The green grass glistened as the dew from the previous night’s frost melted away under the sunlight. It was a new day to prepare for the long awaited moment when four boys would have, what seemed at the time, the opportunity of a lifetime. We believed we were ready.
Jake had mastered the quarterback position. He threaded tight spirals through the branches of trees, over the old tire swing, and past the arms of defenders. Much like Joe Montana, Jake had a strong arm, precise accuracy, and a true love for the game. Brian converted these perfect throws into yardage and touchdowns with leaping catches, one-handed grabs, and quick cutting movements. A young white version of Jerry Rice, Brian ran circles around his defenders. Cade, ever improving his coordination skills, provided the needed spark of emotion to keep the team focused. Also a great blocker, Cade opened holes in the defense by barreling into defenders at high speeds. Cade could also be counted on to pick up short yardage catches when the game was on the line and a first down was desperately needed. Cade was not just any tight end, but a tight end that did it all. Keith proved a force to be reckoned with out of the backfield. He was elusive, quick, and had great hands. Spinning moves, hurdles, and dives were natural to this great back. If Jake found himself in any trouble, Keith was a consistent receiver who picked up 5-6 yards on each attempt.
Jake and Brian had practiced together for years. The chemistry between the two on the field was spectacular to behold. Cade and Keith stepped up in their youth and filled roles that made this team complete, united, and dominant. This was truly one of the greatest football teams in history. So great, that few would ever dare challenge this team to a game. That all changed, however, when the giant, Richard, and his children agreed to a game that would occur only days later. Practice was crucial. Maximum effort was demanded. No day could be wasted.
Jake called the plays in the huddle. Many of the legendary plays were practiced to perfection: cut right, cut left, tree green, overhead, short right, short left, and the hook play. New plays were also designed to exploit the defense: green box, tire over, tire under, and several lateral plays. Perfection was demanded. Six completions in a row was the standard. We could not afford a dropped pass or botched throw in the coming game. Resolves were tested, tempers flared, and muscles ached. But, the fight for victory continued. Practices like these would carry on for several hours at a time, only to be interrupted for nourishment (Frosted Flakes with half and half). The coming game consumed our every waking moment. We could not lose this game, not now, not to Richard’s team.
The night before the game, we retired to our spots on the floor in our grandparent’s living room to gain the necessary rest. Dreams of throwing touchdowns, catching passes, and running over Richard rested upon our minds as we drifted off to sleep that night.
Game day had arrived. We took our places on the field and waited for our opponents to arrive. When they did, Richard had never looked so big, and his children had never looked so tenacious. They truly wanted this victory.
But, this was a moment we had worked too hard and too long for to let slip through our fingers. We would leave it all on the field, our lives if necessary.
The game started when we kicked off. Savannah caught the ball and made a move to the right. She was quickly cornered by Cade and Keith deep in her own territory. Cade and Keith had made a statement; they wanted this, they wanted this bad. Several incomplete passes later, Richard’s team punted and our offense prepared for action.
Our first play was tree green. Incomplete to Cade. Second play was cut right over the apple tree. Complete for big yardage to Brian. Third play was dumped to Keith in the backfield. Picked up three yards. Fourth play was called as a cut left. Jake, seeing all his receivers covered, scrambled into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. (Us – 1 Richard – 0)
We kicked off, and Savannah again hauled in the ball and gained a few yards. The first play was a toss to the 300 pound Richard who ran us over like an ocean wave crushing an innocent swimmer. Just like that, the game was tied. (Us – 1 Richard – 1)
For a moment, we feared. How could we stop this giant? We certainly had more talent, but how could we keep up with our size? Then, we remembered who we were. We were much more than four young boys; we were a team with a bond that couldn’t be broken by one giant man. It was gametime.
