The season began with Analy beating Santa Rosa High in overtime in a stirring game of high school football.
Reports of that victory brought back memories of my days on the gridiron for the Wildcats of Watsonville High. Our colors were black and gold, and we had two complete uniforms, one all black, one all gold. We were so proud to wear them.
It seemed like all the guys went out for the teams, landing either on the varsity, the junior varsity or the lightweights, which meant you didn’t tip the scales at more than 145 pounds. I made all league as a tackle for the lightweights my sophomore year. Such glory!
But there was another side to it. On my first day of football practice our coach, a portly man in football pants, a sweatshirt over his ample belly, and a floppy hat on his head, put us through some warm-ups and sat us down for a little talk.
He signaled to one of our star players who was maybe a hundred yards upfield. This kid came running toward us at full speed, and, when he was 10 yards away, he leapt into the air and came banging down on the sod, sliding for several yards. His face was grass stained. His nose was bleeding. And he spit clods and pebbles out of his mouth. “Now that’s what football is all about,” the coach said, which was his entire little talk to us.
Next thing I knew, Coach blew a whistle, and we all got in a four pronged stance and leapt forward head first onto the ground. Then another whistle. Then another. We leapt onto the ground all the way up the field and all the way back. Then it was wind sprints. Whistle, 10 yards at top speed, pause, whistle, 10 yards more, up the field and back two times. There wasn’t a football in sight the whole time.
I was 14 years old. I had been running and jumping and climbing trees all summer, and yet the next morning I was so sore I could hardly move. Still, at two that afternoon I was back in my football uniform jumping onto the ground and doing wind sprints.
Our team won the championship that year, and a lot of it had to do with our conditioning. We could go all out longer than other teams, and we suffered fewer injuries.
My junior year, I was bigger, so I moved to the varsity backfield. There were guys on that team whose thighs were as big around as my waist, and they could run faster than I could, and they showed no mercy. Every day brought a different way of getting beat up. One day at practice, I caught a punt, tucked the ball under my arm, turned to run, and bam, Al Banta, a big rangy tackle in the mold of 49’er All Pro Bob St. Clair, smashed into my shoulder. My collar bone was broken, and I was strapped to a board for six weeks. No more football that year, which was likely a blessing, but I didn’t think so at the time. That shoulder still hurts.
Next year it was swollen knees and a concussion, or at least being knocked out for a few minutes. They waved smelling salts under my nose to wake me up, and one coach sent me back into the game, but the portly one said, “Jones, go sit down.” Which I did.
In fact, I pretty much sat down the rest of the season. I wasn’t sure I wanted to tussle with guys like Tony Teresa from Salinas, for instance. When he got the ball, he just ran right over me. When I got the ball, he smacked me down for a loss with the wind knocked out of me. Teresa went on to play for the Oakland Raiders.
I could see that all those wind sprints, all that diving onto the ground, all the painful conditioning, would never get my body ready for football. I could see I was bound to get hurt again and again. That’s got to be so for anyone who plays the game. So why do we do it? I don’t know. Would I do it again? Probably. Was it worth it? Probably not.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.