Written September 28, 1994
I played football in the ninth and tenth grades. Offense and defense.
Actually – I practiced football mostly, for I was neither good enough nor big enough to play in the real games – except for one. In that game we were trouncing some hapless opponent 30 something to 6. It was the last quarter, seconds to go, and the other team had the ball – fourth and two. The coach put me in. Defense. We held ‘em. “Stay in Murphy!” the coach yelled from the sideline. Offense. Now we had the ball. 45-34-20 hike!
The horn blew and by career on the field was over. Like I said, I played offense and defense.
As a kid I’d heard my Dad tell how he played every minute of every game his senior year, save one. He had to pick cotton that game. Years later I saw his old high school annual. They’d lost every game by a whopping margin! So I guess you might say that our football careers were somewhat similar.
I went out for football because I made less a spectacle of myself there – than in other sports. I lacked the power for baseball, the speed for track, and the coordination for basketball. Anyway, football players are always getting knocked to the ground. I’d fit right in. Football was the macho thing to do. A young fool will endure all manner of abuse to gain favor with the ladies.
Practice began in August, weeks before school started. Football practice in August in Mississippi is no picnic. I weighed 107 pounds at the beginning of the season. But I persisted. Several times the coach ‘suggested’ that perhaps I was un-suited for football – An understatement to say the least. But I endured until the bruised and bloody end. I was awarded the coveted Enochs ‘E’ football jacket. Boy was I ever proud of that thing! It was a symbol of – manhood! The coach gave the team a long talk, explaining that Bill (and another hanger-on) had lettered not so much for ability, but for far more important reasons: determination, persistence, and Endurance. It was a talk of ideals much more noble than we appreciated at the time. Heck, I would have gladly settled for ability!
In the spring of that ninth grade year we were allowed to join spring practice with the high school team, the big, bad, high school team! I was scared to death! A bus came from the high school each afternoon and picked us up. It was good to rub shoulders with those big guys. Perhaps, just perhaps we thought, some of that bigness would rub off. We wee wimps took a lot of ribbing at first (abuse would be a better word) but after they saw that we could take it, we gained a small measure of their respect.
One of our practice drills involved a sadistic method of improving running and tackling skills. We were arranged in two parallel single file lines about twenty feet apart, facing down field. The coach stood at the head of and between the two lines. He would pitch the ball to a guy at the head of one of the lines. The object: the guy who got the ball ran for all he was worth toward the goal line. The other guy tried with all he was worth to tackle the guy with the ball. I refused to look across to see who my opponent might be. Now there was this exceptionally large fellow on the team. Dennis Perkins. Dennis was a really great guy. Great personality. Fun to be around. Loved by all. But physically, he was a 285 pound two-legged rhino. At the last moment I looked. Dennis! The coach tossed the ball to me! At this time I was up to 110 pounds, small, but somewhat fleet of foot. (The coach tried to get me to go out for track, but that was too much work.) I caught the ball and ran. I ran fast. I ran like the wind, my little legs a blur. Then everything became a blur. I was rudely awakened to the biting smell of ammonia from one of those tiny vials broken under my bloody nose. I never knew that Dennis could run so fast! After they realized that I would probably walk again, we all had a good laugh. Especially Dennis.
My game career was no better in high school than in junior high. I dressed out for only one game that year, and that was a real hoot! I was only 27 inches in the waist, and we had plenty of small practice uniforms – but the smallest game uniform was a 36. They literally TAPED me into the uniform. Our uniforms were black and gold, and the adhesive tape was WHITE. I looked like a NFL mummy – NILE Football League!