Getting ’emreadyforDarrell By Larry L King Midland The day was miserably cold and wet for mid-October, the wind cutting down from the North with a keen blade. A ghostly mist blew in about midnight. By daylight the desert air knew a coastal chill, clammy, and bone-numbing. Soon Midland’s flat paved streets flowed like shallow rivers. Seventh and eighth graders of the city’s three junior high schools on awakening may have groaned into the weather’s wet face, but they pulled on their football jerseys in compliance with a tradition requiring them to set themselves apart as gladiators each Thursday, which is Game Day. They would wear the jerseys in their class rooms. Three hundred strong, ranging in age from 12 to 14 years, they comprised the dozen junior high football teams four to a school, two to a grade that play blood and thunder eight-game schedules with provisions for the more successful to play through to a city championship. Each team practices from two to two-and-one-half hours per day, except on game days; no homework is assigned to football players the night before a game. A blond 12-year-old named Bradley, who weighed all of 107 pounds and limped on a swollen left knee, was having a more modest thought than of the city championship. “Maybe we can score on a wet field,” he said. “We haven’t done so good on a thy one.” His team, the San Jacinto Seventh Grade Blues, had not known the dignity or solace of a touchdown in four previous outings. Their frustrated coach, a chunky, red-faced young man only recently out of college, had promised to run two laps around the football field for each touchdown his Blues scored against the unbeaten Trinity Orange. This prospect made Bradley grin. “You gonna play on that bad knee?” Bradley’s visiting father asked. “I played on it last week,” he shrugged. THERE WERE perhaps a dozen shivering spectators behind each bench mostly parents when the Blues kicked off to Trinity at 3:30 p.m. Bradley, who had started all four previous games, was chagrined to find himself benched. “Maybe the coach is protecting your knee,” his father suggested. But Bradley believed he had been The author, a contributing editor to both Harper’s Magazine and the Observer, grew up in Midland and played high school football there. His third book, Confessions of a White Racist, will be published in February by Viking Press of New York. benched because he had missed two practice sessions that week, due to the death of his grandfather. Thrifty marched through the Blues for four consecutive first-downs, most of the damage done by a ponderous fullback who, though slow, had enough strength and size to run over the smaller defensive kids. Even so, his performance did not satisfy his coach. “Come on, Don,” he shouted from the Orange sideline. “Duck that shoulder and go! You’re just falling forward out there!” Meanwhile, the Blues’ coach exhorted his collapsing defense: “Get mean out there! Come on, pop ’em! Bobby Joe, dammit, I’m gonna come out there and kick you if you let that ole fat boy run over you again!” Bobby Joe, who may have weighed all of 100 pounds, pawed the ground and sneaked a timid glance at the sideline. “You look like a girl, Bobby Joe,” a man in boots and a western hat shouted through his cupped hands. “I’m his father,” he said to a glaring visitor, as if that mitigated the circumstance. Trinity fumbled five yards away from a certain touchdown, losing the ball. The Blues jumped and yelled in celebration, while over on the Trinity side the Orange coach tore his rain-wet hair and shouted toward the sullen Heavens. “Start runnin’, coach,” a skinny Blue said, picking up his helmet. “We’re gonna score.” “Way to talk, Donny!” an assistant coach said, slapping the youngster’s rump as he ran on the field. But scoreless San Jacinto could not move the ball. Backs, attempting double and multiple handoffs, ran into each other and fell. Orange linemen poured through to overwhelm the quarterback before he could pass. “We gonna have us some blocking practice at halftime if you guys don’t knock somebody down,” the Blue coach screamed. As if in defiance, the Blue line next permitted several Orange linemen to roar through and block a punt near their own goal line. “Blocking practice at the half!” the Blue coach screamed, his face contorted. “I mean it, now. You dadgummed guys didn’t touch a man!” The Orange in four plays plunged for a touchdown, then ran in the two-point conversion for an 8 to 0 lead. “I told you guys to get in a goal line defense, Mike!” the Blue coach raved. “Dammit, always get in a goal line defense inside the ten.” “I thought we was in a goal line defense,” Mike alibied, his teeth chattering in the cold. He turned to a teammate: “Gene, wasn’t we in a goal line defense?” Gene was bent over, his head between his legs, arms hugging his ribs. “Somebody kicked me in the belly,” he answered. The Blue coach missed this drama. He was up at the 50-yard line, shooing off a concerned mother attempting to wrap the substitutes in blankets she had brought from a station wagon. “They won’t be cold if they’ll hit somebody,” the coach shouted. “Same ole thing,” Bradley muttered from the bench as his team prepared to receive the kickoff. He had been inserted into the game long enough to know the indignity of having the touchdown scored over his left tackle position. “I had ’em,” he said, “but then I slipped in the mud.” Nobody said anything, for Bradley had clearly been driven out of the play like a dump truck. IDWAY IN the second quarter Bradley redeemed himself, fighting off two blockers to dump a ball carrier who had gotten outside the defensive end. He ended up at the bottom of a considerable pile and rose dragging his right foot, hopping back Nov. 13, 1970 3
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