart set on having lines drawn on the playing surface. The field was completely covered with pristine snow, and there was really no definition of a set end zone in place. After thinking for awhile, I decided that my only course of action was to take an empty Windex bottle and fill it with bright blue food coloring and water. Dare I say it worked pretty well? In about a half hour’s time I had taken this bare patch of snowy dirt and turned it into some kind of Boise State meets Lambeau Field looking thing.
It was sweet.
Now for most of you, having a bomb-biggity field like this is probably story enough. However, on that day the greatest play in Clark St. history was drawn up on that field. The “wrong way” play.
As you can guess, the play pretty much described itself, and to us adults it’s simply called… leading the receiver. We didn’t know that of course, and as far as we were concerned we had just reinvented the game of football. The “wrong way” play was going to take us from neighborhood obscurity into the Hall of Fame of neighborhood football league history. And it did just that.
The concept shocked us, but its timeliness was perfect. It was a two-on-two affair this afternoon, and if I remember correctly we had some pretty good competition on the other bench. It had been a hard fought game, and with only minutes remaining we were down by four. We had a tree-branch goal post set up and on the previous drive we had been forced to take three but had managed to stop them to get the ball back. We needed a big play and we needed it fast.
The mood was tense in the huddle. My brother had been blanketed all afternoon and five bananas just wasn’t enough time for him to get open before the rush came in. I had to get the ball out and get it out quick. That’s when it hit me; I’ll throw it way out in front of him after his break, and no way would the man in coverage be able to stick with him. When I called the play, my brother just smiled and we broke the huddle.
As the snow came down the image of my brother’s breath billowing in the cold was reminiscent of the black and white pictures of the ice bowl we all know and love. He lined up left and shooting a single glance right as his man lined up about a yard off the ball while the rusher stood poised to pounce.
Everything went silent when I snapped the ball. The banana’s seemed like they were in slow motion as I watched my brother streak towards the nearside pylon. At four bananas he made his cut, and as the rusher barreled towards me, I rain bowed it smack dab at the far side pylon.
The ball seemed to hang up there forever as my brother headed across the back of the end zone. His man, having slipped slightly was dragging a half yard behind as he headed full bore all the way across the field towards the ball.
I lost sight of the ball midway having fallen face first in the snow after slipping to avoid the all out blitz. But, I heard it. It was the familiar sound of Nerf on glove while both receiver and defender slid out of bounds on the far side.
Almost on cue, my Mother yelled out the back of the house that it was time for dinner. We had pulled it off, and in the process changed the course of football forever. We triumphantly trotted home, having just won the Super Bowl of our mind.
I’ll never forget the success of this McMahon to Lofton connection that day, and the “wrong way” play will always stand as a cornerstone of my love for football. On a day where the focus seems to be on staying inside, I am reminded of what a great time I used to have outside.
My grandfather, Lt. Colonel Wayne R. Cook always had a saying:
“Every day is children’s day with us.”
He was right, and I need a football.
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