Football season

Farm Forum

There’s a crispness in the air and the breeze carries the tang of fermenting corn silage. This can mean only one thing: it’s football season.

When I was a kid, most boys fantasized about becoming a world-famous, cheerleader-dating football player. This was when such manly giants as Fran Tarkenton strode the gridiron. Tarkenton was able to keep his football legend status despite his handicap of having the nickname Scramblin’ Fran, which sounds like the moniker for a woman who cooks a particular egg-based dish.

Our worshipful eyes were glued to our TVs on Sunday afternoons as our football heroes fought their epic battles. On Monday at recess, many of us boys would do our best to emulate our heroes. Our battles were also epic, but only in the sense of how lame they were when compared to the pros.

For example, we didn’t know most of the rules that governed football, so we simply ignored them all. The typical football game on our playground could best be described as “kill the carrier.”

Nobody wanted to be the carrier, so a lot of lateral passing took place. A timely lateral pass could determine whether or not you would walk normally for the rest of the week.

We also had no set goalposts. Upon running past a swing set with the ball, a kid might exclaim, “Touchdown! Six points for our team!”

“It is NOT!” another kid would argue. “Your goalpost is that tree!”

“That was last recess! This recess it’s the swings!”

So it went for several tense seconds, until some kid – he may have even been the scoring kid’s teammate, but who knows – would strip the ball from the carrier and run off, a horde of clamoring boys hot on his tail.

And should a ball carrier find himself in a desperate situation, such as trapped between the brick wall of the school building and a clamoring horde of boys, he could perform a preemptive dropkick. Dropkicks have probably saved more lives than seat belts.

We played football in its purest form. Protective gear? That’s for sissies! And with no rules, there was no need for referees. The game was suspended only when recess ended or if someone dropkicked the football onto the roof of the schoolhouse.

Our football games were similar to nature documentaries wherein only the fittest survive. And hopefully, someday, reproduce.

Speaking of which, none of our athletic endeavors elicited an iota of interest from the opposite sex. I think the girls simply didn’t understand what was at stake. To them, it must have looked like a pack of boisterous boys chasing each other randomly around the playground. But for us, it was nature’s way of winnowing out the weak and the unfit. This included me.

One recess we were killing the carrier when my legs became entangled with those of another boy as we ran at speeds that would rival the Roadrunner. We tumbled into each other and clunked heads. Up until that moment, I’d thought that seeing stars was the sort thing that only happened to Wile E. Coyote.

Peewee football hadn’t yet been invented, so organized football only became available when a guy entered junior high school.

I knew that I would eventually need to play some actual football in order to become a football legend. I also knew that football players have to be extremely muscular, so I began an at-home muscle building program that involved our silage pile.

During silage chopping, Dad had created a loaf-shaped pile of corn silage that was about ten feet tall, thirty feet wide, forty feet long and was located about fifty yards from the barn. Among the daily chores on our farm was carrying five-gallon pails of silage from the pile to the stanchioned cows in the barn.

My exercise regimen began with packing two pails full of silage as quickly as I could, then sprinting them off to the barn. After doling out the silage to the cows, I would dash back to the pile. This process was repeated until all thirty cows were fed.

Word came down at the school that seventh grade football tryouts were about to begin. I went to the field to watch the eighth graders scrimmage.

I had never witnessed a real football game in person and was shocked by what I saw. I knew that many of the eighth graders were larger than me, but some of them were approximately the size of water buffalo. Disturbingly loud whumps echoed across the field with each play.

I decided that playing football wasn’t for me. Because there was no way that I was ever going to carry that much silage.

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