1963. Falls Church, Virginia. I was a junior in high school. I loved sports of all kinds but I never made a high school team. I tried. I could blame my lack of success on my physical stature or lack of speed. I suppose I could come up with a lot of excuses. The real reason is that I’m just an average athlete. And that’s okay.
But to a sixteen year-old kid who was striving to find his place in the world I had not yet given up on the sports theme. Since high school football was out of the question the local Boys Club league seemed like the only other option.
It wasn’t a question of trying out. More like just showing up. About 20 kids were there for our first practice. The coach was Edd Shull. He had played college ball. Not sure where. Coach Shull was about 30. He was energetic and passionate about football. Looking back I’m amazed that he wanted to take the time to work with us.
We were the rejects. The kids who couldn’t make it anywhere else.
The football field was really the only place where we associated one with another. There were a couple of really smart kids. Some delinquents. Actually, quite a few of them. And there were some normal kids who were struggling to just find an identity. Some success in life. That was me.
I wanted to make a difference. Be someone. And somehow our sorry group of misfits seemed to be my only opportunity to do so. I don’t remember anyone’s name. A few faces come to mind. Actually, I do remember a name. Burr Hartman. I remember him because he was our quarterback and was killed in an auto accident after our third or fourth game.
Of the twenty or so that showed up at the beginning only about twelve or thirteen stuck around. There was a 140 lb. limit. Most of us were pretty short, I was about 5’ 3”, and we didn’t compensate with speed. My coach could have said something like “Flynn, you might be small, but you sure are slow.” And he could have said that about most of us. But he didn’t. He was always upbeat, expecting a lot of this group of young athlete-wanna-be’s.
I don’t even remember the name of the team. Lions? Maybe.
Our uniforms were hand-me-downs from various schools in the area. High schools. Junior highs. There was a big pile on the ground of worn out shoulder pads, pants and various other pads designed to protect our bodies from the punishment we were about to be given. We picked through the heap until we found something that sort of fit.
Helmets were a different issue. We had to buy our own helmets and then paint them blue with a gold stripe down the middle. Not all the hues of blue matched. The gold stripes varied in width. But, in a way, we started to look like a team.
Jerseys were pretty much the same. Again, discards from some school.
Dad and I went down to a sporting goods store to buy cleats. Our coach told us to get some that were snug on our feet. For some reason my dad didn’t like the idea that my feet were only about an 8 or 8½. He wanted my feet to be bigger. They weren’t. I ended up with shoes that were too big for me. I played the whole season slipping around in my shoes in spite of wearing extra pairs of socks. Odd.
There was the usual bickering over what number we would get. I wanted 55. So did some other kid. We flipped. I won. He wore number 50.
We only had about three practices before our first game. We lost that one. And the next. Along about then we started to come together as a team. The delinquents decided that the rest of us could actually contribute to the team. The brainiacs thought their way through the process and started to kick in. The normal kids kept at it. Like normals do.
The delinquents, we called them “hoods”, were the most interesting group. About four or five of them. (Another name comes back. Smitty.) They would come to practice in their souped up cars. Their hair was always greasy and combed back. A pack of cigarettes rolled up in their t-shirts was not an uncommon sight.
I have to admit that they intimidated me to some extent. They were the tough guys. But, I soon found out that when I hit them they fell down just like everyone else. They weren’t really all that tough. Like most of us, they, too, were probably just trying to find themselves.
I played a variety of positions. Guard. Nose tackle. Linebacker. And a few others, depending on who got hurt and who showed up. As a general rule we had just enough guys to field a team with one or two on the bench.
So, after our second loss in as many tries we decided we were tired of losing. And we were getting better. We won our third game. And every game after that. In fact, after our second game no one scored on us the rest of the season.
Our most interesting win was against the Junior Varsity of a local high school. George Mason I think. I assume our coach called their coach and set up the game since it wasn’t on our regular schedule. We didn’t play high school teams. We were in the significantly inferior Boys Club League.
There we were in our mismatched uniforms and funny looking helmets. Just enough of us to vaguely resemble a team. Our opponent had matching everything. Including red and white capes. Three or four coaches to our one. They didn’t have the 140 lb. limit and some of them looked like giants.
