My glory days were but one glorious moment, but it launched one of the greatest post-football careers in high school history.
Illustration by Deanna Staffo
I was a buff, 70-pound center on a 10- and 11-year-old, 95-pound limit football squad. And as the only member capable of deep-centering the ball on punts, I was invaluable. (We had to punt a lot.) Since 70 pounds was the minimum weight, I had to eat several bananas at weigh-in in order to tip the scales.
My team was driving for the championship that season, but we had one piece of business to dispose of before we could tip those scales: the Violet Hornets.
The team was led by a speed merchant named Luigi, who ranged from 10 years old to 18, depending on the league and the birth certificate he needed to produce. The fact that Luigi shaved and could buy beer using his driver’s license was conveniently overlooked by league administrators. “If Luigi gets outside,” coach warned us before the game, “no one is gonna catch him.”
A two-way player, my position on defense was deep safety. The team hoped that would mean I was too far from the fray to have to tackle anyone and risk injury. But from the vantage of the Violet Hornets, I was the last line of defense against a Luigi breakaway.
Late in the second half of a scoreless game, the feared Luigi took a pitch and broke free. The only thing between him and the goal line was me, which was more or less the same as saying that the only thing between Luigi and the goal line was nothing.
I took off in hot pursuit anyway, running an angle that had me catch Luigi around the 30-yard line. Since this was going to be my first tackle, I wanted it to be a memorable one, so I took a flying leap and landed right on Luigi’s back. Then…nothing. Luigi kept on running, swatting at me like I was a June bug. He didn’t even grunt.
I had to think of something quick. I was afraid that if I tried to drop to his legs, Luigi would shed me like a drop of sweat. But we were getting closer to the goal line.
Then it happened. Luigi’s knees began to buckle. My 70-pound frame had become a burden, and Luigi weakened. He began to huff and puff, and his gait slowed to a stagger. Inside the 10-yard line, he finally collapsed in a heap, like a mortally wounded buffalo. I laid atop him as his chest heaved, noticing that, after all his exertion, I could still smell his after-shave.
It turned out to be a game-saving tackle. The contest ended in a scoreless tie, which preserved our undefeated season and a championship trophy.
Every one of my teammates came dashing up at the end of Luigi’s run, wanting to know who tackled him. Glad to learn it was me, who was more than light enough to carry, I was lifted high upon their shoulders, then tossed about like a beach ball until I became slightly nauseated.
My football career ended a couple of seasons later, when, as a high school freshman, I took one look at the junior varsity squad and realized there weren’t enough bananas in all of South America to help me make the jump into that weight class. I settled for being the only four-year president of the Projector Club in school history.
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