Football Jersey with a Number
By George Clever
28 August 2013
“Why can’t I play football Mom? All
of the guys are playing.” She always answered the same way, “You weigh 98 pounds. They will kill you. Don’t
speak of this again until you weigh more than I do.” She would never tell me her weight. Every boy in school was approached by the coach each day before football
season if the kid did not report for pre-season practice. This lack of players led to the coaches strong arm recruitment in our steel town school as there was so few academically eligible players. Blasdell High School was a very small school. Graduating classes usually numbered 40. In odd years we would have to rent a student from another
school for graduation so everyone would have someone to walk with down the aisle. Our year book had one page on one side. The school was so poor there were only enough
numbered jerseys for eleven players on the football team. There were no offense and defense squads possible. Every live player was on both squads, for offense and defense. One fall after a previous year of bone crushing defeats, the coach even resorted to using one of the more masculine cheerleaders as our right guard.
My father played football at the same school I attended. Dad was a very good player when football was a rough sport and helmets were for sissies. After much whining by me, my Mother signed my permission slip and I joined this manly sport in my junior year. I used my paper route money to buy a set of football
shoes from one of the graduating seniors. Unfortunately his shoe size was two sizes larger than mine so I stuffed the toes with left over newspaper. The Coach soon
realized I could not throw a football nor run very fast in those “clown shoes”. He was impressed with my ability to learn the few football plays offered to his team so he made me a quarterback second
string. We were cannon fodder for the use and abuse of the first team. On the day when uniforms and equipment were handed out I was the last one to enter the gym and
claim my gear. One helmet was on the floor. I think it was worn by Red Grange or my Dad. I could spin it on my head and
it would not touch either ear. There were no numbered jerseys for the cannon fodder guys. We all wore plain white sweatshirts.
It was a real embarrassment to run out on the field for game warm-ups in those old white practice jerseys when the first team was dressed out proud in the black, red and numbered jerseys.
We played our games on Saturday in the daylight on a field with no scoreboard, no night lights and only two small sets of bleachers. Blasdell High was to host Eden Central
this day. Each year the two teams took turns breaking player’s bones of the other team. Kids in our school were tough steel town tough. Many had year book pictures of front and profile complements of the local constable. The Eden team consisted of big farm boys this year, bigger than our biggest player and just as tough. It was their year to break our bones. When a player on our team was injured on the field there would be a gathering of players with the coach around the prone, player body
to see if he could continue playing the game. If not, the injured player’s numbered jersey would be pulled over his head and handed to the substitute who would rip off his white practice jersey and enter
the game with the coveted numbered shirt. The shirt was often too large requiring rolled up sleeves.
Our team was down to two remaining subs, Dave and me. Dave was one of the richest kids in town. His
dad was the doctor. My dad was an ironworker and drummer. There was no health insurance in my family. Dave’s dad
could fix whatever he broke for free. Hence this logic, I was not going to enter this bone breaking game until it was absolute necessary. Dave would have to go first,
If you have ever been a substitute on any team you already know the rules. If you want to play you must get the coaches eye. No, raising your hand will not do. Neither should you ask the coach, “Can I play?” Just keep your eye on the coach when the next player on the field goes down.
You might even be so bold as to get off the bench from time to time and stand near the coach. Now if one does not want to enter this dangerous conflict don’t look at the coach. Look at the cheerleaders, the ground, or the sky. Look at anything, but do not look at the coach! My challenge of that moment was to get Dave to
look at the coach the instant I saw a player was injured on the field. In all too short a time jerseys were to be exchanged again. It was critical to put my plan in
action just when the coach would scan the bench for a substitute player. At that very moment I hit Dave in the ribs with my elbow, pointed at the coach and shouted, “Look at that!” Dave did. He looked right at the coach when the coach was staring at the two few remaining players on the bench. I continued to stare at my steady
girl in the bleachers wearing her wonderfully tight cashmere sweater as the coach said, “Dave in!” It was a gamble whether my girl would love me more if I was wearing a numbered football jersey or as
a dancing partner with two workable, unbroken legs. I went for the dance.
I may have lost Dave as a good friend that day, but I lived to have a numbered jersey the next year as a center linebacker weighing 136 pounds, finally more
than my mother weighed, no brains fearless with a helmet touching both my ears.