(Click here for my last post about fall and how nice Wisconsin is this time of year.)
Football is in the fabric of every fall. No matter how much I don't want summer to end, I know that football season is one thing I will look forward to every September. And yes, the football memories abound from all these autumns.
I blogged about my grandfather taking me to a Bears game when I was 9. That wasn't my first Bears game, however -- I went with my dad to one a couple years earlier -- nor was it my last. I saw my high school's football games; unfortunately, the four years I was in high school might have been the losingest stretch in the history of the school (1-8 my junior year, ouch). I saw my first college game at the University of Illinois when I was visiting friends in 1988, then saw a bunch once we moved to Madison. I covered high school football as a reporter. I collected football cards and 25-cent helmets from gumball machines. I played Tecmo Super Bowl. I still own a Mattell Electronic Football II (the green one). I've played fantasy football since 1995.
Yet one of my favorite football memories is from playing the game, not watching it.
No, I never played organized football. Are you kidding: I would have been crushed. But I did play pickup games with my friends. Mostly tag, in the street, but sometimes tackle at the park. There was a stretch of street near our house bordering a long, wide stretch of lawn (before it got to the sidewalk), and the owner didn't mind if we played football there. We would tag on the street, tackle on the grass. I'm lucky I didn't get killed -- I was so skinny, and most of my friends were older.
In 1988, my first month of college, I came home for a weekend. There's something about that first trip home after you go away to college -- everything seems ... quaint. My high school friends were all off at their colleges, so I hung out with the friends from my block, the older ones who I didn't keep up with as much once I got to high school. That Saturday afternoon, they were going to play pickup football with some other guys they knew, and I joined them.
My friend Jim is four years older than I am. When I was little, he would pick on me more than anyone else. He outgrew that, but there was still a clear delineation -- he was older and I wasn't. By 1988, he already had served a stint in the Air Force and was married. That afternoon, he was on the other team, and something he wasn't used to happened: I tackled him
It shouldn't have surprised him -- after all, I was taller than him by this point. But it still did, and maybe annoyed him. On his next play when our team had the ball, even though I wasn't involved on the play, he felt the need to bring me down. I wasn't hurt and laughed it off. I knew why he did it: Little Joey had upset the past order of the Rascher Avenue universe.
I had dinner with those guys that night and played Nintendo with Jim. Even though I was still 17, I felt like an adult that night, not because I was hanging out with the older guys, but because I was one of the older guys as well.
We're all adults now -- parents, no less -- and the tackle football days are long gone (and a little reckless, in retrospect). The kids in us still remain, and I can't see those guys without wanting to reminisce, or at least to count off on a pass rush, "One-one thousand, two-one thousand ..."