In the long history of the Arkansas Times, we've written stories that have made people mad. We've written things that have made people disgusted. We've published things that have made our readers - our very bread and butter - furious, red-faced, and out-and-out outraged (see "Thirty Years of Hate Mail, P. XX).
In between, though, we've printed some pretty good stuff too, if we do say so ourselves. In the Times offices is a long, long wall fairly stacked, packed and racked with awards we've garnered over the years, if that means anything to you. For all the hate mail and accolades that have been lavished on us, however, we knew that any self-respecting Anniversary issue had to include The Greatest.
Picking The Greatest was not, contrary to what you might have expected, all that hard. The Greatest is not, after all, "Best Reported," or "Most Revealing" or "Biggest Scoop," though we've had our share of those over three decades. Around here, the thing that has always gotten us through is heart. We're suckers for it. And when it comes to finding The Greatest - the story with the biggest heart over the years - there was really no hesitation amongst the old timers. To boot, it just so happens The Greatest is a work of comic genius. It wasn't even a cover story, come to think of it.
Without further ado, we give you the most reader-requested article in the history of the Arkansas Times. Mike Trimble's September 1985 downhome masterpiece, "Memoirs of a Miner."
Most of us are doing pretty well, I guess. Salty Crowson is selling insurance and raising a short ton of kids over in Conway, and Jonesy is a college professor with a highly praised book under his belt. Satchelbutt Wilmoth married his high school sweetheart; ditto Bud Richards, who, last I heard, was running a very used car lot out of the highway and serving on the Bauxite School Board. I earn three squares a day just sitting in a chair, typing.
I don't hear much from the members of the 1960 Bauxite Miner football team - except for Salty, who handles my insurance, and always calls around my birthday to remind me that I am one year closer to dying - but every year around this time I start thinking about them - Salty and Satchel and Bud and Rolleigh and Harold Selby and Dan Reed and the rest - and I wonder if they are still as embarrassed as I am at getting beat by Bryant.
I don't mean getting beat by Bryant last year, or even the year before; Bryant doesn't even play Bauxite in football any more, having outgrown any semblance of athletic parity with the Miners since becoming a landing field for Little Rock's white flight about ten years ago. I mean getting beat by Bryant in 1960, the year that Rolleigh and Dan Reed and Bud Richards and Jimmy Birmingham and Bill Ramsey and Jonesy and Johnny Holland and Paul Mansfield and I were seniors.
I am getting embarrassed right now, just thinking about it. My God! Bryant! Until 1960, Bryant had NEVER beaten the Bauxite Miners, Ever! They had seldom even scored. Until 1960, the Bryant game was the annual slaughter, always played at home because Bryant didn't have its own field; always played against a bunch of skinny, inept players whose uniforms didn't even match. I remember lining up as an eighth grader against a Bryant tight end who played in cowboy boots.
We had started the 1960 season as the undefeated District 5-A champions. In 1959, the mighty Black and Gray had roared through the schedule like a turpentined kitty. We had rocked 'em, we had socked 'em. We had Kicked Butt. Now, only a few months later, it was ashes, all ashes. Sic transit gloria mundi! The Bryant hornets had beaten the Bauxite Miners, and before the season was over, so had just about everybody else. The center had not held, and I was the center.
Football was serious business in Bauxite when I grew up there. We had basketball mainly so the coaches could make sure that the football players didn't get too fat or have too much fun during the off-season. The student body went to basketball games so they could meet up with the boyfriends or girlfriends and hold hands, and some parents went to make sure that's all they did, but it was football that everybody cared about. Photographs of past Miner teams were enshrined by Ed Ricketts in his barber shop, in the glass display cases that held the Wildroot Cream Oil ad the Lucky Tiger Hair Tonic.
They were formidable-looking, those old timers in the pictures; they looked like men. R.M. Frey, the other barber, assured us they WERE men - men to conjure on; men to be reckoned with. There, in one cracked and faded picture, holding one of those old-timey fat footballs and looking grim as a pallbearer, was George Cole. He had gone off to the University of Arkansas and had played football there, winning fame as a dropkicker. Now he was Razorback assistant coach. And in another picture, a more recent one, was Moose Mize, who had terrorized enemy running backs and who, not even half-trying, the story went, because it wasn't even football, had gone to the state track meet as Bauxite's only representative and had won the whole blessed thing BY HIMSELF!
