The title is from a poem that Steve Sabol wrote for NFL films. When read by the late, great John Facenda it was pure magic. Its this time of year that makes me think of the poem, and for what I’ve lost along the way. I used to love playing football. Loved it. I was kind of weird with it though. I had to get hit to have my football switch turn on. Perhaps that’s where the Dom side first emerged, because dear God was it thrilling. I could get absolute destroyed in a hit and as I got up I’d be saying, “Now THAT is what I’m talking about. Lets go motherfuckers” and it would just be on. There is still a guy I grew up with who hasn’t forgiven me for clothes-lining him in a freaking Pee Wee Football game. Yeah, I really did that as a 6th grader. There was just something primal about the sport. Violent. And dear God I loved it.
That is until about midway through 9th grade. I was running sprints and my left ankle blew out. I decided to gut it out and kept running. Until my right ankle decided to play follow the leader. Add in an idiot coach who thought the proper cure for that would be to have me run through the rope course and do a couple of laps around the stadium and what you get is the trainer literally cutting the shoes off of me because my ankles had swollen up to the point that you couldn’t get them off any other way. That would be the arthritis first rearing its head. But, sadly, we all just thought I sprained it and didn’t go see anyone about it. I stayed off of them for a couple of weeks, iced them every single day, and attempted to come back. The coach stopped me about a half hour in because he saw I was just running on guts alone and put me out of my misery. It just wasn’t meant to be. And that was the end of my organized football career. From that point on it was the occasional pick up game.
My last ever high school scrimmage though does have an interesting footnote. Because 9th grade was at our high school and our high school football team sucked…hard, they would mix in 9th graders in scrimmages to see how well they’d do and if it was worth bringing them up to varsity level. So I got a try out at defensive tackle. We scrimmaged another school from the area. I really didn’t have a lot of respect for them because it was your typical high school coach who had his snot nosed son as his quarterback. The coach was Irvin Favre. His son’s name is Brett. Honestly though, Brett’s legend wasn’t even beginning then. His only job on that team was to hand the ball to the very big running back and sit back and watch. The running back’s name was Goff. Forget his first name. He was awesome. I think I still have cleat marks in my chest from where he ran my ass over. I felt bad about the fact that he so easily did that to me until I noticed Goff was dragging like four of our guys with him as he continued to rumble down the field. He was an absolute beast. And he was an idiot too. Got caught with cocaine and pretty well destroyed any chance at a major college. That was the last I heard of him. Bet he just LOVES the fact that Brett did so well. But I digress…
Eventually there was no more football at all for me except for watching it. My knees, even before they got really bad, limited my sporting activities. I bargained a lot with my body back then. I’d play a pick up game of basketball for an hour or two with the clear understanding that for the next two or three days afterwards I was going to have to take it easy because they would swell up. It just got to the point where it wasn’t worth the pain to do any of the things I truly loved to do anymore. And I miss it. Dear God do I miss playing football. And its this time of year that hits me the worst with that longing. Its not the games on TV. Its the smell. There’s just a smell in the air that happens this time of year and it just blows in with the Autumn wind. And when I smell it, I literally just stop. Not for long. But its noticeable. Grace has seen me do it a couple of times. That scent hits me and the memories just pour over me. All those days in the fall at practices. The games I played in from Pee Wee to the college flag football games I did just wash over me. Its in that moment that I truly realize what I’ve lost. Oh I’ve gained too. You lose one part and the body compensates…blah blah blah. But almost nothing was as good as taking that hit. Just absolutely being destroyed by someone, falling to the ground, feeling that adrenaline course through you, and get up smiling. Because somebody was about to get hurt. Its a look only Grace gets to see now. And for me, that’s just enough.
The Autumn Wind by Steve Sabol
The Autumn wind is a pirate
Blustering in from sea
With a rollicking song he sweeps along
His face is weatherbeaten
He wears a hooded sash
With a silver hat about his head
And a bristling black mustache
He growls as he storms the country
A villain big and bold
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake
As he robs them of their gold.
The Autumn wind is a Raider
Pillaging just for fun
He’ll knock you ’round and upside down
And laugh when he’s conquered and won.