It took me about
15 minutes just to get up from my bunk the next morning. Every muscle in my
body seemed incapacitated; from neck to toes I felt novocained. But once I had
started moving I didn't stop. I felt if I sat back down or was inactive for
only a few minutes I would never get the old engine going again. By the time I
had washed up and dressed I heard the coach shouting down the hall, "O.K.,
boys. Let's move 'er out to the field. It's time for morning workout." The
announcement of Judgment Day could not have affected me more.
Even though I
managed to get the pads and uniform on a little faster than before, I was still
the last man out on the playing field. The weight of the football equipment on
my tired and aching frame was almost more than my wobbly legs could stand. But
somehow I managed to push my carcass around the field twice. And, as if this
wasn't enough, the team then formed a huge circle for calisthenics. Heaven only
knows how I got through these exercises, but somehow I managed. By now I was
almost ready to confess the Army's error and plead insanity.
At the completion
of calisthenics the coach began to call out various player's names. As he
called a name, that player would slip a green undershirt over the top of his
shoulder pads. These green undershirts would designate the "starting
11," or first team. As you may guess, I got a green undershirt. So here I
was, huddled with a group of 10 of what seemed to me the largest men ever
assembled, preparing to oppose 11 of the second-largest men ever assembled.
This conflict was referred to as "intersquad scrimmage." The first team
was to take the football and run "offensive" plays against the
second-team "defense." And, as the devil would have it, the honor of
carrying the ball first was awarded to none other than the newly arrived
scat-back—me! The only thing I was certain of about carrying a football was I
shouldn't be doing it.
So, with what
voice I could find to speak, I requested that I just run straight ahead, and be
so kind as to hand me the ball gently.
As the team went
into formation I found myself standing about four feet behind and staring
directly into the hindquarters of my former traveling companion. When the ball
was snapped to the quarterback, I just aimed at that target, shut my eyes and
ran. About three feet forward I felt something slap me in the pit of my
stomach. I had no choice but to grab my arms to my midsection. And to my
amazement, I was locked around the football, still going forward. I must have
advanced eight or 10 yards before I fell headlong over a prone body on the
ground. That was the longest distance I had ever run with my eyes closed.
When I returned
to our huddle the backslaps from my teammates were almost enough to exhaust the
little energy I had left. Our friendly quarterback again favored me with the
ball-carrying honors. This time I mustered up the courage to try it with eyes
open. When I lunged forward toward the hindquarter target I realized the
factors of the precious 10-yard advance. Big Art Hunter had moved my target
forward, blasting an opening in the line that even Grandma Frickett could have
made a 10-yard run through. But, just the same, when we returned to the huddle
the backslaps were for me.
The rest of the
afternoon when I stumbled, fumbled or goofed everyone just marked it up to my
being out of shape or my unique style. They just wouldn't allow me to be less
than the football player they thought I was. That night in the barracks I was
actually beginning to feel like one of the boys.
The big game with
the Navy was two days later. As we sat in the locker room, all dressed in our
brand-new playing uniforms, preparing to charge out onto the field, I was
petrified with fright. The practice sessions had been an ordeal by fire, but a
real, live game was more than I could bear up to.
The coach and the
post commander gave us a pep talk. The team was enthusiastic and ready. I
belonged there. The Army band was blazing away with a spirited march, and
nearly 2,000 eager fans were cheering. There was something almost hypnotic
about the atmosphere. Maybe I was going crazy, but I was beginning to believe I
was that football player for whom I was mistaken. By the time pregame warmups
were finished I was almost eager for the game to start.
lasted until the official's whistle blew to signal the opening kick-off. Then
quietness fell on the field and bleachers. With that quietness came the most
nauseous fear I am likely ever to know. The period of time between the whistle
and the kicking of the ball was like eternity. Seeing those 11 mammoth
strangers poised with anticipated violence at the opposite end of the field
absolutely froze me.