And in still another photo, Muscles Campbell, the ultimate Miner hero; unequaled all around athlete and the most punishing straight-ahead runner the Arkansas Razorbacks ever had. Denied lasting stardom with the Chicago Bears only because of crippling knee injuries, Muscles was the epitome of what it meant to be a Miner. When he got married while still in college, the Pick and Shovel ran two photographs side by side; one of the newly married couple walking down the aisle; the other of Muscles hitting a home run for Bauxite's entry in the Central Amateur Baseball League. The caption was: "A Bat in his Hands; a Girl on his Arm." The Pick and Shovel was our newspaper. It was a monthly.
Those pictures were our icons. As little boys, when we played sandlot football on neighborhood teams (there were two: the Holly Street Hoodlums and the Norton Town Nightmares - I was a Nightmare), we not only assumed the identities of the well-known Razorback stars of the day - the Carpenter brothers,, Lamar McHan, Dave Hanner, Billy Ray Smith (the elder) and Bud Brooks - but those in our local pantheon as well: Moose Mize, Muscles Campbell, his younger brother Pug, Knob Grimmett, Pedro Williams, and 'Tater sweeten (we were referring to Little 'Tater, of course, not Big 'Tater. Big 'Tater did not play football as far as I know. Little 'Tater won a football scholarship to the University of Houston. Hegot his picture in the Pick and Shovel for attending school for twelve years without ever begin absent, or even tardy.)
Some of you may think I am making these names up, but I'm not, as anyone who grew up in Saline County can tell you. If there was one thing the town of Bauxite could do better than produce football heroes, it was think up nicknames for its male citizens, athletes or not. Everyone knew Buckethead Stiles, and Sourgut Green became so used to his moniker that he adopted it officially after dropping the slightly less-than-genteel "gut," even running successfully for Saline County judge with "Sour Green" imprinted on the ballot. We also had Chigger Chase (small but tough), Beaver Williams (overbite) Duroc Stuckey (red hair), Hollywood Duvall (moved in from California), and his cousin Paddlefoot (yes, very). Satchel Wilmoth's brother was called Shorty, and their daddy was called Bottle. There were Sonny Bono (before the no-talent singer), Jiggs Bono, Goober Hamilton (before the TV show), Chago Dial, Hooty Hodge, Slick Parsons, Hick'rynut Williams, and Doughnut McKelvy. There are just off the top of my head. I could think for a while and get as many more, but you get the idea. ***
As we played our sandlot games on autumn afternoons, all us Hooty's and Jiggses and Goobers and Chagos, we dreamed of wearing the Black and Gray, of one day begin enshrined in the barbershop display case, next to the butch wax. What would Frey the barber say about is to that next generation of little boys as they gazed at the gallery of immortals? It was a question of some gravity, and even at the age of nine or ten, we were preparing to assume the mantle of Miners by assuming in play the names and jargon of our heroes. The coach of the Bauxite Miners of that era was an ebullient man named Bob Banks, whose trademark was a nonsense word he'd use to pep his boys up in practice or in games. "Huckledy-buck!" Coach Banks would shout. "Huckledy-buck!" the little boys would scream as they rolled about on their backyard gridiron.
The years dragged rapidly by in that contradictory way that years pass in a country town. There was junior high football, in tattered hand-me-down uniforms and equipment, and finally, in the ninth grade, I became a Miner.
But only barely. I spent my ninth-grade season trying to stay alive in practice. Physically a late bloomer, I was counting on puberty to transform me at any moment into a tall, well-muscled young athlete like the teammates who trounced me regularly in practice scrimmages. On game nights, I was on the bench and secretly glad to be there.
My neighbor on the bench was Wop Ware, but he was not as content with his lot as I. Wop was a ninth-grader too, but was about eighteen years old, having pursued learning at his own leisurely pace. Wop smoked, drank beer wen he could get it, and had a girlfriend over at Benton who worked in a dime store. I was a pudgy bookworm who wore thick glasses. I do not know, even to this day, what made us soulmates, but that is what we were. Wop had gone out for football to impress his girl, but he hadn't considered the possibility that his physical limitations might keep him from the starting lineup. For one thing, he was so bowlegged that he could hardly run. "That by couldn't stop a pig in a two-foot alley," Frey the barber once remarked as Wop left the shop after a trim. The smokes and the beer probably didn't help either.
"This is embarrassing," Wop complained to me on the bench during the first game. "Betty's getting more exercise than I am just going to get a cold drink at the concession stand!"
Having nothing better to do, I addressed the problem, and by the third quarter, I had a solution. Having learned from Wop that Betty knew next to nothing about football, I suggested that he tell her to show up on Wednesday nights, when we played our B-team games, and simply let her believe she was watching a varsity contest. The ruse apparently worked: Wop told me happily the next Thursday that betty's only comment was that the crowd had certainly dwindled since the last game.
