High school football: “In high school, the coach kept me on the bench all year. On the last game of the season, the crowd was yelling, ‘We want Youngman! We want Youngman!’ The coach says, ‘Youngman – go see what they want!’ ” – Henny Youngman, American comedian and violinist
Picture this: A 220-pound center with a full head of steam is charging down the middle of the practice field. Your assignment, according to the coach, is to stop him, displaying your open-field tackling ability.
Of all the workouts associated with high school football, this tackling drill was the most intimidating.
Think of it this way: You are a 140-pound sophomore, not fast afoot or strong (so why was I out for football?) and charged with making a hit that would derail a human locomotive. And it gets worse because there were only three options.
First, you make the hit and bounce off the large player’s pumping thighs and he continues down the field to the hoots of the other players waiting in line.
Two, you manage to trip him up but are knocked unconscious in the process.
Or three, you miss the tackle entirely due to an unexpected evasive move by a lineman who shouldn’t be doing such maneuvers.
I never did ask Mike Kerhwald, the senior center in question, if he made the maneuver to spare me some broken bones, or if it was just his natural reaction to an oncoming tackler. Some linemen have a recurring dream that casts them as fleet running backs basking in the glory of game-winning touchdowns. I doubt Mike was one of those. He just liked hard-nosed football.
Not to suggest that I always drew Mike on these kamikaze drills. I clearly recall trying to tackle Jerry Melcher, who was just as heavy as Mike but faster.
Whatever pain the tackling drill produced took second place to an incident one day in scrimmage. For some strange reason, coach decided I should play right guard, a position normally manned by muscular farm boys with bulging arms and thick legs. I had neither but I did have some quickness off the line, which enabled me to make tackles. At some point I noticed my friend Dick Countryman, a fireplug center and Kerhwald’s heir apparent, giving me the eye.
He snapped the ball, and then hit me with a violent cross-body block. I knew immediately something was amiss. Doctor Holland’s diagnosis was two cracked ribs.
I never was much of a football player, but the upside is that I won’t contract CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or brain damage caused by countless hits on the football field. Any memory loss I’m experiencing is likely a result of oldtimer’s disease, also known as senility.
Sept. 11, 2019