My Brief Football Career Left Me Feeling Blue
By Van Craddock
Living in football-crazy East Texas, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't play high school football.
However, I have a really good excuse for not suiting up during my time at Longview High School. It was the blue helmet. Back in the dark ages when I attended Longview's Foster Junior High, I was a typical red-blooded, sports-loving guy. I played youth baseball every summer and couldn't wait to play football in junior high … despite the fact I weighed all of 120 pounds in the eighth grade.
I had visions of playing quarterback for the junior high squad, but at the very first practice Coach took one look at me and decided I ought to be right end - namely, the right end of the bench. Then, to add, insult to injury, I was issued a dark blue helmet. I did not understand this because the Foster school colors were maroon and white and everybody else on the team got white helmets. To this day I have no idea why the school owned a single blue helmet. Maybe it just appeared out of the blue.
We had some really good athletes on the team that year. (No, I wasn't one of them.) Our quarterback, James Street, went on to win a national championship as QB at the University of Texas. We breezed through the first part of our schedule and were undefeated when, near the end of the season, we played Marshall Junior High. Marshall had clobbered everybody by 30 or more points and had a huge fullback who looked like he had been shaving for five years. This big fullback (he's probably enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame by now) scored three or four touchdowns pretty quickly and hadn't even worked up a sweat. Victory was out of the question for us by halftime. It was so hopeless, and so many maroon-jerseyed teammates had been knocked senseless by the Marshall fullback, that Coach finally motioned to me to start the second half on defense. Talk about desperate.
I nervously donned my blue helmet (I distinctly heard fans laughing) and took the field. It was only a couple of plays into the second half when the Marshall fullback tore through our line and, nostrils snorting, headed straight toward (gulp!) me. My life flashed before my eyes, which grew larger as the fullback roared my way. I took a deep breath, lowered my head and prepared for impact.
THWACK! It was a loud, sickening sound that I can still hear all these years later. I'm not certain how long I was out. However, after regaining consciousness, I could see the fullback crossing the goal line 70 yards down the field. There have been a number of embarrassing moments in the history of football. There was the time the future great NFL quarterback Y.A. Tittle (ironically, from Marshall) was running for a touchdown at LSU and a tackler caught him from behind and proceeded to pull Tittle's pants down around his ankles in front of 50,000 fans. Then there was Jim Marshall, the old Minnesota Viking, who scooped up a fumble and took off running … toward the wrong end zone.
However, those examples pale to the embarrassment I felt after being stomped into the grass by that big fullback. I was never quite the same after that unfortunate incident. Also, I discovered girls about that same time.
My desire to play football was greatly diminished. When the season thankfully ended, so did my gridiron career. I still love football, but only from the safety of the grandstands cheering for my team, the Longview Lobos. And goodness knows I continue to admire the young athletes who suit up for their high school teams. My hat is off to them. On second thought, make that a blue helmet.