Passing by the local sports field the other night, I spied a group of kids and their coaches practicing football. My immediate memories were of my own experience on the gridiron, and how I was always a better spectator than participant. The kids I was watching ranged in age from nine to thirteen, with the younger, smaller team in one corner of the field while the big guys filled up the rest. The distinction that used to be made was this: lightweights and heavyweights. I never played on the heavyweights. I was strictly a lightweight.
And not because of my stature, necessarily. I was a pretty roly-poly youth. That made me an obvious choice to be a lineman. A blocker. My friends, the fleet of foot and lean of loin, were the ball carriers. Running backs. Receivers. They got to handle the ball. I didn't. My job was to get in the way of the other team so that my buddies could run to daylight.
Then this thought came to me: What I wouldn't give to know then what I know now. I have made a study of the game of football over the last forty years. I understand now the rudimentary physics that would have made my job back then so much easier. How to push. How to pull. When to get down and roll. For that matter, I imagined a past where I could have used my awareness of techniques like the swim move to dodge around would-be blockers if I were to play defense. I might never have been the physical specimen coaches would have allowed to carry the ball, but maybe I could have been the guy tackling the ball carriers. That would have been something.
My sports awareness doesn't begin and end with football. If I had known what a guard did in basketball, I would not have been standing next to the basket, waiting for someone to come and try to make a shot. I had assumed that the name of the position defined my job. I was guarding the hoop from the other team. I had no idea that I should be taking the ball to the other end of the court and trying to score. That seemed antithetical to the program. Not to my elementary school PE teacher. Which might explain why he was screaming at my little round friend Ken and I as we stood alone at one end of the blacktop, waiting for the action to come back out way. I just figured we would be ready when it came time for us to leap into protective mode. Shooting a basket, let alone dribbling the ball. I had not as yet been introduced to the Magic of Johnson or the Round Mound of Rebound. I waited for the game to come to me. This did not make me a very effective point guard.
I wasn't a very effective athlete. I had no idea what I was really supposed to do. To my teammates, I apologize. To my coaches, I can only ask why they didn't show me more videotape. I coulda been someone. i coulda been a contender. Instead of a spectator, which is what I am.