Wednesday, June 19, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 15

Santa Maria Sun / Humor

The following article was posted on November 9th, 2011, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 12, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 12, Issue 36

Football hooligans

Time on the bench is time on the team


Back in high school, in my “glory days,” I played football. I didn’t do this because I particularly liked the game. I did it for one simple 16-year-old boy reason: Girls didn’t like soccer players.

I spent my whole childhood playing soccer, kicking a ball around a grassy field, feeling free-spirited and somewhat European. I had a poster of Pele on my wall, and I really thought I was a part of something cool. After all, soccer is the “world’s sport.” My viewpoint changed when I went to high school and realized cheerleaders didn’t attend soccer games. In their defense, it would be difficult to finish a cheer about defense, or maybe offense, or defense again while the ball is being kicked back and forth between the two teams in a matter of a few seconds.

During my freshman year, I realized the football players were hogging all the cute girls at my school, while the soccer players weren’t getting any love. So, I figured, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I tried out to be the football team’s kicker. It seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. How hard could it really be? I had been doing almost nothing except kicking a ball for 10 years straight. At the tryouts, I realized (unfortunately, in front of the coaches) I couldn’t kick the football up high enough to get it over the field-goal posts. There were just too many summers of soccer camp, which trained me to keep the ball low when I kicked it so it would go into a goal.

I attempted to get some height out of the football a few more times, but habits are hard to break, and I was really struggling. Instead of asking someone on the football team what the trick was to kicking a field goal, I just decided it was the ball’s fault (the shape was stupid—balls are supposed to be round). The coaches weren’t impressed with my kicking skills, but they did see that I could run pretty fast as I hustled back and forth picking up the funny-shaped ball that never went over the goal post.

“Do you think you can catch the ball?” they asked me. “We can make you a wide receiver.”

“Catch it with my hands?” I asked.

“Yes, catch the ball with your hands. The quarterback will throw it to you.”

“I don’t know. I spent my whole life not touching a soccer ball with my hands, but I guess I could try.”

I ran a few wide-receiver routes, and the quarterback threw the ball at me like a shotgun. He was quite an athlete and was able to hit me smack in the head with that football over and over again. I would put my hands up in an attempt to catch the ball, but my timing was way off, and the ball would just drill me in the noggin. The first day I didn’t catch that damn ball once. I guess the coaches felt bad for me, because they kept me on the team. Maybe they just enjoyed watching me get hit in the head during practice. I think I provided them with some comic relief during hot afternoons on the field. I didn’t care what they thought; I was just happy to be on the team. I got to wear my football jersey on Fridays at school, and on Friday night I kept the bench warm for the rest of the team, just in case they got tired playing football and needed a place to sit. Turned out they never did get tired, and thus I never played in a single game my junior year on the varsity team.

The good news was the cheerleaders didn’t really pay attention to the actual game of football, and they didn’t seem to notice that I never left the sidelines and didn’t need to shower after the games. They just saw that I had a letterman jacket with a football logo on it, and before Christmas that year, I had two girlfriends, one on each side of town (this was before Facebook and “in a relationship” status updates that can be seen by the entire digital world). The two girlfriends were way more than I ever had as a soccer player. In fact, I had more girlfriends at that point than every member of the soccer team combined.

My senior year was a lot like my junior year: lots of girlfriends and lots of time warming the bench. The only difference was I became a part of “special teams,” which is the coaches’ way of saying, “You’re not really that good at this sport, but since your parents come to every game and they expect to see you play eventually, if the score is in our favor, we’ll put you in and tell you to run down the field and tackle anybody who has the ball.” I loved special teams. I got to be on the field a minimum of once a game, and if I was strategic about the way I tackled somebody, I could try to get a grass stain on my uniform. And if I was somehow lucky enough to get some green color smeared on my perfectly white uniform pants, I wore that grass stain like a patch of honor.

Even though I wasn’t a high school football star (far from it), I still got to stand under those Friday night lights, hear the roar of the crowd as my team and I ran out onto the field, listen to the band play our school song, and, most importantly, hang around the cheerleaders. Being a part of that experience, as one of the gladiators in the coliseum, is a real part of Americana. It is something I will never forget. It is something my wife, whom I love, will never forget either, because any chance I get I will go on and on about my glory days as a high school football player (maybe the word “player” is being thrown around too loosely here, since I didn’t really play, just warmed the bench. I’ll just generalize it and say “I was on the football team”). My wife has never been impressed. She told me that in high school, she liked the soccer players.

Rob still has a framed photo of his football team hanging in his garage. His own wife and kids laugh at him behind his back.

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