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Playing

July 20, 2022

(after endless editing)

During the season, football practices were of two types: the long, hot preseason variety, lasting about three weeks, where endless technique drills were balanced by endless input of schemes, offense and defense as we were a tiny team. Once the season began, there was about ten weeks of regular practices,five days a week after the school day – less running, starters and subs chosen, less terror.

In those preseason three-hour sessions, everyone played against everyone in many positions as the coaches wanted to see who could do what. In my sophomore year, our great receiver, who went in to play in college, was running a simple hook pass route, I was playing linebacker for reasons that eluded me, but I knew what he was running, so when his 6-2 frame turned and he leapt to snag the ball at the peak of his jump, I had dropped back just enough to be able to launch into him from behind, hard. He did not like the contact, and ripped back his elbow into by 1966 face mask that offered no resistance. Fifty years later, my left front tooth is still lagging an 1/8 of an inch behind the right.

In those summer practice days I would often have a summer cold, and would uncontrollably blow my nose upon contact, not a good thing for an underclassman hitting a senior. So, I went to the drug store and got “Privine” and emptied three stoppers from the little bottle into each nostril on the bus up to practice. The results were instant, and unexpected: first, no mucus. But then there was no feeling of any kind in my entire head. And a fully racing heartbeat. I then read the instructions: “Maximum Dose Three Drops Per Nostril” I think I overdosed by a factor of 10X the limit: I felt no pain that day, had a great practice, terrified myself and never touched “Privine” again.

Practice happened in all weather. Hailstones were delightful in their sound against our helmets. Playing in snow was hilariously fun in the wild sliding on the ground below. Even mud was joyous in the soft explosions created when bodies are thrown into it. Thunderstorms happened too. And lightning. After one such practice, a bunch of us were leaving the locker room. We then overheard a car radio announce “Four high school football players were killed by lightning in Texas this afternoon when huddling up asthunderstorms poured during practice.” Great.

We never were allowed a drink of water during practices, as it “built character” to be dehydrated. Butthere were salt pills offered, that most assuredly had bad implications in the wrong conditions. But nobody died. 

Anything that deviated from the grind of practices was delightful. One 1970 August a white van was parked next to the practice field. At one moment, three men opened the van rear doors and brought out white buckets, dumped newly opened plastic bags of powder into them. They then began filling the buckets with water from the hose next to the field.

For the first time ever, Coach yelled “TIME OUT – Everybody have a drink, from the bucket!” We gladlygot in line; the water had turned the sunbaked hot hose water a bright yellow green. Any liquid was better than no liquid and we drank. The water tasted like salt, a lot of salt, and something.

I looked down at the buckets. They had black lettering printed upon them, reading “University of Florida Athletics”. Later, we learned that our connected coach, knew someone who knew someone who wanted to test a way to hydrate their football team, the University of Florida Gators. The bright yellow-green salty stuff was later called “Gatorade” – and we did not die testing for their team.

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