The good news — if I may speak for myself alone — is that there will not be a football game on Sunday. Of any kind. The better news is that the gridiron will be silent until August.
Still, there was a time when the rascals of my youth played the game with considerable zest, and all for the moment of a single afternoon. We played it, yes, just for the fun of it. Back in the day: When I was on the fabled corner lot playing football, all too many years ago.
We had no helmets — which accounts for the twitches and periodic lapses we have in these times — let alone pads, cleats, mascots and cheering sections. And more importantly, we had no clock. We stopped playing when somebody kicked the football through the window of my dad’s office window of the house that bordered our playing field, or when Bill the Bully said we could stop — even though my brother and I owned the ball.
Corner or sandlot football was like that. There were no lines or other markers, so for us the goals were the sidewalk at the south end of the lot and the small pine trees at the opposite end. In four downs you had to get to either the pine trees or to the sidewalk, depending on which team you were on, or if you got totally confused and ran the wrong way. That actually happened a few times.
And numbers on the jerseys? In the first place, no one wore a jersey, with the possible exception of a kid named Donnie who might show up with one he lifted from the high school locker room (True story: Donnie actually became the town post office supervisor, which eventually led to his arrest for adding social security checks — someone else’s — to his own bank account, following which he did time in the slammer.). If someone had gone the extra step of adding his name to the back, he’d have been laughed out of town.
On the sidelines, the only spectator on hand was Robbie’s dog, Heidi, who occasionally joined in the play. Very nasty blocker.
Scoring was the province of someone who not only could count but could also remember . At any point in the game, one guy would ask the Unofficial Scorer what the said score was, which always led to arguments. Was it 49 to 14 or 42 to 21? Or did Frank step out-of-bounds on that last play? With no referees, the decision was a matter of consensus, to say nothing of the vagaries of boundaries (which side of which sidewalk were we talking about?).
The score was always in multiples of seven, since we had no means (or imagination) of adding extra points (no goal posts, right?).
But still, it was fun. All the camaraderie and so forth. Plus, nobody ever got hurt, mainly because we played touch football, just like, but not because, the Kennedys did. If you applied the two-handed tag, you yelled “I gotcha,” and your integrity was usually replied upon. A single paw upon a single butt was insufficient. Flag football? To our knowledge it had not been invented, or else no one wanted to supply the flags.
As far as going to a higher level, we reasoned that if we got into tackling one another there could be noticeable breakage here and there that could lead to much wailing and fist-fights, to say nothing of heading back to the house — and mom — with torn shirts or ripped pants. It just was not worth it, we decided, the glory notwithstanding.
Foul weather was never a deterrent. Give a kid a chance to heroically carry a football through massive puddles and general mud and score the winning — temporarily — touchdown and he’ll plunge in with a smile.
And in the end — or at the end — we concluded play when it got too dark to see the ball.
Further, we stopped playing football on the corner lot when the first snowstorm arrived in late October or early November. That, we all agreed, was when God wanted people to stop kicking a ball around a vacant lot. It was also the moment in the change of seasons when God declared that people so inclined should seek the safety and comfort of a large inside room and heave a large round ball through a basket.
If you were out there on the corner doing things with a football in December, let alone January or February, your mom would not call you in on time for dinner, you had no friends, and people pointed at you in cars as they drove down the street.
Besides, by that time I, for one, would already be thinking about spring and baseball.