Folks, the recent snowfall here in New England truly had me thinking back to my younger days. Ah, what terrific memories! It was a time–during the 70’s–when it could never snow ENOUGH for a few of us neighborhood kids; funny–today, I curse at that type of precipitation simply because I have to DRIVE in it. But a fresh blanketing in those days could mean only one thing for us adventurous youngsters: backyard football played in the snow. Yeah, it was a time to celebrate. You see, we had no video games to corrupt us back then and keep us indoors; in addition, we had already outgrown the allure of building snowmen. The term “sedentary lifestyle” had not yet come into focus; if there HAD been such a term used in those days, it surely didn’t apply to us. The more snow, the better. Sub-zero temps? Bring it on–we’ll pretend it’s Minnesota. Wind chill factor WAY down–and perhaps dangerous? No problem–we’ll have to dress a little warmer. And to play WHILE it was snowing? Now THAT was the best.
The typical “joyful event” would always be preceded by snow shoveling; it was agreed that if all four of our families’ driveways were clean, it was game time. Our “stadium” was Tom’s backyard–maybe 40 yards long and far from being level. It really didn’t matter in what direction either squad was going–uphill or downhill; the slippery, snowy terrain made that a moot point. Two-hand tag–although we didn’t mind being tackled at times as a fresh snowfall would surely cushion our falls. And it was the same match-up every time we played: Jimmy and I vs. Joe and Tom–the latter duo being a couple years older than us. I’ll admit that those first couple of years were tough for Jimmy and I–middle-schoolers taking on bigger high school kids–but it just made us hungrier. But we KNEW we were faster–and SOMEDAY that would be to our advantage. Goal-line markers, primitive as they were, were the end of a picket fence (that housed a pool area close to the house) and a tree stump at the top of the hill. You were out of bounds on one side of the field if you touched that fence (or stepped over the imaginary line that ran parallel to the goal line) or if you brushed against a set of lined evergreens on the other side. Funny, I don’t remember many controversies about someone being out of bounds or not; we were on the “honor system” and I can only surmise that we respected each other a lot. Oh, and if we played AFTER dinner on some snowy nights, the “stadium” would then be illuminated by the rear spotlights of our surrounding homes. Yeah, I guess we weren’t gonna be outdone by that week’s “Monday Night Football” telecast.
We’d all dress similarly for our periodic “snow wars”: heavy jacket, snow pants, water-proof boots, and a knit cap with one’s favorite team logo on it. To this day, I remember Joe wearing a Vikings hat all the time–sometimes pulled way down near his glasses. In fact, I marvel to this day how Joe did it while wearing specs as they would fog up on occasion and often be lost in a foot of snow–resulting in an automatic time-out. Tom was a burly teen who liked to lift weights; yeah, he was tough to block but could surely be outrun by us younger guys. Joe was quick–and more athletic than his partner. There was a simple format for each game–one rusher, one pass defender–with the former counting to “three Mississippi” before converging on the QB. And I clearly remember Jimmy and I preferring to go in the uphill direction at the “stadium”; I think the two of us saw a clear advantage of the defense having to back-pedal against our emerging passing game–yours truly being the QB the majority of the time. I recall Jimmy and I (when Joe and Tom weren’t around) practicing SCRIPTED patterns that we’d utilized during the next game–repeating them until they were executed regularly and easily. Again, at the beginning, Joe and Tom’s age and size were too much for us to overcome; after a few winters, Jimmy and I grew bigger, faster, and smarter–and would RARELY lose. That “out and up” pattern began to work for us every time. Perhaps me hitting Jimmy occasionally on a square-out forced Joe and Tom to HAVE to be aware of the short pass; it was shortly thereafter that we’d mix in our “money” play–where I’d pump fake that same square-out pass and then hit Jimmy deep down the field. Ah, and every successful possession felt better than the previous one; I’ll never forget that feeling when we were beating Joe and Tom regularly. Yes, the young guys had arrived–and it was magical.
I remember one of those winters when all of us pooled our energy and rolled/created a huge snowball–maybe six feet tall, five feet wide; the placement of it near Tom’s garage was simply due to the fact that it could NOT be moved any farther. Jimmy and I decided to use it for “training” purposes on those days when Joe and Tom weren’t around (perhaps when they were busy with high school activities). “The Rock” (as it became known as after it froze to the core) was used to practice “toughening” skills: we’d carry the football toward it–starting about ten yards away–and try to leap OVER it. Those who were unsuccessful surely had sore chest/stomach muscles the next day; looking back, I wouldn’t trade that soreness for ANYTHING. And I recall “The Rock” getting harder by the day as the sub-freezing days piled up; I swear–that particular winter, it was standing from December until mid-March.
Yes, such vivid, tremendous memories of better days gone by. Yeah, we DID play occasionally on a “snow-less” field and often took our games into the street when Tom’s Dad was working on the back lawn in the late fall. But nothing beat playing in the “white stuff” when the welcomed winter arrived; those fond memories will always be a collective, treasured keepsake. And now as I fast forward to 2009 and put on that adult “knit” cap, I’ll just offer this: ENOUGH SNOW ALREADY–O.K.?!