The rest of my freshman year was generally spent in shining the lettermen's football shoes, packing their gear for road trips, and periodically checking for the appearance of body hair. On road trips, I would make sure I got a seat on the bus right behind Don Morrison, a huge but gentle farm boy who would spend the road talking with an assistant coach about animal husbandry.
Until then, most of my information about sex had come from a couple of impromptu backyard lectures from Gerald Magby, and while Gerald's information ultimately proved to be pretty accurate, I thought it too fantastic at the time to give it any credence. The lore imparted by Don Morrison, on the other hand, had the ring of authenticity about it, dealing as it did with the real, honest to gosh world of bulls and cows, boars and sows. This wasn't theory; this was fact, and I stored away as much information as I could. It was to cause several very embarrassing moments a few years later.
The summer after my ninth grade year was spent in heavy thought. Puberty had finally arrived, but it hadn't wrought the miracle I had expected. I looked a little better in gym shorts, but the muscular body I had ordered had apparently been out of stock, and I was sent instead an oddly-shaped model that was mostly legs. I looked like a pair of pliers. Running summertime windsprints with my teammates, I would make the same marvelous up-and-down pumping motions with my arms and legs as they, only to see their backs get smaller as they left me in the dust. Clearly, if I was going to see any action as a sophomore, I would have to rely on my brains, not on my athletic ability.
My plan was to pick out some specialty and become proficient enough at it to guarantee some playing time. The specialty had to be easy - I knew my athletic limitations - and it had to be something nobody else wanted to do, because if they did, they could surely beat me out. I toyed with the idea of placekicking, but gave it up quickly, I could get no distance, and besides, there were others interested in the job. Same with holding for the place-kicker; for some reason, that job seemed unofficially reserved for the quarterbacks, sort of like the Jewish seat on the Supreme Court. Finally, I hit upon it: I would become a snapper; that is, I would center the ball for punts and kicks.
It was an inspired choice. Nobody was interested in making long snaps. First of all, a snapper looked undignified, all scrunched down with his head between his legs, looking at the world upside-down. Secondly, anyone assuming that position was extremely vulnerable to getting his can knocked off by a vicious noseguard or a blitzing linebacker. No doubt about it, the job was mine if I wanted it. Moreover, sheer repetition could assure a modicum of proficiency, and with no competition. I'd be in like Flynn. I wouldn't be a starter, but I would be getting into the game before the outcome was decided, maybe even getting my jersey a little dirty.
It worked. I never got very good at snapping - about one in four attempts would soar over the punter's head and into the end zone - but no one else had thought to practice at all, since they didn't want the job, and I was the best of a bad lot. Before the first game of my sophomore year, the coach announced that I would snap for punts.
I guess it is time to introduce you to my coach. Bob Banks, the Miner coach of my childhood and the inventor of huckledy-buck, had quit to take a job at one of the aluminum plants. (He stayed in the game, though, as a referee. He officiated at many Miner games, and will appear at other places in this narrative, as sort of a Greek chorus.) My coach was a short, muscular man named Dan Bass, and true to the tradition of the town, he had a nickname. It was Dick.
There is a lot of dissatisfaction among my friends over football coaches, and it is a dissatisfaction I share. The macho image, the teaching of sport-as-warfare, the idea that coaching somehow provides the best training for school administrators-all of that disturbs me. Coach Bass was different but he wasn't different in ways that would be evident to most of my friends. His habits were traditionally masculine: he used a paddle liberally, and his favorite way of greeting one of his players was to hit him-hard-on the upper arm. Yes, he taught civics, and yes, he later became an administrator, and yes, he wanted very badly to win football games.
And he could lose his temper. His trademark was placekicking the team medicine kit after a particularly inept play on the part of his charges. The kit would fly open, and the team managers would scurry about gathering up the tape, scissors, Ace bandages, Firm-Grip, and analgesic balm before they rolled out onto the field of play. On the surface, he would not appear to fit your average liberal's idea of an enlightened educator.
There was an important distinction, however, though a subtle one, and not subject to easy analysis. It was, I think, a sense of fun, a realization that we were playing a game, and that although part of his job was to make sure we played it hard and well, the larger part was to preserve that fun, for his players and for himself.
There was also-he would poke me on the are really hard for saying this-a gentleness that manifested itself when it was needed. Nothing gushy, just an awareness of when to turn the volume down.
