A not so Civil War: 5 yards in a cloud of mud
Sometime in November, when the fall rains had set in, when storms lined up five deep off the Pacific Ocean waiting to invade Western Oregon, when clouds hung low enough to reach out and touch, when fields became a patchwork quilt of puddles, the boys in the neighborhood would gather for Sunday afternoon football.
It was like the Civil War game between Oregon and Oregon State played last weekend. Except not quite so civil.
Unlike the book and movie “Friday Night Lights,” Sunday afternoons in Western Oregon were reliably gloomy. Darkness was forever descending.
Despite the lack of pads, none of us was willing to call for a game of touch football. It was tackle football or nothing. The standard uniform consisted of tennis shoes, blue jeans, a sweatshirt and perhaps a wool cap for a helmet.
Tackles were vicious. The only saving grace was the rain-slicked grass. The tackler and the tackled wouldn’t come down with a thud. They would come down with a splash and slide for many yards before settling down in a dogpile of sweat and mud.
Rules were thrown out. Everyone was eligible to go out for passes, not only the quick, cute button-nose kids but the big uglies. The quarterback had all day to look for receivers. Occasionally, he was distracted by low-flying geese or a stray hail ball or two. Usually, he had a long enough attention span to find a man open, who would soon be under a big tangle of humanity and digging grass and mud out of his ear hole.
We’d fantasize that we were favorite pro quarterback receiver combinations of the day: Daryl “The Snake” Lamonica and Fred Belitnikoff, Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, Joe Namath and Don Maynard. Channeling our heroes, injuries were rare, despite the lack of pads. Usually the only thing bruised was our egos.
Of course, in those days there was maybe only one game on TV, not 30. Yes, we had to get home in time for Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color,” “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” and “Bonanza.”
Other than that we had all the time in the world to compare our wounds and shore up the bleeding.
By the time the game was over, our official uniforms were sopping wet and weighed approximately the same as a bathtub
Our 40-yard dash speeds had gone from five seconds at the start of the game to approximately five minutes toward the end, when the gray sky faded to black.
When the endless night began, we’d go home. Hot showers were never so welcome. Afterward we’d sit around the woodstove and brag about our heroics and tend to our new and vast collection of bumps and bruises.
As we sat amidst the aches, we’d vow never to play again. But of course the next time the call went out for a Sunday afternoon game of tackle, we forgot all that and were there in a heartbeat.