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A novel by Len Joy

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Football Hero



In my last high school basketball game we beat Penn Yan on their court by ten points. I fouled out of the game in the third quarter. It was a fitting way to end my career.

I was going to title this post: “Basketball – the Not so Early Years,” but I got sidetracked with college football. The basketball saga will continue in a few days.



I had more success in high school playing football. I was voted to the 2nd Team Greater Rochester team and even got my picture in the Democrat and Chronicle. It was a huge thrill to be there with all the stars from the big Rochester high schools. I decided I was good enough to play college ball.

I applied to three schools: Miami of Ohio, because my sister had gone there; Cornell, because my parents were alumni; and the University of Rochester because the freshmen football coach invited my Dad and me to come up and have lunch with him.

I was accepted at all three schools. It took me about five minutes to make my decision. I chose Rochester because I thought I could play football for them and they said they wanted me. Who says you can’t trust eighteen year olds with important decisions? Maybe my thought process wasn't so great, but it turned out to be the right decision.


I met my wife at Rochester and I got a good education, too. The football part – that didn’t work out so well.

Freshmen year I played one game and then got pneumonia and missed the rest of the season. Sophomore year I was the third string wide receiver, but I did get to play on the kickoff team. Because I was reasonably fast, but couldn’t tackle worth a lick, I was given the important assignment of being a “wedge-buster.”

It was my job to race down the field and hurl my body at the blockers who formed a wedge in front of the runner. The hope was that one or more of them would waste their time disposing of my body and that would allow someone who could tackle to get past them to the ballcarrier.

Fortunately we didn’t score a lot and I only got in about thirteen plays.

For my junior year, either because of my stellar play as a wedge-buster or because I could never remember the offensive formations, they moved me to defense. Preseason practice started two weeks before school began.

August in Rochester. It was hot and humid. The dorms were not air-conditioned and I had a roommate that snored. After three days of double sessions my body felt like one huge bruise. Defense was a lot more physical than offense. On offense we just ran patterns and pretended to block. On defense we had to hit each other. All the time.



That third night I lay in bed, soaked in sweat, listening to my roommate snore and trying desperately to go to sleep. After three hours I wanted to suffocate him with a pillow, but instead I got up and went to the Bungalow, a local bar. The place was packed with kids who didn’t care whether I played football or not. Most of them had probably never gone to a game.



As I walked back to the dorm, I had an epiphany: I didn’t have to play football. It was one of those slippery-slope thoughts. Once I allowed myself to imagine how much fun it would be to not have to go to football practice there was no turning back. Another one of my carefully reasoned decisions.

The next morning I told Coach Stark I was quitting. He tried to look disappointed, but he was never much of an actor.

I never consciously regretted the decision, but even after thirty years I still have dreams every once in awhile that I have returned to the team and I’m practicing again. It is always the same: I can’t remember the plays and I still hate practice.














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