Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, July 13, 2016, 9:56 a.m.
A lot has changed in the 40 years since I played football. Some is harder. Some is easier. It’s still time-consuming.
On the one hand, practices were longer, and contact was constant. In August, we were on and off the practice field two or three times a day, suffered from lack of water, got paddled on the bare ass if we broke a rule (and it was impossible to completely avoid breaking rules), and, when I played on the varsity, lost two games in two years and played for the state championship in both of them.
We did, however, have a summer vacation. We might lift weights once or twice a week, but, for the most part, we spent our summers working on farms, for the city, in the mills, or at the family businesses, still finding time to get into mischief. If we reported to practice in August and weren’t in shape, we were going to get there shortly, and there would be hell to pay.
Once the season starts in late August, the rules dictate now that full contact in practice be limited to 90 minutes a week. A week! We had full contact at least 90 minutes a day, and that’s not counting one-on-one blocking drills, and practicing double teams, and bouncing off and pushing sleds, and form tackling, and on and on.
Nowadays, the restrictions make it difficult for a team to get the repetitions it needs to be a fully functioning unit, so they have to take advantage of every opportunity to fill in the holes left by modern changes.
They play seven-on-seven games of pitch and catch against other schools, and it’s not the same as pitch and catch when charging linemen are intent on burying the quarterback, or when linebackers lurk to separate receivers from balls when they sprint across the middle, but it’s the best they can do that the rules allow.
Even these many years later, I remember what it was like. How it felt. The inability to concentrate on what the coach was saying because I was on the verge of passing out. I never actually did that. I just felt like it was going to happen constantly for the whole month of August.
As a general rule, the Red Devils have looked just about as good as would be reasonably possible. They took some lumps Tuesday, but, considering that the quarterback who has been doing the pitching in the seven-on-seven scrimmages was off at a church camp, they looked all right. Two other quarterbacks, Ty Priestley and Donte Reeder, completed many passes but not enough into end zones.
Clinton’s six scrimmages were against tough opposition. Butler High of Charlotte had a lanky, rawboned quarterback who is obviously talented because one must be talented to wear, even in this gaudy age, metallic-gold cleats. One had better be talented to pull that off.
Times change. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different. Players are bigger and stronger, and it’s become more necessary to protect them from one another. When I watch kids play and work out, and chat on the sidelines, I find myself existing in both past and present at the same time.
I asked one of the players to let me examine his helmet. I mistakenly thought ours offered protection. They don’t look that different from the outside. Inside the cushioning is almost awe-inspiring. Football might have been more pleasant for me without all those pesky headaches from being “forearmed” in the head every day. We didn’t have concussion protocols. We just had our bells rung.
We didn’t have trainers. We had water boys. Concussions were taken seriously only when someone couldn’t tell how many fingers a coach held up, or maybe if he thought we were playing at Chapman, but, in reality, it was Clover. A mild concussion was almost a badge of honor.
By God, though, we came through it just fine.
Uh, what was I writing about again?
Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy either Forgive Us Our Trespasses or Crazy of Natural Causes, and you’ll get a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs, absolutely free. Tell ‘em Mr. Monte sent you, y’hear?
Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.
The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.
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