By TED SILLANPAA
I was reminded, while jogging around the track Sunday at Santa Rosa High School, that I was in a lot better physical condition when I had reasons to just go outside and play. Jogging isn’t even enjoyable, no way it classifies as play. (Particularly on a really, really warm November afternoon.)
There was a guy at the high school, on the football field, playing. He was doing something I did hour after hour growing up, simply because I enjoyed it and I was good at it. The guy was on campus for some other reason, clearly, but he had a football and kicking tee and he was kicking field goals.
As a kid, I’d build my own goal posts and plant them in my vast front yard. I couldn’t kick field goals much further than 30 yards, but my limited ability to do carpentry work required I produce only very narrow goal posts. So, while I didn’t get the joy of trying 50-yarders in junior high … I could split those uprights from every angle. It was a blast.
I grew up on a dead-end street where there weren’t any other kids my age, so I was left to my own resources quite often. I’d do with a football and my home-made kicking tee (a clean, empty tuna can worked) what most people only did shooting baskets or something. I’d imagine I was an NFL place-kicker, called upon in the final seconds, to win the game. The only way I really got any exercise was when I’d make a field goal and run wildly to get the football, happy as if I’d actually won a real game. (I suspect I was dorkier than lots of middle school kids would be over something like kicking field goals today.)
As I was sweating out my run today, I saw the man at Santa Rosa High tee one up from about the 15-yard line. He was wearing a dirty, old ball cap and a work shirt with some kind of work boots on. While I was mostly interested in my own ability to survive a jog as I cursed global warming that had to account for the scorching November afternoon, I thought, “No way that guy is gonna kick one 25 yards … let alone 25 yards and through the uprights.”
The guy booted one and, when I looked up, seemed pleased. The ball was just past the goal post, but about where it would’ve been if he’d actually made the kick. I kept jogging.
When I came around, the guy had it teed up from the 25, maybe closer to the 30. So, he was fixing to try to a near 40-yard field goal … wearing work boots, a work shirt and old jeans. The last time I dragged my two oldest sons to kick field goals at a set of regulation goal posts, I maxed out at 35 yards. I remember thinking, “People have no idea how far the goal posts look away from the kicker, even when it’s only 35 yards.” I was there trying to get my oldest son, who was 12, to learn to just toe-punch the ball through the uprights. Our youth football team kicker, an extraordinarily gifted kid named Danyell Corwin, was injured before the championship game. My son, who’s 32 now, did not inherit the old man’s ability to kick like an old-fashioned, straight-on kicker … or any other kind of kicker.
I remember doing that dumb-headed dad thing where he really, sincerely tried to take what I’d learned and take what I’d researched and put it to practice. He failed. So, I said, “Are you kidding me? It’s easy! Are you even listening to what I’m saying! Here … watch me!” For the record, if the head coach could’ve kicked extra points, we’d have been in business.
Sidebar … Danyell Corwin could kick extra-points (worth 2 points in our league) … easily. He could kick field goals, soccer style, from 20 yard or so. We thought we had an incredible weapon. (Well, he was also a big, fast running back so we did have a weapon.) We envisioned lining up for field goals, shortening the field … in a league where no other team even tried place-kicks. My coaching companion in those days and I would brainstorm things, very slowly. We knew we needed a long-snapper. My son could do it, but his son did it better. That kid, a wide receiver and stud defender, actually wound up being a long snapper through high school and into college.
In a perfect world, my kid could’ve been the holder. He was the quarterback. (No. I let tons of kids play QB. He just wound up being better than the others.) My son was afraid of Dan kicking his fingers. So, we had to find another holder. We turned to to, of course, our other stud running back-safety. My coaching pal and I knew that this field goal thing required everything be perfect and that meant using guys who could handle the pressure and … ah, we needed three star players to even begin considering kicking a field goal.
Dan, the holder and our star long-snapper practiced … and practiced. We were sure we were going to earn the praise of coaching peers and make our kids famous with long field goals.
Then, we lined up in a game to try a quite makeable 21-yard field goal. We ran our 11 best players onto the field during a timeout. (Anything special requires a timeout in youth football.) Felt good about things. Our best 11 kids did really well blocking … the way my pal and I learned to block for field goals reading about technique in a youth football coaches manual.
Hold. Looked good.
The kick … went nowhere because four or five, maybe six, defenders were all over poor Dan before he could finish his follow through. Our 11 best could block their teammates who, looking back, were probably afraid to challenge our 11 toughest kids. The 11 had … issues blocking another team’s players hell bent on not being the team that gave up a field goal.
Dan eventually kicked a field goal, but we didn’t become famous.
I ran by the guy at the school as he prepared to try a 35-yard field goal Sunday. No possible way, I thought.
Then, I saw him raise his hand in the air, like a kicker does before he kicks off to start a game. Then, he took a good 7-yard run at the ball and kicked it soccer style and … next thing I knew the woman he was with was cheering out loud because the guy split the uprights with room to spare.
I was happy. He was stoked. The woman was overjoyed. The ball was rocketed, even with work boots. I would’ve run after it for him, because he didn’t look like he’d run much recently. I was too busy jogging and sweating and grunting and wondering when the last time I’d been outside just to play really was.