It was a tough game. On our second possession Smitty ran for about 60 yards right up the middle for a touchdown. We ended up winning 24 – 0. Their coach was livid. As we were trudging back to the parking lot they were getting a tongue-lashing for losing to a bunch of misfits. Their coach looked over at our coach and gave him a “Good game” acknowledgment. I still smile when I think about it.
Burr, our quarterback, was one of the delinquents. A hood. A tough kid. Curly, sandy blond hair. Taller than most of us. He was riding in a car with a bunch of other kids. It went off the road. Hit a tree.
We decided to play the next game with only ten players in tribute to our fallen comrade. Our halfback moved over to quarterback. We played some team from Maryland. They wore purple jerseys. It was 1963. We beat them 63 – 0.
After that season was over I never played another down of organized football. Pickup games here and there. Two hand touch. Flag football. But 1963 was the last time I had on shoulder pads. Or a helmet. The last time I wore an over-sized pair of cleats.
We had a team dinner at the end of the season. Coach Shull got up and gave a tribute to Burr, whose parents were in attendance. Tears streamed down his face. He said “I weep unashamed.” He really was a passionate guy.
After my stint with the Falls Church Boys Club football team I got into other things. I tried out for a play and found that acting, unlike football, was something at which I could compete. I’ve made a career in the performing arts.
I wonder on occasion what happened to the other guys. They clearly have no idea how their friendship and camaraderie left its mark on this impressionable 16 year-old. Apart from theater, it was the highlight of my high school experience. Those few months at the beginning of my junior year.
The practices. The games. The skinned elbows that never healed until a few weeks after the last game. The fights on the field. Finding friends in unusual ways. Most of all, the feeling of having accomplished something. Being able to go to school on a Monday morning knowing that on the previous Saturday afternoon we had walked onto a football field and beaten the other team. No one at school knew. There were no announcements over the morning PA in home room. No one slapped us on the back. But we knew.
The hoods, the brainiacs and the normal kids. We were the castoffs. The guys who couldn’t make it. But in our little world of Boys Club Football we were the best. As we walked down the hall at George C. Marshall High School, just outside Washington DC, we smiled and nodded to each other. No outward actions. We didn’t eat lunch together or talk to each other at school. That would have been too weird. It was sort of a secret. We would nod. The nods were always returned. Down deep inside we shared a secret. The secret that on some small scale, we were winners.
And winning feels good. Even if no one knows.
Yes, we won all but the first two games. Granted, the season wasn’t that long. Ten games, I think. The level of competition was undoubtedly questionable. After all, the other teams were full of rejects, too. There were no playoffs at the end of the year. No trophies. No write ups in the newspaper.
Just the memories.
As I walked off the field after our 63 – 0 drubbing of the purple Maryland team, one of the fathers came up to me and said “Good game, Mike.” I smiled through a few tears, wishing Burr had been there. Perhaps he was. I hope so.
1963. Football. That’s how I remember it. If I am ever granted a replay of my whole life I am quite sure I will slow down the playback when it comes to that season of Boys Club Football.
I was eleven. I had a baseball mitt with Jim Finigan's name inscribed in it that my dad had bought for me. I went to Timber Lane Elementary school in Falls Church, Virginia. My teacher's name was Mrs. Groschan. I was in sixth grade. The principal's name was Miss Snodgrass. We had some fun with that. She was a large, kind woman. Not pretty. None of us marveled at the "Miss" in her name. This was before the advent of "Ms".
The United States was on the gold standard then. Not that I cared. I was more concerned with baseball and the little dark haired girl named Carol Skalnik who sat in the back of the room.
But baseball was king. Mickey Mantle was my hero. The humid spring days were full of running, catching, hitting. Joking with my pals. Little League tryouts. I was "drafted" by the Braves. The Howard Johnson Braves. You see back then private enterprise supported Little League. Different organizations or businesses would sponsor the teams which would then sport their names along with the team mascot. McGonegal Plumbers. (They were the best team.) The VFW Veterans. And one more that I can't remember. But I didn't care who sponsored the teams, I was just glad to play. I still have the team picture. There I was squinting in the sun (I still do that.) and wearing my bright orange hat. It was embroidered with a black "B", for Braves. My mom sewed it on and it was just a little bit crooked.
I remember that season as if it were yesterday. I kept track of my batting average on a piece of white paper inside one of the kitchen cabinets. We came in third out of four teams. I played center field. Just like my hero, Mickey Mantle. My son Richard plays center, too. And, I reluctantly admit, he's much better at it than I was.
