My mom wouldn’t let my brothers and I play soccer because she thought we’d get hurt. I wanted to use the word “football” in the previous sentence instead of “soccer”, but I’m American. I don’t care that the sport of soccer is played with feet and a ball. When I say football, I mean helmets, pads, and tackling.
Nevertheless, my mom wouldn’t let us play soccer. She thought the movements in soccer would damage our knees. She was probably right. I know that with my size and weight, I am a prime candidate for knee problems. I’m like a purebred Great Dane. Yet, here I am. Knees as strong as a camel’s.
I never liked soccer anyway. It was a lot of running and always felt too European.
By the time I was in 5th grade, I was huge. I was big not just for a 5th grader. I was big for a human. We just moved to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. It’s a suburb of Tulsa and in this part of the country, football ruled. I was recruited as soon as I darkened the door of my elementary school.
I asked my mom about playing. She said I could. After all, it was safer than soccer. As I entered the field, my shadow crossed over a coach. He slid his clipboard down to hide his excitement and said, “Lineman.” It wasn’t a question. I was a lineman.
My favorite part of practice was the sled. It was 5 padded dummies in a row. We lined up in front of a dummy, got in a 3 point stance, and hit the dummy with a sustained push. If I was on the end of the sled, I could get the whole thing turned 180 degrees. Evidently, I could push a lot harder than other, normal-sized children.
I was big, but I was also soft. I had some strength, but I also had a dumb haircut, a baby face, and glasses. I would take my glasses off to put my helmet on and then put my glasses on through the facemask. If I was interested in the ladies, they’d be swooning at the sight.
Our games were on Saturday mornings. They began with an unforeseen and, in retrospect, odd ritual. Before the game, I had to weigh in. Just me. If I weighed too much, I was not allowed to play with the other children who were, I remind you, my age. Anyone could take one look at my chubby face and know that I was not some teenager trying to pull a fast one. I was just a “big ‘un”.
I don’t know how close I was, but I always made weight. It didn’t really matter. I was a solid lineman, but even an exceptional lineman doesn’t change the course of the game. If I weren’t so slow, they would have let me do something else. It would take 6 of them to tackle me. The problem was that I was so slow, they could easily get 6 of them to tackle me. I was slower than frozen peanut butter. I was slower than the kid who thought chocolate milk came from brown cows. I was so slow that by the time I got to the showers after the game everyone else was already dry.
My lasting memory of my first season playing football was the picture we took. I stood in the middle, at least 8 inches taller than every other player. I was also taller than a few of the coaches. My body looked like I do not belong in the same group as all of these children, but my round glasses and pudgy face disagree. My jersey has a big 50 on it. Later, I’d still wear a 50 on my clothes. For a few years, 50 was my waistband.