Tonight is the first parent meeting for the upcoming football season. This is the last “first meeting” I will attend because my son is a senior. There are going to be a lot of first “lasts” this year.
It is said that in Texas there are 2 sports: Football and spring football. I agree.
I’m not really one of those “Football is a metaphor for life” guys. In fact my experience with football as a child was pretty bleak. But, looking back, I may have learned more than I realized at the time.
One Saturday when I was 12 I was supposed to go to the movies with my best friend Ricky Meador. Then he called and told me his mom would only let him take one friend and he was taking Monty Johnson. (The names are real. I’m not very good at making up fake names.)
That’s cool. Really. I’ll just hang out here and hope Lee Stewart rides by on her bike. Or smoke grapevine with Sarah Crosby. No big deal.
I was just starting to familiarize myself with social stratagem and realizing how bad I was at it. I was never the initiator. Instead I was always relying on the entreaty of another….and always available. Maybe too available.
That afternoon my brother Tom came in and announced that there would be a football game between our street (Guilford Lane) and the kids from one street over (Elmhurst Avenue). Guilford v. Elmhurst. OU v. Texas. Florida v. Florida State. Cowboys v. Redskins. You get the drift.
“Ward Kampf is Captain for Elmhurst and I’m Captain for Guilford. Come on. We’re playing in the field on Wilshire,” he said.
“Yeah. Get your jersey. Let’s go.”
My jersey was, as they say, legit. The previous fall I had lucked into playing for the Optimist league Dolphins. We went undefeated due to the speed and athletic prowess of the aptly named Lance Lightner. I’m not sure what became of him but I imagine he is currently employed as the right hand man to Zeus.
I noticed my younger brother Will was also trying to get in on the action. His uniform didn’t quite measure up. He wore a t-shirt from a dude ranch, a space helmet and capri pants that my mom had convinced him were interchangeable as football pants and knickers. We made him stay home.
Enough about that. Back to Ward Kampf. This guy was bad ass. He was bigger than all of us; his voice was deep and his vocabulary was shallow. That is not to say he was stupid. On the contrary, he was a very smart guy. He just didn’t say much. He didn’t have to. At age 12 he had already learned the power of cool detachment.
“Who do we have?” I asked trying to mask my tremolo.
“Me. You. Oglesby. Hedges. Scoggins.”
Not a good start.
“What about Bo?” Bo Hunsaker. Real name “Sam.” The only kid who would rival Ward for Dean of Cool. The first on Guilford Lane with an in-ground pool. He authored the neighborhood laws of power. Don’t be too available. Keep people guessing.
“He’s playing for Elmhurst. They don’t have enough guys.”
Of course. They expect”x”; give them “y”. Besides, Ward and Sam can’t play against each other. One of them might lose. Genius.
I wish I could make this into a brilliant “against all odds” story but, alas, we got wiped. But I had a blast. Football does that to you. And I learned a few things along the way.
So when I saw Ricky Meador at school on Monday I didn’t even ask about the movie. I played it cool. He finally asked me what I had done over the weekend and I mentioned (almost offhandedly) that I had played football with Ward Kampf and Bo Hunsaker.
“Really?” he said.
“Yeah. Gonna probably play again this weekend.” I knew that was a lie. We wouldn’t see Ward and Sam again for months.
“Oh man. That’s too bad. My mom said I could take some buddies to the zoo,” said Ricky.
“Yeah. That’s too bad.” So far so good. You know. Not too available. Cool detachment. Few words.
Ricky turned and walked away. I waited. At least 30 seconds passed. Then I couldn’t take it any more. I tore down the hall and said: “You know I think I sort of hurt my ankle playing football and I may not be able to play. Can I let you know tomorrow about the zoo?”
Whew. In life, like football, not only do you have to have a plan, you have to execute. It’s a lesson I try to employ every day. But I’m still not very good at playing hard to get.