It was October 1982 and the seventh game of a nine-game season, late in the 4th quarter. The Riverside Warriors freshman football team was in a one-sided battle with arch-rival Eastside High. Having pummeled the Eagles of Eastside 32-0 in game three of the season, the Warriors were up 21-0 with time running out. The Warriors’ offensive drive stalled out inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line and on 4th down, Coach Daniel of the Warriors made an unusual call, the first such call of the season. He sent in the field goal unit.
Well, he didn’t really have to send them in. At this point in the season, the already small team was down to just barely enough players to field a team on one side of the ball, thanks to injuries. Therefore, the field goal team was already in, and the lanky kid who had been playing receiver assumed the kicker position while another player, Kelvin, took a knee a few yards behind the center as the kick holder. The referee blew the whistle, the kicker nodded to Kelvin who then held out his hands, signaling the center, Benny, and back came the snap. Kelvin caught the ball and placed it perfectly on the tee…
Football has finally started up, giving us a bit of normalcy. Maybe not quite normal, since crowds are limited due to COVID restrictions. This makes me wonder how the players feel playing to mostly empty seats. Wait, I do know. That’s the only type of football crowd I ever saw in my two seasons as a Taylors Falcon in youth football, followed by a swan song season on the Freshman team at Riverside High School.
Speaking of freshman year, I can’t say that I was terribly excited about my first day of high school. Our middle school fed two different high schools and most of my gang of guy friends from 8th grade were going to a different school – Eastside High. On the first day of school, a long-standing trick was to direct freshman to the pool in the basement. Spoiler alert – there was no pool and I didn’t fall for it (as far as you know).
However, I did fall for another trick – the morning announcement requesting warm bodies for the Freshman football team. Sold! I was aware of the opportunity back in 8th grade but somehow missed the signups during the last semester of middle school. At least by signing up late, I had the added bonus of missing two-a-day practices the few weeks leading up to school starting.
Where’d You Learn To Do That?
On my first day of practice, Coach Daniel asked me what position I played. Punter and kicker were among my answers. He was surprised by the kicker part, and after practice, Coach took me over to a goal post and had me kick a few short field goals. Fortunately, most of these were good. “Where’d you learn to kick?” he asked.
This was a valid question. I had learned to kick a couple of ways. First, I did kickoffs during my two Taylors Falcons Youth football seasons. I am reminded of this every day I put on socks and see my crooked 2nd toe on my right foot, the result of a broken toe. On that particular kick gone wrong, I made contact with the hard rubber tee first, and not the ball, sending the tee farther than the ball. Maybe we pretended it was an onside kick.
However, given the fact that youth/pre-high school football leagues didn’t kick extra points, where did I learn to put it through the uprights? At my home field goals, of course! Did I have a regulation field goal in my yard? No, but I had an imagination and a low power line between my house and the utility pole near the street.
My friends and I would tee up the ball in the front yard and kick over the line, having field goal contests. Sometimes, we’d change it up and try to kick over the house, a single-story ranch. Maybe this explains some broken windows or maybe not. There were lots of baseballs and basketballs in flight over and around the house, too.
“I taught myself,” was my reply to Coach Daniel, not going into detail about my home setup. He seemed satisfied, and I had earned a spot as the kicker. Soon, I added punting duties to my repertoire, while playing a variety of other positions on offense and defense.
Through the first six games of the year, I had kicked hand full of extra points. What Coach had discovered during this time, though, was a slightly more reliable post-touchdown play – the two-point conversion. Somehow we discovered I could throw a pass, too, and our two-point play was hiking the ball directly to me in my kicker position. I would then run out to my right and pass the ball to Reggie for the two-point conversion. The success of this play was probably due more to Reggie’s jumping ability than my passing accuracy, but it worked many times.
Going for 3
Finally, though, at the end of game seven, Coach Daniel decided it was time for me to try an honest-to-goodness field goal. With a big lead and time running out, there was no risk. Might as well see what the self-taught kid could do The distance wasn’t much farther than the extra points I had kicked, so it was well within my range…
I looked down Kelvin’s perfect hold, took my steps toward the ball, and swung my right foot hard into the back of the ball. The contact felt good, and I looked up to find the ball…unfortunately, the ball wasn’t found in the air, and I hadn’t found the middle of the uprights. Instead, I had sent the ball right into Benny’s backside and it was bouncing around on the ground. Instead of a foot wedge, I had used a foot three iron (golfers will understand that).
Dejected, I apologized to Benny as he rubbed his backside. Most of us stayed on the field to play defense the final few seconds of the game, and it is quite possible I tackled someone really hard. We held on to win 21-0, which, based on football math, means I accounted for at least three extra points that game, either three kicks or one kick and a two-point pass conversion, but I couldn’t tell you for sure.
The botched field goal is the only event from that game etched permanently in my memory. I never had another shot at a field goal that season, and I “retired” from football after that season. I have one more memorable story from the final game of that season. Hope to retell it for next week, and I hope your team actually plays this weekend.
Thanks for reading,
PS. Not much progress on Out of Tune this week.
PPS. Black and white photo credits to the 1983 Riverside High School yearbook.