Friday Night Lights
● By Wendy Sipple
Illustration by Kale Mendonca
High school football starts this month, and I can’t help but think back to my high school playing days. As much as I’d prefer not to.
I only played one season. Freshman team. My buddies talked me into it, convincing me it would be fun. Looking back, they only wanted me because tackling dummies don’t roll around and moan after they’ve been T-boned in the open field. I should have known it wasn’t a good idea when my dad looked me in the eyes the morning of the first practice and said “...are you sure you want to do this?”
It didn’t help that I had no actual muscle mass to speak of. Hitting me was no more challenging than vigorously folding a lawn chair. And even if I was physically capable of hard tackles myself, I lacked the requisite killer instinct: Instead of trying to deliver hits that caused concussions and fear, I would just sort of latch on and cling, hoping the guy with the ball eventually took the hint.
There was one play that defined my football career. We were getting killed, so I was in…at safety. Safety is usually a position for fast kids. I think I was put there because it also gives slow guys a good 15-yard cushion on anybody coming their way. Well, on this play the guy coming my way was Joe Obert. My schoolmates and I had played against Joe Obert since flag football in elementary school. In sixth grade he was already about 8’10”. He was bigger now. All day long it had taken four or five kids to bring him down, like hyenas on a water buffalo.
On this particular play, he caught a short pass on the sideline and began rumbling in my direction. I watched in horror as our backup cornerback got in his way and met the same fate as a moth versus a truck grill. At that moment, I realized nobody else was trying very hard to catch him and the last player between him and the goal line was myself. My first impulse was to run away, head towards the far sideline and keep going ’til I got home and crawled under my bed. My second was to soil myself. But then I thought, NO! Dammit, just once, I was going to do something BOLD. So, against every fiber of my being, I ran at Joe Obert.
Like a hobo hopping a train, I latched onto his thigh around the 15-yard line. At the 10, I felt like a koala bear on a eucalyptus tree in a hurricane. By the five, I was losing my grip. Then suddenly, surprisingly, Joe Obert either took the hint, or he stumbled. Either way, he began to topple, like a candy machine that some moron shook a little too hard. Only I was the moron and the candy machine was crashing straight down on me. As it did, I rolled on my back, just in time to see Joe Obert’s massive butt hurtling towards me. Nanoseconds later, it impacted my face. As I lay in a black, Dutch-oven silence, I tasted blood. At least, I hoped it was blood.
It was. His crushing weight had shattered my facemask, cutting my cheek. After what seemed an eternity, Joe Obert rose. As his back-end ascended, the sky reappeared, and it never looked so blue. I was elated to be alive and proud, too, for single-handedly I had brought down the beast. That we were now five yards inside the end zone didn’t matter. At that moment, I was no longer Tom. I was David. I had slain Goliath. And I promised myself – from that moment on – I would concentrate on basketball. •
Catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1; or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.