SideLines: The siren song of glory days

When I was on my high school football team, I played tight end, and not very well. I usually got into the last few minutes of games when I couldn’t do anything to jeopardize the outcome.

Nevertheless, we had a play named after me. It was called “Look-in to Oleson.” Essentially, I went downfield about five yards or so, then cut over the middle for a quick pass. Even when it worked, it was only good for a short gain at best.

I think Coach Romes devised it because he was secretly hoping I’d quit. The few times he called it, the middle linebacker, who could always see it coming, always tried to plant my brains into the turf.

Late in one game, Scott Gocken, our quarterback, called my play. As I started my route, not only the middle linebacker but the outside linebacker and a couple of his buddies all started zeroing in on me. Not being the dumbest player on the field, I faked inside, then sprinted around them. All alone in the open, only a few yards from the end zone, a simple pass was all I needed to get my first – and only – high school touchdown. It was a dream come true.

Well, almost.

Scott, you see, played about as often and as well as I did. To this day, on very bad nights, I can still see that stupid ball sailing over my head in an otherwise perfect spiral. Instead of a moment of glory, which would have assured me of a hot date to homecoming, I was left with that haunting vision.

I have long since gotten over it. I doubt if Scott, whom I haven’t seen in decades, even remembers. But if I hadn’t and he did, there’s a chance we might redeem ourselves.

A California man has started Gridiron Alumni, which sets up full-contact football games between old high school rivals, such as Sycamore and DeKalb. Games are played by high school rules. If there’s interest, he’s hoping to host a game in this area in August.

Gridiron Alumni is an idea that, depending on your age and health, is appealing and ridiculous at the same time. I’m too old, too out of shape and too far removed from such things to be interested. But I can see how someone who really loves the game and has kept in shape might be tempted. Most who play are between 25 and 35, although some are in their 50s. Reliving old athletic glory, I think, is a guy thing, similar maybe to a woman wishing she’d worn a different outfit to a special event.

I can see the game going over. If Sycamore, for instance, could get a team together, who wouldn’t like to see legendary coach Pete Johnson roaming the sideline one last time?

Someone once said the saddest thing about sports is seeing an athlete die young. I think they were referring to how short an athlete’s career is. That’s especially true of high school athletics.

University of Illinois football coach Robert Zupke once moaned to a group of seniors that by the time they truly understood how to play the game, they graduated. One of his listeners was a young George Halas, who was so inspired he helped form the National Football League.

Most guys have a little voice in the back of their heads, whispering, even daring them to do things they maybe shouldn’t. It’s the spirit that drives some to step into the ring for a Toughman Competition, or to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, or to jump out of an airplane when they’re 90, like my neighbor did last year. For many others, that whisper is drowned out by a much larger sound resonating in the front of their heads.

Call it common sense if you want, or maybe something else, like the voice of their wife.

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