I first became witness to that during my sophomore year. For some reason that defies analysis to this day, Coach Bass had filled an open date by scheduling a road game with the Warren Lumberjacks. The lumberjacks were out of our classification to begin with, and that year they were riding high under coach Mickey O'Quinn. There probably weren't a handful of teams in the state outside what was then known as the Big Eight that could have stayed on the field with them.
It was a slaughter. I was getting in the game only when we punted, and it seemed that I was logging as much playing time as anyone on the team. They'd score in two plays; we'd run three more plays and punt.
Finesse was not the strong point of the Lumberjacks; they simply beat you into the ground. For a while there, the contest resembled one of those games in an animated cartoon, with platoons of stretcher-bearers carting off the wounded in an unending procession.
At one point, when another woozy Miner was being helped off the field after emerging from a pileup looking through the earhole of his helmet, Coach Bass signaled for a replacement. The candidate for duty, whom I will refrain from identifying, looked down at Coach Bass, then over to where Howard Page was lying on a stretcher, his leg bent all funny.
"If it's all the same to you Coach," said the reluctant gladiator, "I'd just as soon not."
This exchange took place near the end of the bench, where I was taking a blow between punts, and I was probably the only person other than the two principals who heard it. I was amazed at my teammate's action-I did not yet know wisdom when I saw it-and waited for the explosion. It didn't come. Coach just said, very gently, "Okay, son; just go on over there and sit back down." He even gave the player a reassuring shot on the arm as he walked away.
The Lumberjacks blew us out in Fifty-eight, but nobody else did, and behind the passing of Buddy Harp and the defense of Terry Allen, we won the district championship by beating the Magnet Cove Panthers in the last game of the season. My shuttle-diplomacy-style specialty had earned me a letter, if not sports immortality, and that summer, our team picture went up in a place of honor in Ed Rickett's hair tonic case.
In 1959, nobody even touched us. Jimmy Davies, looking like a mole as he squinted around his contact lenses, bowled over defenders like ninepins, and Jimmy Birmingham just blew right past them behind them behind the blocking of Ragon Don Kinney, Jiggs Bono, and Goober Hamilton. We hardly ever had to punt, but we were so far ahead so much of the time that I logged a lot of playing time as a second-teamer. The last game was against Magnet Cove, and it was a romp in a driving rainstorm. After the game, we took our sodden, mud-covered uniforms and threw them around the dressing room with glee. On the Monday after the game, Pete Hopper, the principal, solemnly called all the football players out of class and led us to the gym, where he pointed out the ravaged locker room. The floors were covered with a thick coating of dried mud. The walls were covered with a thick coating of dried mud. Even the ceiling, fifteen feet high, was covered with a thick coating of dried mud.
"Boys," Mister Hopper intoned, "I am real proud of you, winning the championship and all, and I'm not even going to make a big fuss about this mess. I just want to know one thing. How in the world did you do it?"
That next summer was a time for more figuring. I was tired of spending my athletic career looking at an upside-down punter. I had had enough of being a face on the team picture; I was ready to be singled out to young boys by Frey the barber; I was ready to hear to the roar of the crowd.
I figured my chances were good. I had more experience at center and linebacker than any other of the returning players. I wasn't very good but the experience alone should give me an edge. Besides, I was a senior, a two-year letterman. Bauxite was a United Steelworkers town, and seniority should count for something.
We reported to two-a-days ready to romp and stomp again. We were the undefeated Miner, and we aimed to stay that way. We should have known something was up by the cautious tenor of Coach Bass's opening chalk talk. The year before, he had laid it on the line: "Boys, I really don't see how anyone on our schedule can beat us." This year, he said: "Boys, we can win again," but he didn't say how many.
Well, we won three, right off the bat, probably from sheer momentum and the intimidating effect that we had striding into opponents' gyms wearing our "Undefeated District 5-A Champion" jackets.
Then we journeyed to Lonoke County for a game with England, and the roof fell in. They were big and they were fast, and they weren't scared by our uniforms. In short, they were a pretty good football team. By the middle of the second quarter, it was twenty-five to nothing, and their subs were starting to come into the game.
We had started bickering among ourselves.
"My man? My man? What act of Congress made him my man all of a sudden? He was your man till he knocked you on your butt three plays ago!"
"If you can't hold him out, Trimble, at least wave at him as he goes by."
Only Bud Richards kept his cool. He was off by himself, giggling. I inquired as to the reason for his high good humor in light of the fact that we were getting our clocks cleaned.
"I'm gettin' 'em," Bud chortled. "I'm gettin' 'em. I'm pulling their leg hair in the pileups!"
About that time Rolleigh stormed up in high dudgeon.
Some sumbitch is pulling my leg hair in the pileups," he roared.
