Our new coach was a soft-spoken gymnast with a knack for teaching adolescents how to avoid tripping over their own feet. Power and quickness had begun to catch up with gangly bodies. Though we began the year with only nine players, we suddenly started winning. We finished second among high schools in the league.
We never really became hitters; we were still soft Pasadena prep school kids. But winning mellowed memories of Dorkowski's punishment drills. And one of the coach's favorite goats, who went on to become an international yacht racer, found himself years later in the grip of a terrifying South Pacific storm, realizing how much the coach had taught him about pushing himself to the limit.
Twenty years after we—and the school—had lost touch with Dorkowski, two members of the old team ran into him at a tailgate party outside the Rose Bowl. The grizzled tyrant who had terrorized us as 15-year-olds had somehow become a great guy—rough tongued and funny, the life of the party, scarcely older than ourselves and in a lot better shape. He had become a swell guy to have a few beers with and reminisce with about the bad old days.
It turned out he had taken his shot at the pros after all. After years of coaching 11-man high school ball, Dorkowski had put on zebra stripes and become a top-ranked Pac-10 official. In 1986, when UCLA rolled over Iowa in the Rose Bowl, he was on the crew.
A few months later, he was picked up by the NFL as a field judge. Today he's out there making pass interference calls in the end zone in the teeth of outraged linebackers. They better not argue those calls. They could find themselves running laps all afternoon.
The number on Dorkowski's uniform shirt is 113. One and 13. It's engraved on us, too.