The last week of the season had arrived, perhaps not a moment too soon. The ragtag 1982 Riverside Warriors freshman football team was a mediocre 4-3-1 and gearing up to play Thursday night against another hated rival, the J.L. Mann Patriots. Unfortunately, the banged-up freshman squad was down to 16 players, not even enough to play full intrasquad scrimmage games at practice. Consequently, most players had to play on both offense and defense in the official games. In addition to kicking and punting duties, my other positions included receiver on offense and right end on defense.
On Wednesday, Coach Daniel gathered the team before practice for an announcement. “Boys, I’ve got some bad news…Kelvin’s been in an accident and is done for the year.”
If you remember from last week, Kelvin was my holder for extra points and my one attempted field goal. He was also our backup quarterback. Coach went on to explain that Kelvin was helping his father do some kind of auto repair and they managed to break both of Kelvin’s arms. My memory’s a little fuzzy on this one, but I believe it somehow involved the weight of the engine.
Ouch and whoa!
This left the team with a couple of problems. First, we didn’t have a backup quarterback. I wasn’t concerned about this, as we only had one game to go. Surely, our quarterback, Keith, could go an entire game without injury. Second, the bigger problem, at least to me, was who was going to hold my extra points? Turns out, I was wrong about the bigger problem.
Coach must’ve known what we (or at least I) were thinking because, at the end of his talk, he addressed the elephants on the field. “Keith, you’ll be place holder,” he said.
Whew! Good choice, I thought to myself and relaxed.
Huh? Was Coach talking to me? I refocused. My mind had probably drifted off to wondering where the JV cheerleading squad was practicing that afternoon.
“You’re now backup QB. We’ll take some snaps later.”
Houston, we now have the bigger problem.
I suppose, on one hand, this made sense, as I was the only other player besides the two quarterbacks who had actually thrown a pass that season, but I had not taken snaps under center before. I was only accustomed to taking the snap from the kicker position, basically “shotgun” formation. Also, any quarterbacking I ever did in neighborhood pickup games was always from the “shotgun” position a few yards behind the center.
So, later in practice, Coach put me in as quarterback, and we practiced taking snaps directly up under center. It wasn’t pretty at first, but eventually, I didn’t fumble every snap. I left practice hoping I didn’t kick Keith’s hands as he held the extra point snap and take him out of the game with broken fingers.
To say I was intense on the baseball field and basketball court would be an understatement. On the football field, I may have been just as intense, but I do not recall any flagrant fouls or fights. Maybe that is selective memory. Or maybe it possible to hide that intensity behind pads and helmets. After all, you’re supposed to hit people on the football field. I just had my fields mixed up sometimes.
One guy who was intense on the football field was our quarterback, Keith. He was a fiery competitor and would not back down. And late in the 4th quarter of this final game, this caught up with him. We were up 13-6 but deep in our own territory. A miscue here, and J.L. Mann could score and go for two to tie it up. It wasn’t the time for mistakes. Then Keith made a big mistake. In his defense, someone put a late hit on Keith near the sidelines. Unfortunately, he came up swinging and chaos ensued. Players from both sides were ejected, including Keith.
Then the reality of the situation hit me. The backup quarterback had just been promoted.
Sweep Right, Sweep Left
Coach Daniel called time out and went over the play call with me on the sideline. Since I didn’t know much of the playbook from the quarterback’s view, we kept it simple – a tailback sweep right. All I had to do, in theory, was take the snap from Benny, turn and underhand toss the ball back to Calvin, our workhorse tailback. He’d take it from there.
I ran back on the field and huddled up the team, where I called the play. “On two,” I added to indicate the snap count. We broke the huddle and lined up. Crouched behind the center, I called out, “Ready…set…hut one…hut two!” and the ball hit me in the hands. I turned to toss the ball to Calvin, but there was no ball.
“Fumble!” someone yelled, and I fell on the ball as it tried to bounce away.
Fortunately, I recovered the ball and had another chance at it. We huddled up, and I called the same play. “On two, again.”
As I took the position behind Benny for the second time, I was quaking in my cleats. This time on “hut two!”, I successfully held on and tossed the ball back to Calvin. He had a good gain.
We huddled up and one of our few subs ran onto the field with the new play. “Toss sweep left.”
And so it went. The only two plays I could handle. We did the toss sweeps left and right down the field while Calvin racked up big yardage. On the final sweep from inside the 10-yard line, Calvin scored, putting us up 19-6, effectively sealing the win.
You may recall William “Refrigerator” Perry from the ’80’s & ’90’s Chicago Bears. The Fridge was a huge defensive lineman, but in Super Bowl XX in 1986, the Bears used him as a running back to score a touchdown, a highly unusual and fairly gimmicky play. But it was the 1986 Bears.
What if I told you Coach Ditka of the Bears may have stolen the tactic of using a large lineman on short goal-line situations from our 1982 freshman team? Maybe he didn’t, but hear me out. As soon as we scored the touchdown, I looked for the incoming sub for the play call. With my backup holder now out of the game, I didn’t expect to kick an extra point. I figured it would be the usual pass and pray to Reggie.
But in came Anthony, one of our lineman, and one of the larger guys on the team. Due to his size, Anthony’s nickname was Big Ant. He reached the huddle, and, slightly out of breath, he said “We’re going for two, and it’s coming to me!”
Now, I have no idea if Coach Daniel actually called this play or if Anthony called an audible on his own, but I didn’t question it.
“10-4, big guy!”
We broke the huddle, lined up, and I successfully handed the ball off to Anthony. He dragged three defenders across the goal line for two points, our final score of the season and a great exclamation point for that final improvised drive. And who knows, maybe there was a man with Carerra sunglasses and bushy mustache watching from a far corner of the bleachers.
We held on to win the game 21-6 and finished the season with an overall record of 5-3-1. I hung up the football cleats after this game, content to limit my football to neighborhood pickup games and extra points kicked over the power line.
Thanks for reading,
PS. No significant progress on Out of Tune this week…