When I was ten years old, my coaches gave me a high-five for breaking the arm of the other team’s quarterback. My defense has always been my offense.
A few Novembers ago, I coached Pop Warner Football for boys ages 8 to 10. One thing I would always tell them was to never hit with the top of their head. You see, if you hit with the top of your head, right at its center, your neck will compact and you will not walk off the field. I told them this because this is what my coaches used to tell me.
In October, you wear shoulder pads so when you hurt other people you don’t feel a thing. You wish you could wear your equipment everywhere.
By your Varsity year, you can count on your one hand how many players you are friends with on the team. With each hit, you pray the windowpane behind your face mask shatters. Coaches tell you, above all else, leave everything on the field come
September. Coaches will also say if you are looking down you will not make the tackle. At fourteen, I am realizing that this is flat out bullshit. Coaches say if I continue to “spear” other players that I am not going to walk off the field. At fifteen, I am taking this as reassurance. God knows how many times I had my skull bashed in that
August. I am at my team’s award ceremony and am being called up to receive Most Valuable Defensive Player. Next year is Junior Varsity and I am going to be team captain. Everyone is clapping in the heat of
July, a month filled with unbearable migraines. They begin with the appearance of a halo after I make contact: a halo is a visual smear that is similar to the effect of staring at the sun for too long—This would be followed by procedural numbing from my arms to my face to my legs and torso until I feel nothing. The car crash collision of head-to-head contact echoes into
When putting on one’s neck-strap becomes the placing of the noose around your neck and
When the kickoff becomes the kicking of the stool from out underneath you and
When the snap of the football becomes the snapping of your cervical spine in two.
When this happens your three-point stance has long been you peering off the edge of a cliff waiting because
Maybe the pigskin will fly and descend into the arms of our Slot Back Receiver as you touchdown into the Earth. And the halos from before will become the halos of angels as they move from the sideline and into the end zone to lift you up. The crowd will cheer with remorse and cry with joy in the stands, their stomping on the bleachers your swan song.
So this is what it feels like to leave everything on the field. [Deep breath]
April is an alarm, April is when you realize that there is a lot more to life than four quarters, April is when you realize you don’t want to end up dead like the Junior Varsity player who killed himself when you were just a Freshman. Remember how you recoiled when you heard they were burying him in his uniform. So I
March off the field and confront my coach. I am not playing my senior year. I remember shaking as the words came out of my mouth, it felt like treason. But my coach understood. There was almost relief that I wasn’t going back on that field.
February is when I call my old Pop Warner football coach and ask if I can help out next year.
January of last year I found this letter:
Just a note to say Thank You for helping with the team this year. We appreciate your dedication and commitment to the boys. They all looked up to you. Thanks again! Mitey Mite Gray Parents