|The summer before I started high school, I worked
out really hard so I could make the freshman football team. I did this
because I thought that if I made the football team, people would like me
better. I lived with my grandparents in Ft. Lauderdale that summer and
so I did a lot of swimming in the Greenhaven 13 community pool. I also
did lots of pushups. Also I tried to hit on a couple of the girls who were
down visiting their grandparents for the summer, but they didn’t like me
much and they rejected me and laughed at me.
The tryouts were after school every day the first week of classes. I did pretty well for never having played football before, but I didn’t think I would make the team. When they posted the list of who made it, I didn’t even go look because I was sure my name wouldn’t be on the list. But then I saw a guy I knew who was strong. He said to me: “Hey, you made the team.” I looked at the list and I had made the team. You might think that everybody who tried out made the team, but that’s not true. Three people got cut. One person who got cut was this guy named Todd, who at the time I didn’t like because in eighth grade he had made fun of my bad hair style a lot, but who turned out to be an O.K. guy. We’ve kept in touch sporadically since then. I exchanged emails with him not long ago. He went to medical school and now works as a cardiologist and he seems pretty happy all things considered given the recent tragic death of his wife.
The name of our school mascot was the Eagles, but because we were just the freshman team we were called the Eaglets. We all thought that really sucked, and we would never tell anybody that was our name. We’d lie and say: “We are also the Eagles.”
For some reason, maybe because I was fat and not fast or quick or skilled in any way, I got assigned to play center, the guy who snaps the football to the quarterback. Actually, I was the third string center, right behind Telluci and Gimbel on the personnel chart. But I should say that in reality I wasn’t quite the third string center, because for some reason that I can’t remember I was the only center that the second string quarterback could take a snap from. So if the first string quarterback went out, then I got to go in with the second string quarterback. For that reason I like to tell people that I was actually the second-and-a-half string center. When I say that people usually laugh a little, though it’s a nervous laugh and one that stems from being uncomfortable and sad for me rather than because they think it’s funny.
During the whole season I only got to snap the ball during a game nine times. One time I snapped it badly and there was a fumble, but I didn’t actually know there had been a fumble until the game was over and my father told me about it on the way home in the car. I was real surprised. Another time, I got a penalty called on me. I had left the huddle early, like the center is supposed to do, and when I got to the ball I noticed the stitches were pointing to the left instead of the right where I needed them to be so I could snap the ball properly. So I picked the ball up off the ground and turned it around so the stitches were pointing to the right. Then the referee threw a flag. “Illegal procedure, offense, five yards, still second down.” Apparently there’s a rule that the center can’t pick up the ball until everyone’s on the line of scrimmage, or some damn thing. So I caused a penalty before the team had even left the huddle. The quarterback yelled at me. That was embarrassing.
One game I did pretty well. I blocked the nose tackle out of the way on two separate plays. After the game, when we were lined up shaking hands with the other team, the nose tackle whom I had blocked made a special point of saying: “Nice game, center.” Actually, since we all lived in Boston he said it with a real bad Boston accent: “Nice game, centaaaaahhhh.”
We didn’t have that good a year, but I’m pretty
sure that making the football team made people like me. It didn’t make
them like me too much, but it made them like me a little better than they
would have liked me if I hadn’t made the team. One of the best players
on the team, for example, a linebacker who was really popular, even told
me once after practice that I was the only Jew he had ever liked.
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