Football is back! The games are on television and I’ve seen quite a few people either playing football or just tossing a football around. Around here, this time of the year is perfect for being outside and doing something. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. You can work up a bit of a sweat, but not have your shirt soaked through. If you’re not much of a doer, there’s nothing like watching football on a Sunday afternoon, hanging out with friends or family and eating some good food.
Football was big in my neighborhood growing up. When we only had a few guys we played out in the street, two-hand touch, from telephone pole to telephone pole, and the defense had to count to 5-Mississippi before they could rush the quarterback. You would think that counting to 5-Mississippi would be simple, but not much was with those guys. There were the guys who made up their own language when they counted (1missippi2missippi3missippi4missippi5missippi). I still haven’t found Missippi on a map. There were guys who rushed the quarterback when they got to the five in 5-Mississippi instead of after saying the full
. There were the guys who counted silently when you were supposed to count out loud, yelled “5-MISSISSIPPI!” after about 2.5 seconds and then rushed the quarterback. Mississippi
Sometimes we made up first down markers, like you had to get past the tree in the front yard of our house or past the front walkway of the neighbor’s house across the street. Once you got past that mark, we chose another. Or sometimes we played that if you completed a pass, the down stayed the same. You could theoretically drive the length of the field, going 2 feet at a time, all the while being on first down. The shorter the pass, the better chance of actually catching it, so sometimes people would try to sneak in a pass that was behind the line of scrimmage, but the rule was that the receiver had to be over it to be considered a complete pass.
Of course there were always the arguments over whether the guy got you with one hand or two. There were some kids who would swear on their mother’s grave that you didn’t tag them with both hands and sometimes it just wasn’t worth the argument. But just to make sure they didn’t do it again, they just might get tagged a little extra roughly the next time he caught the ball. There were some kids who would lie or cheat in order to win so there were always arguments, ranging from the 5-Mississippi rule, to whether a pass was complete or not, to whether you tagged them with both hands. Amazingly, I don’t remember any games breaking out into actual fights. You argued your side, made your point and then we moved on for the good of the game.
When we had a larger number of kids to play, we went to a field at the beginning of the cemetery at the end of our street and played tackle football. No, we didn’t play amongst the graves. The front part of the cemetery was actually very nice. It had the field we played football on, some nice trees, a couple of ponds we played hockey on in the winter and people fished in during the other months, and a small hill that kids went sledding on in the winter. The graves started beyond the ponds and never bothered any of us – except at night, when we weren’t supposed to be in the cemetery at all. So we’d have our big game and we all got dirty, some of us got slightly hurt and a few of us lost our shirts. I remember a few of my friends going home and getting yelled at for the condition of their clothes and themselves, but hey, this is football, not badminton!
A highlight of the games, whether two-hand touch in the street or tackle in the cemetery, was after playing for a few hours we’d pool our money, go to the Sunoco station and buy sodas for everybody. If we had enough money, we shared some candy bars, too. Isn’t it funny how you could be beating each other up, getting into heated arguments and swearing you would never play with that kid again, and then you’d get a Mountain Dew or a Pepsi and all was forgotten? Now that I think about it, there were times we didn’t have enough money for each of us to have a soda so we shared those, too. Without straws. And none of us died.
If you want to get out of the house this weekend and not have to do yard work, go play some football. A little three-on-three, two-hand touch is great exercise. Us older guys aren’t as quick as we used to be, or as limber, so take it easy on us. But please, don’t be that guy who always says you only got him with one hand. You just may get unexpectedly jacked up!