The battle waged on. Jake was marvelously consistent and did not allow the blitzing defenders to rattle him. He delivered perfect throws scrambling to the right, to the left, and backwards. Often he had to throw falling backwards, but the throws were “right on the money.” Brian delivered on his end in a big way. His grass stained shirt evidenced his many diving catches. Cade was relentless on the field. Always an unselfish player, he blocked defenders with a vengeance. He also made several clutch catches that put his team in a great position to win the game. Keith delivered every time he touched the ball. At high speeds out of the backfield, he accelerated past defenders to pick up needed yardage. Keith made the defense pay when they left him open. His high speed play caused his Case hat to fall to the ground more than once.
After an hour of such play, the game was tied 9-9. First one to ten would win the game, and Richard’s team had the ball. It was time for the defense to step up in a big way. If we were to win this thing, our defense had to stop the giant once and for all.
First play. Toss to Meagan who caught the ball and was tackled immediately. She began to cry a bit. Second play. Handoff to Savannah who ran to the left. She was the quickest of the opponents, but she could not match the speed of our lightning fast players. She was stopped after only a 2 yard gain. Richard’s team was approximately ten yards from the end zone. Third play. Another throw to Savannah. Broken up by Cade. “Not in my house,” Cade yelled. Fourth down. We all knew what was coming. Richard would likely get the ball. Savannah called out, “hut, hut, hike.” The ball was handed to Richard. What happened next would surprise all present, including ourselves.
Jake, the strongest of the bunch, hit Richard right in the numbers and pushed him back with all the force he could muster. Brian came from Richard’s right side and delivered a striking blow to Richard’s hip, adding to Jake’s force. But, the giant continued to inch forward. Jake and Brian pushed back with all their strength and effort, but it was not enough to bring down the giant. Cade dove into Richard’s legs and held on for dear life. Richard’s forward movements slowed even more with Cade’s courageous plunge into dangerous territory. If one of those legs came down on Cade, a season ending injury would likely follow. Cade proved in that moment he was willing to give himself for the good of the team. But, the goal was not accomplished. Richard still had the ball and was on his feet. His forward momentum may have been stopped, but our endurance would only last so long. Keith knew he had to do something. And do something he did. He jumped toward Richard, grabbed onto his right arm, and hung there leveraging all of his weight. After what seemed like minutes of grunting and struggle, Richard began to weaken. Cade held tightly to his legs as Keith clung to his right arm (which held the ball). Jake and Brian continued to drive their legs into the giant’s chest and hip. Richard attempted another step, but the ferocity of our defense held on, and Richard began to tumble to the ground. As he was falling, the ball came loose. The fumble was pursued with tenacity. Jake recovered the ball. It was now our ball. Score still tied at 9. Our well-oiled machine of an offense now simply had to deliver and we would be victors.
We came out with a surprise attack cut right. Jake led Brian just enough that he was able to haul in the ball and pick up about 12 yards. Next play was also a throw to Brian over the tree that marked the endzone. Dropped. Next play was a toss to Keith to the left. Cade blocked Savannah, and Keith got close to the end zone. Fourth down. This was it. We had to score or Richard’s team would get the ball back. We could not let that happen.
We huddled for a moment and called one of our bread and butter plays. The defense would probably be expecting a quarterback sneak, as we were quite close to the end zone. Jake called out, “hut, hut, hike.” The ball was snapped. He faked as if he were going to run, but then scrambled backwards. He pump faked to the left where Keith was attempting to get open. The defense hesitated on the fake, and Jake saw the opportunity to win. Jake threw a perfect spiral to the right corner of the end zone. Brian ran toward the ball, jumped up, bobbled it a little as he fell to the ground, and secured the ball in his arms to win the game.
We cheered, hugged each other, and took a moment to celebrate our efforts. We were victorious against the most imposing of opponents. We had achieved our goal.
The above story about young boys playing football may seem silly to the average reader. But, to us, it was living life at its fullest. Our struggle to bring Richard down on his final charge toward the end zone represented, in a larger sense, our phenomenal childhood. Just as we couldn’t bring Richard down without each of us giving our best, each one of us provided a piece to a childhood puzzle that we all remember and cherish to this day as a perfect and complete childhood. The following pages contain more stories from this childhood. It was too good not to record.