Living a childhood driven by fear, I didn’t play much football. The neighborhood boys had two sports seasons. There was the portion of the year when we gathered for pick-up baseball games at the neighborhood school. On a narrow strip of grass in front of the school, we only needed about three to a side. Pitcher, a player in the middle and a player in the “outfield.”
The other part of the year was for pick-up football games. They played tackle. I always found a reason not to play. See above. Fear. I didn’t want to break a bone or two or three. The idea of being tackled by two or three other boys who tended to be bigger and stronger and faster than me was not an attractive idea. I recall playing once. I don’t know how or why I played, but play I did. At one point, I was sent deep and somehow the quarterback lofted a pass to me that dropped over my shoulder and into my outstretched hands. And somehow I gathered the ball into my body and continued in stride. I was going to score a touchdown. Until I didn’t because the ball developed a life of its own and started traveling up my body and over my shoulder. And I fumbled in my moment of glory. I’m pretty certain I never showed my face at the after-school pickup game again.
We also occasionally played football in the street in front of our house. A few kids playing something that wasn’t more than catch, but if there were enough we’d play two-hand touch and I was better about that. Until I wasn’t. One day I was playing catch with Paul Koenig. I don’t remember there being anybody else out there. But somehow I caught the football and fell to the street scraping up my forehead, nose, and upper lip. The days of street football were done.
A few years later, my brother (five years older than me) and his friends began a Thanksgiving tradition. They gathered for a flag football game at the neighborhood school. I still wonder why my brother and his friends were smart enough to forego the macho necessity of tackle football and were good with flag football. I wish they could have been my friends!
For a number of years, the Thanksgiving day football game became an annual tradition. The rainier the better. The muddier the better. They called it The Toilet Bowl.
My brother generally didn’t want much to do with me. I get it. Five years younger, I was the kid brother to pick on but not to bring into the circle. For a few years, however, he allowed me to join he and his friends at the annual Toilet Bowl. In my memory, the first year or two were unremarkable. I managed to fill a spot on the field without drawing attention to myself. I blocked on runs that other people took. I ran routes that took a defender’s attention while the ball was thrown to other people. And I was happy. I was playing football with my brother and his friends without fear of broken bones, a smashed face, or the embarrassment of fumbling the ball while running untouched down the field.
And then it happened. My moment of football glory. After a couple of years of invisibility, I played for the final time. I scored either three or four touchdowns. Somehow, instead of ignoring me, the quarterback (who, in my memory, was my brother’s best friend, Dean LaRosa) found me over and over again. I was a running, darting, twirling devil on the field that day. I was awarded the Toilet Bowl MVP that year. I got a trophy. No, I didn’t. I went to Disneyland. No, I didn’t.
But I did retire after that. I ended my football career on top. Toilet Bowl MVP. I never played in another Toilet Bowl or any other football game for that matter.
And I thought about this while I went on my morning run today. Thanksgiving morning. You just don’t see kids doing this type of things these days. I ran by several parks and an elementary school. No pick-up games going on. Almost nobody out. It’s a shame.
The world needs more Toilet Bowls.