It was at our 50th high school reunion that Mort, who lived in California, told some of us guys about alumni football. Alumni football is increasingly popular in America. It involves former players from one high school playing a full-contact game against former players from a rival high school. Most are between the ages of eighteen and forty, but Mort knew of a fellow in his early sixties who played in a game and who intended to play into his seventies. Why not challenge our cross-town rivals?
“The rule for this game is that you have to be a high school graduate for at least fifty years,” he said. “We’ll stomp ‘em!” And Numbers, who still worked for the chamber of commerce, said it would boost the economy. Returning graduates would patronize local motels, restaurants, and stores. He was for it. We all were. Slick, the emcee at the 50th reunion banquet, then announced our intention to our classmates after we had gone through the buffet line.
Most hadn’t had nearly enough to drink. “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!” said someone in her right mind…“You do this and you won’t live to finish your bucket lists,” said another…“Let’s dig up Charles Bronson. You’ve got the plot for a new Death Wish movie.”
“No, it’s not a dumb idea.” The whole room became quiet as elegant, gray-haired Effie Hutton rose to speak. Effie still ran a dance studio with her daughters and granddaughters. Everyone listened when she spoke. “Girls weren’t allowed to play football when we were in high school. I’ve always wanted to kick field-goals and extra-points. This may be my only chance. I’m with you if you’ll let us women play too.” We agreed and the whole class was in favor.
The next morning, over breakfast at McDonalds, we guys came to our senses. An alumni football game? What were we thinking? We’d be killed! We were going to call it off, but it was too late. Numbers had already told the editor of the local paper. He had also issued a challenge to our cross-town rivals, and the idiots had accepted. The Geezer Bowl was a go!
A month later, twenty-three of us iron men, including Effie, ranging in age from 68 to 77, gathered four hours prior to the game in our assigned locker room at municipal stadium. Like our twenty-four iron-deficient opponents, we had each paid a $200 fee for uniform rental, stadium rental, referees, four EMT’s and two ambulances, liability insurance for both high schools, a T-shirt, and a DVD of the game. The actual cost of the evening was more than $400/player, but our sponsor, Cialis, subsidized the difference. No network wanted to televise the matchup, but clips would be on You-Tube.
There are companies that provide equipment for alumni football. The company that rented us our equipment refused to deliver it until four hours before the game. It feared that if we practiced the week or so beforehand in pads, there would be so many injuries that the game would be cancelled. Actually, we only practiced once in sweats. Since most our players flew in for the game, we limbered up and learned a few plays the night before the game. Our coach had once been a YAFL coach, Young American Football League.
But it was good that the pads arrived at least four hours before kickoff. It took us the entire time to get dressed. We were exhausted by game time, pulling on our pants and pulling jerseys over our shoulder pads, not to mention aggravating rotator cuff injuries. And we had forgotten how heavy the pads and helmet were! We had been counting on our ringer – a retired jewel thief who could still outrun most beat cops for distances of up to six blocks – to run up and down the field carrying the ball. But he was so skinny – an advantage when it came to worming his way through heating ducts – that he didn’t have the strength to move in pads.
Mort screamed encouragement before we took the field, “Let’s go out there and hit someone!” Easy for him to say. He named himself manager before anyone else could call dibs on it. All he had to do was trot out on the field during time-outs and give us our Ensure.
Kickoffs are banned in alumni football, so after winning the coin toss, our opponents, the Visitors, took over on their 20-yard line. They had a quarterback who was in great shape. He actually ran marathons. We were afraid he was going to score at will, but on the first play of the game, the center snapped the ball into his leg instead of his hands. A knee injury, he was out for the rest of the game.
As the game progressed, both teams were plagued by penalties – off side, false start, and delay of game. Neither side exactly hustled back to the huddle. Nor did we hustle to the line of scrimmage from the huddle. Huddling was nice, felt good. There were also lots of fumbles, one or two per play. And generally a player carried off the field every couple of downs.
My team, Home, rotated positions because none of us were skill players. When it was my turn to play fullback, I picked up the quarterback’s fumble, broke through the line, and headed toward the end zone. But it was further away than I thought. I had to stop to catch my breath. A defensive back walked up and hugged me. It was obvious that he figured that tackling me would hurt him as much as me, and so he claimed that by holding me for several seconds he had stopped my forward motion. End of play. I then broke his hug and made a touchdown, but the referees agreed with the me-hugger. My team had a first down on our opponent’s 18-yard line.
In three plays we gained eight yards largely by recovering our own fumbles. We were on our opponent’s 10-yard line, 4th and 2, when Effie came in to attempt a field goal. It was my turn to play center. After I called a time-out to get my glasses from Mort, who was holding them for me on the sideline, I snapped the ball. They slipped off my face as I looked backward between my legs, but I got the ball to the holder who was able to catch it and position it so Effie could kick it.
In spite of one of the highest non-soccer-style leg swings in football history – the woman was a hoofer! – she topped the ball and kicked a line drive straight into my hip-padded butt, which then ricocheted in a high arc back into her hands. What to do? Long a football fan, she knew. Run around left end for a touchdown. She then nailed the point-after-attempt. Score 7-0!
Shortly after that, the wear and tear of the game began to take a toll. Both teams grew weary and so slow-moving that the referees began calling loitering penalties. At the end of the first quarter, the refs could see that we were too tired to trade field positions. Officially, the game was called for lack of players – we had only nine able to take the field, the Visitors ten – but unofficially the refs were worried because there was no ambulance in service on the sidelines. Both were in use carrying players to the hospital. As Effie said afterward, “It was a glorious win!”