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.