It almost seems like Mother Nature knew it was coming. The pleasant days and cool evenings she has provided lately felt like a harbinger of the approaching football season that is now upon us, and all is better in my world.
I have no idea when I first touched a football, but I assume I was quite young. I know that by the time I was 18 months old my dad had me shooting hoops inside the house on a regular basketball rim he nailed to a wall, and my mom has often said that my siblings and I didn’t need many toys when we were young, because all she had to do was give us a ball and we were happy.
So, I figure I had a football in my hands long before I was a year old.
I do not know when I decided that football was my favorite sport. But it may have been when I was around kindergarten age and my dad would take us to Hillsboro games. When we got home, one of my brothers and I would play our own football games in the living room, each of us emulating kids we knew on the team that went to church with us. Sometimes were even dressed for the occasion in whatever football garb we had.
For the record, I had old gold (that’s a color) football pants, a green and yellow jersey, and a red, white and blue helmet.
While I played football both years in junior high, I did not play in high school. But I don’t think it would be a stretch of the imagination to say that I probably played as much football as anyone I went to school with.
That included both inside and outside the house.
There were times when we visited a church family that had several boys and a large upstairs bedroom with lots of beds. A time or two we lined the beds up side by side and played football across them. Around the same time, when it was cold outside, we played similar inside games with cousins during family get togethers.
When my youngest brother — 10 years my junior — got old enough to understand the game, we started playing indoor football games with him. The living room couch was the end zone. Usually, it was me and my brother closest to me in age against the younger brother. The younger one was almost always on offense, trying to reach the couch for a touchdown. We did not cut him much slack in trying to get there, often planning our hits out in advance. We’d toss the ball to him, then as he headed for the end zone one of us would hit him high, and the other one low, making it as much fun for ourselves as we could with hurting the little brother — or at least not too much.
Later, when my own kids came along, I played the same game with them. I don’t think my wife appreciated our rough use of the couch much, but she knew we were having fun and never really complained.
In our free time growing up, we were almost always playing some kind of sport. More often that not it was football. We’d race home from school, dash in the house and through our books wherever they fell. And every day, without fail and because we were always in rush, we were reminded by our mother to change into clothes that were more appropriate for football than the ones we wore to school.
When we got tired of the field in our backyard, sometimes we’d meet up with other kids at other locations and play wherever anyone would let us.
In the winter, when the snow was deep, the brother closest to me in age and I would call one of our buddies to come and play football with us. Usually, it was just the three of us, and the games were played just like we did with our little brother in the house — minus the couch. One guy would get the ball, while the other two tried to stop his progress.
For a year or two before junior high, we had a neighborhood football team, complete with a coach and regular practices. From time to time we’d take on a bunch of guys from another neighborhood.
Later, on autumn evenings when it started getting dark more early, my brother and I would stretch our dad’s extension cords and lights (we had lots of them back then because we insulated houses almost every weekend) through the backyard, light things up as bright as we could, go grab a couple neighbor kids, and commence to playing in the dark until our parents told us to come inside.
In our high school days and even into our 20s, autumn Sunday afternoons often found us playing football somewhere.
In church on many of those Sunday mornings, I daydreamed of bouncing off tackles and making diving catches.
What I wouldn’t give to play one more game of tackle football.
Alas, those days are long gone. But if you drive by my house some Saturday afternoon this fall, don’t be surprised if you see me tossing a football with anyone willing, with daydreams of bouncing off tackles and making diving catches dancing in my head.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.