Bud looked shocked. "They shouldn't oughtta do that," he said indignantly, and he trotted off to get in position for the next play.
We held them to twenty-fve-zip, partly because they played a lot of subs and partly because Rolleigh played like a madman for the rest of the game. Bud and I decided on the bus trip home to continue the hair-pulling ploy for the rest of the season. "It sure got ol' Rolleigh fired up right enough," Bud reasoned.
Three more drubbings followed, at the hands of Cabot, Gurdon, and Sylvan Hills. The word was out now: the Miners could be had. One of the games was in a cold rainstorm, and for the first time, I felt some sympathy for those Magnet Cover players we had beaten in the rain the year before. When you're winning, playing in the rain is fun; when you're losing-no when you're getting slaughtered-it is miserable. Your fingers are so cold that you can't bend them, and your knuckles get scraped, and they burn with an icy fire. There is no warmth on the field; there is no warmth on the bench. The only warmth is in the mud, and when you're lying there at the bottom of a pileup, you mutter under your breath to the others: "Get up slow! Get up slow!"
I discovered an interesting phenomenon about this time. Always before, when the Miners had won, I would go home and dream about the game all night, tossing and punching the pillow, replaying each block, each tackle, each long snap to the punter. With that first loss, I quit dreaming. I would fall into bed and sleep the sleep of the dead until morning. I have never slept so soundly.
Things were getting grim, both in practice and around town. Coach Bass complained that we were entirely too jocular for a team that played as badly as we did. He made Bud Richards remove his flame job and pinstriping from his helmet, and threatened extra windsprints.
Townsmen were beginning to grumble. Frey the barber somehow linked our misfortune to the general moral decay of Western civilization.
"I just can't figure out what's the matter with you boys," he complained from under his green plastic eyeshade as he scraped the back of my neck with a straight razor. "It's-well, it's somethin', but I can't figure out what it is. I'll tell you one thing, though." Now he was gesturing with the lather and neck-hair-covered razor. "You wouldn't catch Moose Mize layin' flat on his back gettin' run over by no Gurdon Go-devil."
He pronounced "Go-devil" as though it meant "pansy."
"I think you boys have had it too easy, is what I think. Them big ol' silver helmets! George Dole didn't wear no silver helmet. He didn't wear a helmet at all, silver or another kind. You got pads on your knees and pads on your shoulders. You even got fancy pads. You can't tell me Satchelbutt Wilmoth needs no fancy pads. I don't know what's the matter with you boys. You be needing any butch was today?"
It was much the same elsewhere about time. Charlie Gibbs quit giving us free orange soda-pops on Saturday mornings at his café in Swamp Poodle. "I don't back no losers, boys," he said.
Our only ally, it seemed, was Henry Henning, the custodian of the Community Hall. For those familiar with the writing of Larry McMurtry, Henry can be described as our Sam the Lion: wise, caring, never condescending, a cousellor with a pushbroom and a big ring of keys.
"What them old boys don't tell you," Henry mused as he lit a Lucky and leaned on his broom, "is that them teams with Moose Mize and 'Tater Sweeten on 'em didn't win all their games neither. Not even Muscles' team won 'em all. Some of them teams didn't win hardly any. Them old boys don't tell you that 'cause they don't really remember it theirselves. What they remember is 'Tater and Moose and Muscles and good they was, and how much fun it was to watch 'em play, even when they got beat.
"'Course," Henry added, giving his soothing logic that ironic Henry Henning twist that we had come to expect, "you boys ain't all that much fun to watch."
We took all this in silence, we bearers of the Miners flame, partly because there wasn't much we could say in rebuttal and partly because we knew help was on the way in the form of the Bryant Hornets. We might be bad-hell, we were bad-but at least we weren't Bryant. The hapless Hornets carried the effluvia of defeat about them wherever they went; it was as much a part of them as their ragged blue uniforms. The worst insult any Bauxite football player could be subjected to still was "You looked like Bryant out there." (We had begun to hear that some.)
Well, the Hornets were coming to town, and woe unto them!
It started out quite well, really. We took the opening kickoff and moved the ball easily, mostly on a couple of long runs by Jimmy Birmingham and Bud Richards, some up-the-middle plowing passes by Johnny Holland, and some short passes from Salty Crowson to Chris Brazil and Harold Selby. Bud and I got in some good leg-hair pulling, too. Salty took it in for a score not five minutes into the game, and we lined up for the kickoff with smirks on our faces.
They did not stay there long. On the second play of the series, I blitzed between the center and guard and put a monstro hit on the Hornet quarterback for a sizeable loss. I was laughing from the sheer pleasure of it all when I suddenly realized that the guy I had creamed was laughing, too.
