Sunday, November 09, 2008

Street Football

I guess every kid in the US of A has played street football or some variant of it. We certainly played our share of games. A day like today would have been perfect. Mild weather, the trees nearly stripped of their leaves, nothing much to do on a Sunday afternoon.
We played on S. Lincoln Ave and mostly in front of my house. The game was a passing game. Take ten steps down the sideline and cut across, Mick, you go long, then the snap and the count 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3Mississippi, 4 Mississippi, 5 Miss... and the rush and the pass. Or take ten steps and cut behind the Marx's Cadillac or everyone go long or the crisscross. Terry Fleming and Chris DeHart were often quarterbacks but sometimes they'd gang up on us and it would be me and Mick and Sam Stewart vs Gary Condell and Terry and Chris. This was a lopsided game because Sam couldn't catch a football to save his life and I had no arm but we played like it was the most important game in the world. Sometimes we won but mostly we'd lose.
The game was played on a macadam street so if you fell, or were pushed, you'd slide a few feet along the rough stones and ding your knees or your elbows. The palms of your hands.
We'd play all afternoon. Changing sides, changing players, new guys coming in, guys going home for dinner or a family trip, the game kept going. Once in awhile my father or Al Frank or my Uncle would join in to make us look like the knuckleheads we were. I remember one memorable day when Father Kernan from the Church of the Incarnation showed up. Running routes in his robes and smoking cigarettes. Might have been a curse or two.
There was a fierce competition to the games but there was great joy. The long bomb through the trees, the unexpected sight of Sam pulling down the ball in front of Chris DeHart, the sack, the surprise play, the Hail Mary, the hidden ball trick. It was a game with few rules and many, many arguments. Interference, he pushed me, you went before the count, how can we win with this team, at least give us Gary. Skinny little kids running for hours, my asthma would kick in but we'd keep playing. Ed Mossop or Johnny Hindman or Stewart DeHart and Bobby McQuaide would pass in and out of the games. A blur of hikes and counts and passes and the unexpected run or Charlie Flitcraft, fast as lightening turning a four yard toss into a touchdown. The goals were undefined, the scores forgotten or argued about. No kicking. Plenty of shoving.
The sun setting, the ball dark against the sky, the hands reaching, reaching, reaching.


Bob said...

Great description Jack,

You'll have to cover touch games that turned to tackle in the park sometime. Or touch in the field next to the tiny Episcopal Church on North Monroe.

Isn't it a wonder that we rarely if ever used the baseball field down by the Mantua Creek.

Remember the Bill Campbell "bullet" passes that would almost go through you?

Or playing "kill the guy with the ball" with Kingsley Lentz in the yard behind the DeHart and Mossop houses. No one could tackle Kingsley. He cut and dodged and made it look so easy. Perhaps he was a good runner because he never rode in a car - his parents refused to buy in to the car culture and lived carless forever as far as I know.

Your blog certainly draws people in. I heard from Paul Birkby today - I don't think that I have seen him or said anything to him since 1971.

Thanks for the great writing.

Thanks for the blog.

Bob said...

No Duh..

I should have typed "Ed" Campbell.

Jim Maddox said...

To my knowledge there wasn't much street football in Woodbury Heights. We always had access to someone's big yard or the athletic fields off of Helen Avenue.
Not much touch football either, mostly tackle, even when the girls played. My side yard, the Gerber's huge side yard, and later on the big front yard at John Marcone's house on Chestnut Avenue.
As we got older we made up teams and played the kids from the "other side of the tracks".
We'd meet at the ballfields and played unsupervised, no adults screwing things up. There were bitter arguments and sometimes fistfights, but it was pure football. There were some broken bones and lots of sprains and bruises-once I was kicked in the groin so many times I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to walk home. It was all just a love of the game, and no concerns about safety. A bunch of guys, a ball and a crisp sunny day.