I was born during the Great Depression. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born and my father left home when I was very young. By the age of 8 I had become a juvenile delinquent and was caught stealing from local merchants and was nearly sent off to reform school. Luckily, the local constable, a family friend, intervened on my behalf. He counseled me about the evils of stealing and reminded me of the shame and hardship I had brought upon my wonderful mother. My days as a thief were over right then.
Longing for a male role model I'd never had, I looked up to any baseball player wearing a New York Yankee's uniform or any football player at the local high school.The school had a reputation for producing great football players and it was my dream to become one of them. So when I was old enough, I joined the team. Unfortunately, I was small (5 feet 8 inches and 160 pounds), a slow runner, and suffered from a shoulder injury that had never healed properly. I was also shy and a poor student. I guess in the eyes of most people, I didn't have much going for me.
When I reached my junior year, I was nearly expelled from the team for bad grades. Not wanting to lose my eligibility to play, I buckled down and developed better study habits. In fact, I ended up making the honor role, and by my senior year had managed to play well enough to be a second-string guard and linebacker on the varsity team.
At the beginning of my senior year, the coach named me to the first-string varsity. I was the smallest and youngest interior lineman on the team and still a slow runner, and I knew that the coach favored bigger players who could run faster than me. On the second day of practice, I was moved back to the second team. The next day I was moved back to the third team and was so depressed that I told the coach that I was quitting the team and walked off the field.
When I reached the locker room, I threw my helmet against the wall, sat on a bench, and cried. I was 16 years old and my boyhood dreams had ended. I didn't know how to get any bigger, faster or heal my injured shoulder. I began to think about quitting school.
A few minutes later, the coach came and sat down beside me. I assured him that I could do better and he relented and told me that I would be back on the second team the next day, and that's where I began the season.
Late in the season, we had our most important game of the year against our biggest rival. Unfortunately, we lost, but several of the opposing players complimented my play and said their coach had spent the entire half time trying to find a way to stop me.
My coach asked me to come to his office and I thought maybe he blamed me for our loss. Instead, he told me that the opposing coach called me the best defensive player he had seen in 10 years. I was a very proud young man, indeed.
As a result of my football accomplishments, my confidence and popularity with my classmates improved considerably. Our high school had its annual Sadie Hawkins dance, where the girls ask a boy to the dance. My good luck continued, because the prettiest girl in school asked me to take her. I didn't know it then, but time would prove that I had finally found the role model of a lifetime.
After graduating from high school, I suffered a back injury playing football for our high school alumni team and discovered that I had been born with scoliosis. I probably shouldn't have been playing football at all.
I went on to college and then on to a career in accounting. I finally retired after managing a tax program for the state of California. Upon retirement from state service, I received a commendation from both houses of the California legislature. Not bad for a small kid with a bum shoulder.
And by the way, that pretty girl I took to the Sadie Hawkins dance? Many of our classmates thought she would go on to become a movie star. Instead, she chose to become the leading lady in my life. We have now been happily married for more than 50 years and she is still beautiful.
Thomas Edison once said that invention is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Fair enough. However, when it comes to sports, I believe that the opposite is true. People who say that football is just a game, should look to my life for a different answer. To me, it's a lot more than a game. It's a love story.