He was laughing because he didn't have the ball. I looked up just in time to see a blue jersey recede toward the horizon at an unbelievable pace. (It was years before I saw anything move that fast again: it was in the movie "Star Trek," when the Enterprise went into warp drive.)
His name was Louis Besancon, and he was a west wind that played football. We had heard of him, of course: the Benton Courier had carried a story about him the spring before when he set some records at a track meet. But good grief, that was track! What did track have to do with anything? More specifically, what did track have to do with football?
Plenty as it turned out. To make it mercifully short, Louis Besancon ate our chili. He scored on long runs and short runs, dump passes and long bombs, around end and up the middle. We did not score again. When the final horn sounded, and the visitors' stands erupted into a miniature V-J Day of screaming, dancing, hugging, and kissing, we slunk to our dressing room.
"This one's going to be pretty hard to explain," Rolleigh muttered.
I have never quite forgiven my parents for making me get a haircut on the Saturday after the Bryant game.
"Pitiful!" said Frey the barber. "Pitiful!" He stopped hard on the first syllable each time, and punctuated the accents with a none-to-gentle swish of his razor on the back of my already crimson neck. "You boys were PIT(swish)iful out there."
There was no refuge anywhere. Henry Henning stood on the steps of the Community Hall and surveyed us with sad, reproachful eyes.
"Bryant." He sounded like the voice of doom. "Pitiful."
"If we're so all-fired pitiful," said Rolleigh, "seems like somebody would take pity on us."
But no one did, except Coach Bass. Maybe he figured we were hopeless, that no amount of cajoling and medicine-kit kicking would get the job done. Or maybe it was relief. Maybe he figured that if he hadn't been fired or lynched after the Bryant game he'd never be fired of lynched for anything. At any rate, he lightened up. He started joking around in practice again, and the z___ returned to his howdy-doo pops to the arm. In one game-another blow-out-I was being beaten to death by a maniacal middle linebacker who lined up right in front of me and pumped his arms furiously until the ball was snapped.
"Why's he doing that, Coach?" I asked during a time-out.
Coach gazed at me intently before answering. "He's trying to tire himself out so he'll get his second wind quicker."
Have I by any chance left the impression that the Bryant game was the low point of the year, the final and complete humiliation, the absolute depths of the slough of despond? If so, let me make haste to correct it. What I meant to say was that the Bryant game was our lowest point as a team. I, myself, still had pages to write in the annals of athletic shame.
It was at Lonoke, and we were taking our by-now familiar drubbing. By some unusual circumstance, the Jackrabbits were forced to punt-their third team must have been in-and Jimmy Birmingham, our speedster, fielded the ball near the sideline on about the twenty.
He crossed the field toward the Bauxite stands, and as sometimes happens on such plays, a lane suddenly opened for him. All at once I realized that Jimmy could go all the way if he got only one block, and I realized, too, that I was in the perfect position to make it. the only man with a shot at Birmingham was skulking along the sideline in front of our bench, watching the progress of the ball carrier. I had the perfect angle on him. I would spring Birmingham loose for a touchdown and at last-at last!-hear the approving roar of the crowd that had occupied my dreams since childhood. There was no way I could miss; the poor chump was so intent on Jimmy that he didn't even notice that I was about to knock his block off.
I didn't realize anything was wrong when I felt the satisfying "thunk" of the hit. I didn't realize anything was wrong when I was suddenly enveloped in darkness. I finally realized something was wrong when I reached to pull a few obligatory leg hairs and touched smooth, hairless skin.
That's when I realized I had cold-cocked a cheerleader.
I was no stranger to embarrassing moments; no one on that Miner team was. I had made a fairly regular thing of sailing the ball over the punter's head in my three years as a snapper, and I once had retreated from my linebacker's position to field a short punt only to have the ball strike me squarely on the top of my helmet. But this was different. With one ill-timed leap, I had opened up a heretofore undiscovered vista of football buffoonery. Worse, the thing was somehow connected to the dark and mysterious world of sex: I had boldly gone where no man had gone before, but I had done it in a clown suit, before an audience of angry and derisive critics. It seemed to be a terrifying Freudian dream, but it was real.
All of that flashed through my mind in an instant, to be replaced by a more practical and immediate dilemma: how in the hell was I going to get out of there?
Careful not to touch anything, I backed out from under the voluminous skirt to determine whom I had hit. It was Myrtle Baxley, the homecoming queen and Bud Richard's main squeeze. I turned around in terror. There was nowhere to go.
