Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sibling Assignment #171: Fantasy Sports in My Youth

Carol assigned this most recent prompt for me and my sisters:

  Write about a memory or memories of the autumn season growing up in Kellogg, sometime before you graduated from Kellogg High School.

Christy wrote a touching tribute to her second grade teacher, Mrs. Lorna Meyer, here. Carol mused on how the colors of autumn in Kellogg have improved over the course of her life, here.

These days, I read football scores and keep up on the way things are going for quite a few teams because I enjoy conversation about football with my friends.  But, I rarely watch games any more and, when I do, it's not nearly as enjoyable as it was when I was younger.

For some reason,  I was really charmed on my 11th birthday (December 27, 1964) by the NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the Cleveland Browns.

I don't know why I wanted Cleveland to win.  You'd think that a young kid like me would be under the spell of legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas, but I wasn't.

I rooted for Frank Ryan, the quarterback of the Browns.  On my 11th birthday, I didn't understand that Frank Ryan, as a doctoral candidate in math at Rice University, was a unique player, accomplished both on the gridiron and in academia.  He completed his doctorate in 1965 and is still the only player in the history of the NFL to hold a doctorate degree while playing in the league.

But, it wasn't his academic prowess that impressed me in this championship game.

I was most impressed by his three touchdown passes to Gary Collins, especially the third one, covering 51 yards.

When the fall of 1965 rolled around, I wanted to be Frank Ryan and I wanted to be Gary Collins.

So, I took my football into the backyard and figured out how to throw the football high enough that I could run under it and catch my own passes.

At first, my passes dropped easily into my hands.  I didn't throw the passes very far ahead of myself.

But, in my memory, at least one of Frank Ryan's passes to Gary Collins was barely within Collins' reach and I wanted to catch that kind of bomb.

So I extended myself.  I threw the passes deeper, not necessarily higher, so I could experience the thrill of catching passes on my fingertips, passes that were very nearly out of my reach.

As time went by, I extended my football passing and catching fantasies beyond Frank Ryan and Gary Collins.  Dad loved the 49ers' John Brodie and so I imagined I was Brodie tossing touchdown passes to Dave Parks. I'd watched much highlight footage of Fran Tarkenton scrambling, evading pass rushers, and so sometimes I'd be a scrambler, ducking, backpedaling, moving left, moving right, and slinging a desperate bomb to Paul Flatley streaking down the sideline, pulling in Tarkenton's heave and hitting pay dirt.

These solo pass and catch sessions paralleled my Fall Classic solo baseball sessions.  Back when we lived on 14 E. Portland, I used to toss up crab apples and hit them with a bat, making my way through the New York Yankees' lineup. When we moved to 516 W. Cameron, the lot where the church across the street now stands, was a rock field, and I loved playing out baseball games in my head as I hit rocks for singles, doubles, triples, and home runs.  It was my mid-1960's version of fantasy baseball. In this world, the San Francisco Giants won every pennant and swept every World Series.

As I grew into my teenage years, I stopped throwing passes to myself and hitting rocks, but, for many years, I shot baskets by myself and played out basketball games in my head, hitting game winning shot after game winning shot in the undefeated glory of my imagination.

And, of course, back in my days of playing golf, I won countless U. S. Opens, Masters titles, Ryder Cups, and other prestigious tournaments with six foot putts on the practice green.

After about the ninth grade, I never experienced much success on the actual fields of play.  I hated playing football and never played after the ninth grade.  My basketball success peaked in the ninth grade. I had a few game winning hits here and there in high school, but, by and large, I was an average baseball player.  I never won anything on a golf course.

But, in the fields of play in my imagination, I was undefeated, catching long passes, stroking game winning hits, knocking down game winning jumpers, and draining clutch putts.

I gave myself goosebumps.

The thrill was real, physical, even if the contests weren't.

No comments: