It was the summer of 1965 and I was looking forward to one thing, the start of football. I had never played what I considered real football in my life; full pad, tackle football. I had played plenty of sandlot ball, backyard games, made up games, and even one year of organized flag football, but never the real deal, full blown game of organized, pad wearing American football. You see, I was going into high school now and this was my first opportunity to play real football. In ’65 where I grew up, there was no youth football; you just waited for high school. Well, high school was here, baby, and I was ready.
In July my mom took me in for my high school physical that would double as my football physical. The only thing I remember is that I weighed 85 pounds. Yes, 85 pounds! That meant nothing to me; I had always been small but had held my own in any sport I had ever tried. I was confident I could play. I loved contact, tackling, ball carrying, catching, blocking, strategy, anything about football-you name it, I loved it.
Finally, the day came when we picked up our equipment. Everything was a little big but I could handle it. Then came time to get my shoes and helmet. The school issued shoes, we couldn’t buy them. To my dismay, no shoes fit me. They were all too big. OK, no big deal, I thought. I can play in my tennis shoes. Then I went to try on helmets. They were all way too big. There was no way I could wear one. I had no helmet and no shoes and practice started the next day. Heck, I had even hit a growth spurt. I was up to 94 lbs. the day we picked up equipment. The coaches didn’t seem too concerned about my dilemma and simply said they would see what they could do to get me a helmet and shoes.
The next day we began practice and I was the only one of 70 freshmen that had no helmet. I wasn’t worried about shoes. Otherwise, I was in full gear. As soon as warm-ups and agilities were over I was told to get out of the drills, sit on the side, and watch. I wasn’t allowed to participate in the rest of practice without a helmet. This went on for two weeks. Now, you might be wondering, “What did your parents say”? Well, I never told them. I saw no reason to tell them and parents back then didn’t come watch practice, they were working. Dad was at the foundry and mom was at home taking care of my brothers and sister. So, after two weeks, I figured it was time to quit. I was tired and frustrated with doing warm-ups then going to sit down and watch the rest of practice. I could see this was going to last the entire season since I certainly wasn’t a star that they needed on the field. So, one afternoon when school was out, I just went home. That was that, or so I thought.
About 5:30 my Dad came home. He said, “What are you doing at home?” I replied that I had quit and explained the reason why. I thought I had a pretty good reason and he was going to tell me how unfairly I had been treated. Wrong. “So you’re going to be a quitter, huh?” I wasn’t getting much sympathy. I started to explain the situation again since he obviously didn’t hear me correctly the first time. “C’mon,” he said, “we’re going to school.” I followed him to the car; we got in, and drove to school. Nothing was said. We got to school and walked to the coach’s office. Dad knocked on the open door, and we went in. Most of the coaches were old veterans, older than my Dad. They knew him since he had attended the same high school. They had their feet up and were just shooting’ the breeze, probably talking football. Now, you have to understand something about my Dad. He would have never caused trouble with teachers and coaches, that wasn’t his way. Both of my parents had taught me to respect my teachers and that the teacher was always right. However, my Dad was the ultimate man’s man and the coaches also respected HIM. Not to brag on my Dad but the fact was that he was one of the most respected boxers to come out of the city. That was fact. Actually, many old timers considered him to be perhaps the very best, toughest to come out of Peoria ever. The coaches DID NOT think he came to beat them up. Heck, they were tough guys too. But they did respect him. Well, as we walked in, Dad said, “Hi men.” They immediately took their feet down and did a little scrambling. They gave Dad a gracious, slightly nervous welcome. “What can we do for you, Oscar?” the head coach said. Dad looked at me. “He needs a helmet. Can you guys get that taken care of?” That’s all Dad said. They assured him it would be taken care of.
On the way home Dad gave me the talk about not quitting. As I recall it went like this. “You can’t quit whenever things get tough. If you start something, you have to finish it. What are you going to do when you’re married someday and you’ve got 3 or 4 kids at home and things get really tough? You going to quit on them too? Once you start quitting things, it starts to become easier to quit each time. You can’t quit.”
The very next day I had my own helmet. I learned that the coaches got it from another high school in town. It fit perfect but it was the wrong color. “Can we get it painted?” I asked. They shook their heads, laughed and yelled at me to get my butt out to practice. I did, and finished out the season. I’ve never forgotten that lesson. Thanks Dad.
Thanks to www.chiefpigskin.com for letting me share this story.