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I Was A JV Football Washout
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A Black and Gold Jersey
In the 8th grade I enviously watched my older brother Tom play high school football. He really looked sharp out there on the gridiron. Tom was also about the best player on the team. He always was no matter what sport he happened to be engaged in.
However, I was really too short to play football, or so everyone kept telling me. Then I heard the school was going to start a junior varsity (JV) team so the high school boys would have someone to practice on after school. Short or not, I was going to play.
We were living in a very, very small southern town in South Carolina at the time. My dad being in the Air Force had been shipped off to Viet Nam. Since his mother lived there that’s where we ended up until he returned.
Amazingly, I made the team and was awarded a beautiful black and gold jersey and football gear. It was amazing, because I really didn’t know how to play. All I knew was what I had seen on TV…and that amounted to “get the man with the ball”. So, that’s what I concentrated on.
The jerseys were supposed to be worn at official games only, but the high school team was allowed to wear them as shirts. Some let their girl friends wear them as symbols they were “going steady” with so and so. But the JV team couldn’t so I had to wait until game time to wear mine. It wasn’t fair.
Anyway, I ended up playing the “safety” position, whatever that meant. But it gave me many opportunities to stop the man with the ball. And at that I was really good! Those big high school boys would barrel down the field and try to mow “the little guy” down. I had different ideas. In spite of being short, I was solidly built and when I tackled them head on they went down quick.
This ability to stop the quarterbacks earned me the nickname of “Bagin”. The coaches’ southern accent was so strong I didn’t understand what he was calling me. I later learned he was saying “Big One”.
Since my specialty was just tackling the guy with the ball I felt I didn’t need to learn any of the plays the coaches taught us. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but I didn’t learn that until our last game of the season. Our games were usually played at night under the flood lights.
The coaches had never put me in a game all season, but I didn’t much care, since I got to wear the pretty black and gold jersey. Apparently they knew I didn’t have a good grasp of the game.
Our team had done really well that year and when the final play of the game came we were far enough ahead our victory was obvious. That’s when I heard the coach holler, “Bagin, get in there”! So I rushed out onto the field and joined the team in a huddle. The flood lights threw an eerie, surreal atmosphere around the stadium. The Captain ordered a play, which I had no idea of what it was and we lined up in formation.
It suddenly dawned on me we were the ones with the football. I couldn’t tackle our own man! I didn’t have any more time to ponder the situation as the ball went into play. If I had learned the plays I would’ve known the quarterback was going to hand the ball to me. However, when he pressed the ball into my arms I was totally caught off guard and just stood there. The entire opposing team washed over me like a tidal wave,and I was buried beneath a mountain of flailing arms and legs.. As they crawled off in layers I was dazed but able to stand, although unsteadily. I saw our coach sadly shaking his head…so much for my football career. But, we had still won the game, so no harm done.
Fortunately, dad survived the war and came home. We were soon sent to another duty station in Germany, for which I was thankful. I would never have lived down the embarrassment of that last game.
I entered an American high school in Germany where I did learn how to play football correctly. I was soon nicknamed “Tank” in spite of my 5’4” stature. My specialty was “getting the man with the ball”.