My next door neighbor, Kalvin Moore, was the catcher on the McGonegal Plumbers. My first hit that year was a home run. Right over the left field fence. We were playing the Plumbers and Kalvin slapped me on the back as I crossed home plate and said, "Good hit". But, that was a long time ago. I haven't talked to Kalvin in twenty years.
Dad went to work. Mom stayed home. We had one car. An old one. One TV. Black and White. I shared a room with my younger brother. I didn't worry about money. Except for my allowance, which was always there. I worried about baseball and how I was going to pass Mrs. Groschan's test on the capitals of the South American countries.
But baseball was my biggest concern. And I never did figure out why the Senators couldn't win games to save their lives. But we went to Griffith Stadium and cheered them on anyway. Or, we would watch them on TV. Hot humid nights in front of the old Motorola when my dad and I would drink beer and root for the home team. Except when they played the Yankees. And especially except when #7, Mickey Mantle, came to the plate.
I didn't worry about how much he made. I didn't want his rookie card because it was worth more than his 1956 card, the year he won the triple crown. (.353 BA, 52 HR, 130 RBI) I wanted his card because he was my hero. It never occurred to me that it might be worth something. I didn't care whether or not he smoked or drank. I just loved to watch Mickey Mantle play. The swing. From either side of the plate, was magic. I never really noticed that he was white. He'd have been my hero if he had been black or yellow for that matter.
I was just a kid. Concerned about kid stuff.
It was before Viet Nam divided our nation and well past the unification brought on by WWII. Nobody really talked about Korea. At least not to us kids. Deficits, national debt, welfare, unemployment and affirmative action were all things of the future. Things about which I couldn't have cared less.
I didn't know what a homosexual was. Wasn't paranoid about sex. Had never heard the word abortion. I never concerned myself with racism. I said the "N" word once, not really knowing what it meant. My dad corrected me and said I should never use that word. I never have.
Dad paid the bills. Mom cooked meals and made sure I did my homework. Sometimes. Things weren't perfect. We fought. I got knocked around once in a while. My brother and I were always at each other's necks. But we survived. Sort of. On our own.
Remote controls, CDs, boom boxes, cruise control, Nike's, and designer jeans were not part of what I thought was important. We didn't have computers or even calculators. But we did learn to read. I didn't care about Europe or the Middle East or Southeast Asia. Falls Church, Virginia was the beginning and end of my world. Except for our occasional trips to Connecticut to see relatives. I thought the New Jersey Turnpike was the longest road in the world.
I was just a normal kid. Concerned about normal things.
I collected baseball cards. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them. I collected them because the ball players were my heroes. I knew everything about them that the cards would reveal. I marveled at the way the Yankees won. And at the way the Senators lost.
I don't have the cards today. Some people say: "What a shame. Do you know what they'd be worth?" That's okay. I didn't collect them for that. I would rather remember them the way they were. Worn at the edges. Folded in the middle, some of them. Fastened with a clothes pin to the front fork of my bike to make it sound like a motor cycle. Stuffed inside my pillow at night so that I could be close to my heroes and have some of their magic rub off on me.
I choose to remember them that way.
Somehow baseball threads its way through my life. My father and uncle both played for the University of Connecticut. I used to watch my Uncle Edgar play the University of Maryland. He was a great catcher. My grandfather played semi-pro ball in the thirties. My great-grandmother, we called her Great Ma, was one of the world's biggest fans. Especially of the Red Sox. I used to sneak a small transistor radio into school so I could listen to the World Series. This was when they used to play all the Series games in the daytime. Regardless of the financial ramifications.
I still go to games when I can. I'll go over and see the Rockies play this year.
But somehow, baseball has changed. Right along with life. The salaries, the strikes, the egos. The steroids. The self aggrandizement that players go through.
Where am I going with all this? I'm not really sure. Maybe I'm trying to say that somehow I think life was better then. More innocent. More naive perhaps. But better. My parents lived better than their parents and believed that they would hand me a better world than they had. I suppose they did. But I can't make that promise to my children. I am afraid for them. I fear for their safety and sanity in a world bereft of both. I worry about America becoming so debt ridden that the only answer will be rocketing inflation and interest rates that won't allow anyone, including my children, to pursue what we called the American Dream.
