The Horse Collar and the Spiral – A Football Story

By Paul Pate

This is my high school football team. If you know me, see if you can find me. The rest of these guys make up a group of coaches and players that came together for a few months in the fall of 1986 and gave me one of the best experiences of my life. It isn’t because I had any glorious Friday night moments or anything like that. I wasn’t even very good and I was too fragile to be playing such a rough sport. It was because I was part of a great team. I had some great coaches and even greater teammates. I was just telling my daughter the other day, I don’t know why her teammates are on the soccer team. But, when I played sports it was awesome to be able to come together as a team, where everybody has to contribute and be their best. At the end of a game or the season my teammates and I could look each other dead in the eye and know with absolute certainty that we gave everything we had. Our team wasn’t the best. But, we were pretty good and we beat a lot of teams we weren’t supposed to. We achieved greatness in our little world. If my daughter can have even a little bit of that, she’ll be a better person for it and I’ll consider that a win.

    Football is tough. It is physically and mentally demanding. It brings out your character when you’re trying to get through a grueling week of practice. You really get to know your teammates well. Too well. You are like family. You love one another, but you also fight. This is football and it makes for a lot of great stories. Man! I got a bunch of ‘em. There’s my best childhood friend James (#51). He was the nerdiest, dorkiest little kid. He got into football and transformed into one of the strongest and best players and finest human beings I’ve ever met. There’s Frankie (#42). I guess you could say he was our version of Rudy. Tony (#30), our 140 pound nose tackle, who’s presence on the gridiron was nothing short of incredible. Mike (#40) was the most handsome and charming dude ever. But, when he put a hit on you, you’d feel it for a week. Sheesh! He was violent. Stuckey (#32) was our best player. He was physically amazing, but also hilarious. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll get to the point.

    One of my favorite football stories comes from a practice we were having. We were “going light” at the time. That means we were just running through our plays and formations without hitting or tackling. It is just so everybody knows where to go and where to be. The defenders were holding these big pads they were supposed to sorta punch you with to simulate a tackle. I was carrying the ball by one of the defenders who happened to be Bowen (#88). This guy grew up playing basketball. He was very tall and lanky and a great basketball player. Our senior year he filled out and decided he wanted to try his hand at football. Now, he’s not only tall, he’s giant, full of muscles, and a great football player. He also happens to be a super nice guy with a huge, easy smile. But, on this day he wasn’t in such a good mood. I mean, it benefits you to be in a bad mood when you’re on the football field.

    I must have done something earlier in our practice to irritate Bowen. I don’t know for sure. I was probably trying too hard or something. Anyway, he let me run right by without popping me with his pad. That was nice of him, right? Not so much. He let me run by so he could horse collar me. That’s when you grab a guy by the back of his shoulder pads and whip him on the ground. I must have looked like one of those raggedy Andy dolls as my feet flew up in the air and I landed on my back. I usually don’t get mad about too many things, but I was pissed. When I got up, Bowen was already walking away. I had a pretty decent arm at the time. I whipped a perfect spiral that nailed him square in the back of the helmet.

He turned around.

    There are those times in your life when you think, why did I do that? This was one of those for sure. I clearly remember thinking at the time that I was too young to die. But, it was time to face the music. Here he was, walking at me with more than enough strength to rip my arms off or snap my neck. Whatever he felt like doing. It was then that Stuckey and a few other giant guys stepped in and stopped me from whipping Bowen’s ass that day. Haha.

    The thing is, I don’t know if Bowen or any of my other teammates even remember that. Stuff like that happened all the time. Maybe they don’t remember this story, but I can guarantee you they have stories of their own. Chances are, they’re telling them to their uninterested kids right now. It’s football. We’re too old to be playing these days. But we love being around it, even if it’s just pretend.

Buzz on, MFers!

Paul

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