As a participant, I am certain that I spent more time playing and practicing on a football field as a member of a marching band than I did as a member of a football team. I can't say that this is because I didn't care for the sport. Quite the contrary. When I was in fourth grade, playing on the Young America Football League Patriots, I envisioned a long career of gridiron glory. Though not particularly quick or agile, I was able to remember the intricacies of some of our trick plays: The Dipsy-Doodle, for example, had us line up to one side of the center, overloading the line of scrimmage and giving the opposing coaches fits. Or at least that's the way it would have been if we had ever used it in a game. Instead, I kept my blocking assignments in mind as I went through the game, gnawing ever more fiercely on my mouth-guard, waiting for Todd or Ronnie to come gliding through the gaping hole I had created in the opposition's defense. And I watched them run. Past me to glory.
They ran right on into junior high, where they quickly found themselves a spot on the team, while my speed and agility continued to develop. I didn't play in seventh or eighth grade because I lived in a world in which I was too heavy for the lightweight division and too light for the heavyweights. In ninth grade, a third team opened up, perhaps with me in mind: the middleweight division. The playbook in junior high was not nearly as madcap or zany as the one I had memorized in fourth grade. There were many more specific assignments, and our coach was a stickler for such things. I remember the time I forgot my responsibility on punt coverage, and ran squarely down the middle of the field, looking for someone to tackle. Unfortunately, that person just happened to be running up the sideline, where I was supposed to be. It was one of a series of moments when I got to be up close and personal with my coach. He grabbed me by the face-mask and asked me if I knew what my responsibility was on punt coverage. When I say that he asked, I mean that he bellered. He wasn't looking for an answer. It was a rhetorical question, of sorts, more akin to a penalty if he had been on the opposing team. It was, in his wild eyes, a teaching moment.
So maybe it was no surprise that I didn't sign up for that abuse again in high school. My speed and agility were coming along just fine for a civilian's used, but by this point the Ronnies and Todds had evolved into much more streamlined beings, and the beasts who were in charge of making their paths clear were slabs of meat that carried algebra books. I hadn't considered that I was following a family line, wherein my older brother had taken all the grief he could by the time he was in ninth grade, choosing to focus on marching band instead. This was the same path my father took, years earlier, even though he would tell us of his glorious and heroic deeds on the field, specifically the time he got himself a deviated septum by using his face to block an extra point against Casey Junior High. By the time he showed up at Boulder High, all that glory was behind him. He picked up a sousaphone and never looked back.
When I watch football now, it's with an eye toward position and responsibility. I've seen plenty of games won and lost must because one guy was in the wrong place. I feel for that guy, and the sputtering rage he will no doubt receive when he gets to the sideline. It's enough to make a guy consider joining the band.