Last night my 13 year old nephew telephoned. He attends a small church school in southern Arkansas. He called to advise me that his school team won the basketball championship of their conference, in a whirlwind tournament weekend involving some four games played in fairly quick succession over two days.
I remembered my own single moment of championship triumph,when I was only a year or two older than my nephew's current age.
My junior high football team, the formidable Gurdon Go Devils, won the district junior high championship in a playoff with
the rival Nashville Scrappers.
My role in this season of success might not qualify as "key". I was a backup center for the squad, who mainly got to play during kickoffs and kirkoff returns, the phase of the game called "special teams". Yet in the big championship game, I became the starting center, because the regular center suffered a minor back injury.
As starting center, I managed to hike the ball well, delivering it so that it could be easily grasped. Then I headed into the defensive line to try to block. My memory is that my life at this endeavor was nasty, brutish, and short, as a rather large linebacker in the center of the field routinely reached out a forearm and brought my blocking efforts to naught.
Even elevated to the lofty status of starting center, there was one thing I could not do. I never got the hang of those long snaps a center must make to the punter or to the fellow who holds the ball during points after touchdown kicks. We had in place a contingency plan for such situations. The regular kicker would limp onto the field and handle those snaps.
Our team struggled mightily but not in vain to erase a 6 points to zero deficit, and score the tying touchdown. Resplendent in our purple and gold uniforms, we needed only an extra point to clinch the lead. At this point, the regular starter should have come onto the field and snapped the ball. The only problem was that he did not.
With hindsight, I do not know why I did not go off the field, which would have no doubt coaxed him onto the field. But I do know that I found myself crouched over the ball, seeking to snap the ball some six or seven feet to the quarterback, who was to hold the ball for the point after.
The game film tells the story. I hike the ball. Rather than flying in a crisp spiral, directly back to the holder, it
instead loops in a rather stylish end-over-end, travelings with molasses-slow spectacle to its destination. The ball
lands in the holder's hands at last, as a swarm of defenders encircle the kicker. Hands fly up in the air, mere feet from the kicker. By a miracle, the ball sails between the outstretched hands,and the kick is good.
I have never forgotten that my day of championship narrowly averted a day of ignominy. I have come to realize that is part of the way of things. I wish I had that game film, to show my winning hike. I wish that my purple-and-gold letter jacket still fit. But I do not wish to relive ninth grade, with its frights and narrow escapes.
My goodness. That has been 34 years ago.