The roar of the crowd? Yes, there was some roaring, all right. Birmingham, who had been clobbered by the lone defender, was roaring. Myrtle's mamma was roaring. And above it all, I heard a shrill voice shout, "Congratulations, Trimble, you finally hit somebody!"
It is amazing the number of different thoughts one can entertain in times of panic. I thought of my father: he would be mortified by the bonehead play. I thought of my mother: she would be incensed that I had forgotten my manners and hadn't even helped Myrtle to her feet. I thought of Bud Richards: he would kill me if I had harmed his beloved Myrtle, and he wasn't going to be too happy about where I had ended up, either. I would have thought some more, but about that time, Coach Bass kicked the medicine kit.
Impartial observers said later that it was the best medicine-kit kick of Coach's career. It tore the top clean off the hinges and sent Band-Aids fluttering like confetti. I didn't actually see it-my back was to the bench-but almost immediately after I heard the sound of the impact, I saw a fat roll of adhesive tape roll rapidly past me and toward the spot where my team was gathering for the huddle.
I know it does not make any sense now, but I somehow became convinced that I had to beat that roll of tape back to the huddle. If I did not, I might as well keep on running clear out into the wilds of Lonoke County to wander forever among the soybean fields. I began to run. I had never run so hard. There was fire in my lungs and a lump of ice in my soul. I caught the tape about five yards from the huddle and pulled up, panting, in front of my teammates, who were looking at me as though I were a crazy man. The tape rolled to a stop, and a referee picked it up and put it in his pocket. Then the referee looked at me and winked.
"Huckledy-buck," said Bob Banks.
Myrtle was not injured; thus I was saved from an untimely death at the hands of Bud Richards, though once more before the season was over, I was to wish that Bud had gone ahead and done the deed.
Have I by any chance left the impression that the Lonoke game was my own personal low point of the season, the night of my greatest humilitation? If so, let me hasten to correct it. What I meant to say was that the Lonoke game was the night of my greatest public humiliation. There was one more, a private humiliation -shame might be a better word-that I have not shared with anyone until this very day.
It was the last game of the season, at Magnet Cove. The Panthers had had their season finale spoiled for two straight years by the Bauxite Miners; now they were ready for revenge.
I do not recall whether Magnet Cove had a particularly good team that year. I do know that they had Randy Stewart; they couldn't have needed much else.
Many of you will remember Randy Stewart. He made all-Southwest Conference as a center for the Arkansas Razorbacks about 1965, and I understand he's now some kind of corporate face card for Exxon down around Midland, Texas. In 1960, Randy Stewart was a center and linebacker for the Magnet Cove Panthers, and he was of a type not often seen in the backwaters of Arkansas football: legs like tree trunks; a torso like a sack of wrecking balls, and a neck as big around as a sewer pipe. For that last game of the season, for my farewell to football, my final chance to salvage some respectability, Randy Stewart was-to use a term so loosely as to be ridiculous-"my man."
I have played in football games in which I feared we would lose. I have played in games in which I feared we would be disgraced. The 1960 Bauxite Miner-Magnet Cove Panther game was the only game in which I feared I would be killed. This was not an irrational fear that began the week of the game and built slowly, irreversibly as the day of the contest neared; this was a fear that manifested itself-unexpectedly but fully supported by the empirical evidence-about the second play of the game when Randy Stewart tore the helmet from my head with a forearm shot, wrenched both of my arms from their sockets with a double flat-handed shiver to the shoulders, and tromped the length of my now-supine form into our backfield to all but decapitate Salty Crowson, who had stopped in the middle of a roll-out to gape at the carnage, as people sometimes will be reflexively struck dead in their tracks when they come upon a particularly bloody car wreck.
"Punt!" I begged in the huddle.
Salty shook his head in the negative.
"Why not?" I whined.
"It's second down. We can't punt on second down!"
"Why not?" I croaked again. "It ain't gonna get any better."
Salty shook his head again. I looked over at Rolleigh, the right guard and the strongest man on our team. "I sure could use some help."
Rolleigh gazed for a moment across the line, where Randy Stewart was standing under a cloud of steam that made him look like a volcano about to erupt.
"I'm a little tied up right now," Rolleigh said. "Why don't you try me again tomorrow at the barber shop?"
I looked around the huddle at my other teammates. All of them remained in their hands-on-knees huddle stance, staring silently and intently at their shoelaces.
"Thanks, men." I had meant it to sound sarcastic, but the tremor in my voice spoiled the effect.
