My first play as a member of the Frankfort Night Hawks football team was pretty special. A stunner in fact. Late in the game I was put in on defense and seconds later a running back took off with the ball, and I gave chase. When he got close to the sidelines, I brought him down. Not with a tackle. That would have been so commonplace. I simply ran into him at full-speed.
He bounced up right away. I didn’t. I was dead or dying. It may have been the first time I had the breath knocked out of me, that awful, gasping feeling. Among the mourners soon congregated around my body was my dad. It was my first and last play of the game.
The mighty Frankfort Night Hawks played nine games a year against other high schools, and if we won three of them that was a fine season. Most of the schools we played were bigger, both in enrollment and in the size of the opposing football players. Probably in brains too.
I’m not sure how much I played in my sophomore year, though as a junior I was used mostly on offense. I was a center and normally that meant you were a linebacker on defense. Maybe the coaches thought I wasn’t aggressive enough as a linebacker. I know my skills as a center were limited. I never did learn how to use both hands in making a long snap to a punter or an extra point kicker. I was a one-handed snapper and, though I usually gave the kicker a wobbly spiral to catch, only a time or two did the ball fail to reach its target.
In my senior year there were only two other seniors on the team: Paul Kilian who played left guard and who was my best high school friend; and Billy Joe Smith, my cousin. At the end of the season, there were two awards to hand out. Paul got one (for Sportsmanship, I believe), and I got the other one, Most Valuable Player, which was a crock. (A sports writer, Russ someone, who had worked for the Frankfort Morning Times gave Paul and I honorable mentions on a list of Indiana high school football players he put together for one of the Indianapolis papers.)
In three years on the varsity, I intercepted one pass. That came in a game against Kirklin, one of the few, perhaps the only, school we played that was smaller than Frankfort. I remember an interception by Paul better than my own and can still see him heading down the field, clutching the ball with glee stretched across his face. He almost scored, making it to about the ten yard line.
Besides Paul and Billy Joe, my teammates over the years included Pete Eaton, a fireplug with lots of hair who liked to soap himself up all over and then find an underclassman who had showered and was about to put on his underwear. When a victim meeting these qualifications was spotted, Pete came up behind him and gave him a huge bear hug.
Pete’s devotion to personal hygiene didn’t extend to keeping his uniform clean. Just the opposite. About half way through the season, Pete’s football pants were so dirty and stiff from sweat and soil they could be placed on the floor of the locker room and stand up straight all by themselves.
Phil Dupler was our fullback and a good one, though he didn’t act all that bright at times. Frequently, after Phil was tackled at practice, he reprimanded the tackler, “Hey, take it easy. I’m not wearing a jock.” I believe Phil employed his smarts to become a doctor. Let’s hope if he operated he didn’t forget to put on gloves.
Bob Laverty was also in my class of ’55 and was a leader in everything and that meant he was a quarterback. During Bob’s junior year, Coach Jim Baldwin had to run out on the field several times to pop one of Laverty’s shoulders back in place. Bob didn’t play football his senior year.
Sacko Sanders was a heavy lad, a tackle and a funster. He was a year or two older than I was and once at a party at my house he asked me to come with him to our front door. Innocent old Larry did as requested, and Sacko then opened the door and shoved a cupcake into my face. My dad happened to see this and told Sacko to take me to the bathroom and clean off the mess. He did.
High school football players couldn’t practice as a team in those days until August 15th and then there were two practices a day. To state the obvious, even before most of us had ever heard of global warming, Indiana and August are synonyms for hot. I’ve always been a head-sweater and late in any practice I could take off my helmet and pour out a gallon of liquid. After a week of two practices a day, you were lean and mean or at least thought you hurt enough to be.
Our locker room smelled like a locker room. There were no fans to circulate the air and the door was left open. Some guys walked around naked, and Dad claimed that once when he drove by Mom mentioned how well-endowed one of the boys was. There was no need for this lad to see the equipment manager. I’m very confident, even if Mom did see a naked Night Hawk with generous attributes, she uttered nothing more startling than “Oh, Lord.”
Coach Baldwin drove the bus to away games. He had very thick glasses and some of the brighter players—yes, I was one of them—thought it would be fun to see if Blind Jim Baldwin could stay on the road if we rocked side-to-side in our seats as hard as we could. This of course was dangerous as well as stupid. Coach Baldwin at times stopped the bus and announced we weren’t going any farther until the rockers on board behaved. Perhaps if we had been as energetic on the field as we were in the bus, the Night Hawks would have had a better record.
While we may have been wimps in helmets on the playing field, we were certainly better at some things than Irene’s alma mater, at least the one time I saw the Whiting Oilers in action. Before the start of the game, they strolled onto the field. To a man-boy, they took their time getting on the gridiron. The Frankfort Night Hawks always raced onto the field, eager it would seem to get our socks knocked off, take a whipping, get what was coming to us. We were not chickens. Or Oilers, for that matter. No, I didn’t show this essay to Irene.
(Posted August 14, 2019)