And I'm afraid that baseball will kill itself. It will go down swinging as we read headlines with words like "Free Agency", "Fifteen Million Dollars a Year", "Drug Scandal", "Unions", and "Strike".
I try to deal with all this. I try to maintain a positive attitude. I do have hope for my children along with the fear.
But I must admit I sometimes yearn to be a boy again. A small boy with sandy brown hair, big brown eyes, and his baseball cards. Sleeping with his Jim Finigan mitt. Dreaming about the home run he hit in that game against the McGonegal Plumbers.
Politics are an ugly battleground. Both sides put forth their ideas. Ideas that are usually conceived by focus groups rather than the candidates themselves. The candidates are merely puppets in the hands of advisors, poll-takers and the like. The process really sickens me to a great extent.
But, it's all we have.
Politicians try to be everything to everyone. They end up in some muddy, middle ground and we find ourselves picking between the lesser of two evils. I long for a politician to stand up and really say what he/she believes. Regardless of the political correctness of the answer. Or what the polls indicate.
I want someone to stand up and tell the environmentalists to take a flying leap and that we are going to drill for oil in Alaska. And offshore. Yes, it will take years before we see the results. But that's the argument that was put forth years ago. If we had started then we'd be reaping the benefits now. If we start now we won't be complaining years from now. The future hits us faster than we care to think. We've become a nation that wants everything now. We can't put oil on a credit card and have it delivered to our doorstep a few days later. We have to plan for it. Save for it. Ideas that are foreign to the American mind. So, foreigners fill our immediate need while we refuse to prepare for the future.
I suppose that , in a sense, this election comes down to what battlefield(s) we wish to fight on.
I guess the sanctity of life is my biggest battlefield. I abhor this nation's view on abortion. Especially partial birth abortion. And Obama is fully in favor of it. Why? Because he cottons to the female vote.
I have always been amazed that the women of this country are more in favor of abortion than are the men. A mystery. One would think that the maternal instinct would take over and be in favor of keeping the child. Guess not.
Another battlefield is the issue of God in our country. I see the liberals, in particular the Democratic Party, as doing everything they can to get God out of our communities. They strike at the very personal level of society. The small towns that want to have a Christmas manger on the lawn of city hall. The county courthouse that has a plaque of the ten commandments in its lobby. The schools that wish to start the day, or graduation, with a prayer. The community that wants to put up a cross at the side of the freeway where a public servant, a highway patrolman, was gunned down by some illegal alien drug smuggler.
They cry separation of church and state. What they get is separation of God and state. That's their real target. The Almighty. Perhaps the liberals feel they are above the Almighty. Their egos just won't let them acquiesce to a higher power.
And not one politician has every explained to me the connection between prayer and church. There is no connection. The only connection is between prayer and God. The problem is that if the liberals go after separation of God and state the country would rebel. Church is an easier target. The liberals don't really care about Church. They're after God.
They just won't admit it.
So, I come down on the side of the conservatives. Are they perfect? Of course not. Was Iraq handled well? Nope. Is George Bush a great president? Probably not. I'll let history decide.
But do the conservatives welcome God into our communities? Yes. Do they decry abortion? Yes. Are they in favor, as a general rule, of fiscal responsibility? Yes. Do they realize that the National Treasury is not a bottomless pit of money for every possible social service and special interest? Yes. Do they want to keep the Federal Government out of my life? For the most part, yes.
So, they get my vote. I'll let other things slide. I can only fight so many battles.
A lot of my battles have to do with putting food on my table, paying the rent, being nice to my neighbors, being a good dad, and so on.
And I don't look to the Federal Government, or any government for that matter, to help me. Just protect the borders and stay out of my way.
Barack Hussein Obama is on a freight train and he's headed for a head on collision with mainstream America. He shouts "Hope" and "Change". I hope he changes his mind. I hope the change we see is that Americans see through his shallow mantras and send him "barack" where he belongs. To Illinois where he is welcome to serve as a state senator.
That's where he will do the least amount of damage.
This is the wacky part of the website. Just some writings I've done. Truly for someone who has nothing better to do late at night.
I'll add to this on occasion.
MY FOOTBALL CAREER
POLITICS AS USUAL
Copyright 2011 Michael Flynn. All rights reserved.