We finally did punt, but, as had become a pattern in our games, the Panthers scored in about three plays, and we were again on what must laughingly be called the offensive. Three more running plays and a punt resulted in my getting a shipped tooth, a bloody nose, and a mouse the size of a golf ball under my left eye. By the end of the first half, it was all I could do to drag myself to the visitor's locker room. I lay on the floor, a wet towel on my head, as Coach Bass made his traditional rounds around the room, speaking encouragement to each player in a quiet voice and giving a critique of the first half of play. When he got to me, he said softly, "Protect yourself, son," and then moved on.
On our first possession of the second half, Randy Stewart slammed me so hard on the helmet that the suspension webbing broke, leaving my head to rattle around like a baseball in a bucket. I was on my third helmet of the night, and the end wasn't yet in sight. That's when the primal instinct for survival took over; that's when I inflicted upon myself the final and complete humiliation.
That's when I tried to make a deal with Randy Stewart.
I have forgotten or repressed the actual words I used to put forth the proposition, but the gist of it, delivered through the earhole of his helmet as he lay atop me in a pileup, one arm around my neck and the other around the ball carrier, was that what the hell, this was the last game of the season and they were going to win big anyway, and I'd do everything possible to stay out of his way, even tip him off to the flow of the play before the snap if he wanted me to, if only he would lighten up and let me survive. He did not say anything when he let me up; he just smiled.
I was hopeful. A smile is a smile, right? The next play was to be a sweep around right end, and true to my end of what I hoped was our bargain, I indicated the direction of the play with a none-too-subtle rolling of the eyes.
As soon as I snapped the ball, I headed to the left, opposite the flow of the play. I looked over my shoulder, and my heart stopped. Randy Stewart was not moving with the ball. Randy Stewart was not even looking at the ball, and it was clear that he was not even going to try to make the tackle. Randy Stewart was heading right for me, and I knew I was a dead man. The words that sprung to my lips just before the impact were a lie, an outrageous and despicable lie that came not from my brain but from some deeply buried survival gland wherein dwelt the hope that a man of principle might also be moved to pity.
"My sister has polio!" I screamed.***
I was sitting up; I could tell that much. I could see the toes of my shoes in front of me, pointing up, but I couldn't ascertain at what point my body was making contact with the ground. I seemed to be floating. Hazy figures moved in and out of my field of vision. Someone seemed to be holding up some fingers, and asking me how many I saw. I though for a moment that I was in jail: black bars ran up and down in front of my eyes. Then the floating sensation gradually subsided, and the jailhouse bars became the black stripes on the shirt of a football game official. Again he asked me about fingers. I replied, apparently correctly. The official grinned at me and winked.
"Huckledy-buck," said Bob Banks.
The barber shop at Bauxite has been torn down for years, and while I mourn the passing of a landmark of my youth, sometimes I think it is for the best. If the barber shop were still there, where would the picture of the 1960 Bauxite Miners be? In the restroom? Or would it be in the hair tonic case, but pasted on backward, with its public side saying only "A Kodak Paper"? Or worst of all, would the picture be displayed normally, with one face inked out, one ignoble and undeserving gladiator consigned to nonperson-dom by the ballpoint of Frey the barber? I do not know.
There is another thing I do not know. as I recall the defeats and the long bus trips home that followed, the split lips and the pratfalls, the busted medicine kits and the knocking of cheerleaders on their megaphones, I do not know why I loved it so, or why I love it still.
Perhaps it was the insularity of it all. We were very small frogs, but we performed in a pond commensurate with our size. Our world was bounded by Pine Haven on the East, Swamp Poodle to the west, Crumby Town to the south, and the Baptist Church to the north; it was so familiar to us that we did not so much live in it as wear it, like an old, comfortable suit of clothes. Or perhaps a security blanket.
I have said that football was important to the town, and it was, but it was important as football, nothing else. Schoolchildren in Bauxite were seen as children, not as representatives of the town as a whole, or as surrogates for the thwarted ambitions of grownups, or as metaphors for the political or spiritual state of the country, Frey the barber's plaints notwithstanding. Nobody ever accused us of being anything but bad football players.
And so we were free to play, and it was play, and it was fun. Grantland Rice was wrong. It is not how you play the game that counts; it is that the game is played.
I have seen the big-time high schools play. Sometimes they do it on Astro-Turf, and their coaches wear those fancy headsets just like the one Freddie Akers wears. Their players are big and fast and marvelously talented, some of them, and they have my respect and my good wishes, but I cannot give them my heart. My heart is with the slow and gawky country boys, as they take to the dusty, dim-lit fields on starry autumn nights.---By Mike Trimble ---