The ball was
booted into the air, and I don't think I will have to tell you toward whom it
was falling. I was paralyzed. All I could think was, "Don't drop it, don't
drop it; grab it, hug it but don't drop it." The ball came banging into my
chest and, believe me, no mother ever clung to her child in greater desperation
than I clung to that football. When I started moving forward it was the
progress of a man mad with fear, and no madman ever moved faster. The coach
later made some remark about it being the fastest movement for a short distance
he had ever witnessed. When the opposition finally got its hands on me I was
halfway up the field. I'm not sure, but I think I got up running after they had
tackled me. The fans and my teammates interpreted this as enthusiastic
aggressiveness, so there was great jubilance following the opening play.
The rest of the
game I was in kind of a trance. I did everything a man would do for survival.
And for me, that's just what it was. When the game ended I was one of the
leading ground-gainers, having used only my favorite straight-ahead play. My
maniacal rompings had scored one touchdown and helped with another.
As we journeyed
back to our post that evening I felt as much a combat veteran as any man who
had ever served the U.S. Army. And if Purple Hearts were awarded for this kind
of service I would have certainly qualified, because I was just one big
As the football
season progressed, my fear of being discovered as counterfeit lessened. My
confidence and football jargon were increasing by leaps and bounds. By the end
of the season I was beginning to feel as though football were my natural
At the close of
the last game of the year we were feted with a conference co-champion award
banquet, and I stepped up to receive my letter jacket just as though it had
been an annual event all my life.
I remained in
Japan for two football seasons, playing on the Camp Zama team. If the officer
responsible for mistaken identity was ever aware of the error, he never made it
known. Personally, I think he probably saw my name in the papers back in my
college days when I was picked up by Bob Hope as " America's Campus
Casanova" in a nationwide talent hunt, and he would scarcely have wanted to
admit that he later confused me with a football player.
As for me, I
certainly don't hold a grudge. When my two-year military obligation came to an
end and I was flown to the U.S. for separation, I felt saddened to go back to
being just "me" again. Last January when I tuned in my TV set to watch
the National Football League All-Star Pro Bowl game, there was my friend Art
Hunter at the starting center position. When the game began I tried to
visualize myself out there on the field with him. A flood of memories rushed
through my mind—memories that compelled me to dig out my Japan photo album just
to assure myself, once again, that it had really happened. And it had.