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I settled down after that and kicked a 22-yard field goal, then a 26-yarder. Before the game was over—we won by a large score—I was thinking, "Heck, there's nothing to this."
I was cut the second week. The San Diego Chargers released Bill Shockley, and Newark grabbed him. I tried out with the Westchester Crusaders and didn't last a day. The Hartford Charter Oaks gave me a look, but the coach said he wanted somebody who could play as well as kick. Including the Jets. I had now been cut by five teams, and the regular season hadn't even begun.
I made, for me, a soul-wrenching decision: I would try one more team. If I got cut I would quit. Retire. Period. I hedged my bet a little by choosing a team that in itself was a last resort, the Boston Sweepers, the worst team in the Atlantic Coast League's northern division the year before. I called Ted Barron, the owner. I told him I had played for the Jets, but they wanted me to get a little work.
"Come on up," Barron said. He sounded desperate, too. Sensing this, I said, "Will you pay my way?" He said, "We'll see when you get here."
Let it be noted that life officially entered the body of Booth Lusteg when he became a Boston Sweeper. Barron not only paid my way, he gave me an advance on my salary.
My first game uniform was exactly six sizes too large, and when its owner arrived—halfway through the second quarter, late from work—I had to take it off and give it to him. I almost got cut a couple times. Once I was cut and got so mad thinking about it I came back to the field in street clothes, laced on my kicking shoe and outkicked the guy they were going to replace me with. They took away his uniform five minutes before the next game and gave it to me.
And I stuck. I not only finished the season with the Sweepers, I played the next year for them, too. I kicked 13 field goals in 26 attempts the first year and led the league in scoring the second. We won the title both years. The first year was especially satisfying for me, because we beat the Newark Bears in the playoffs.
Every football player should be a Sweeper. It would make him more appreciative, more humble. But if he really wants to know where it's at, he should be a Brighton Knight. I was a Brighton Knight for one game, near the end of my second season with the Sweepers. The Sweepers had an open date, I wanted the kicking practice, and the Knights, who played in a park league outside Boston, seemed pleased to have me drop in.
The Brighton (Mass.) Knights were as fine a bunch of irregulars as you ever saw. They all had jobs, so they worked out at night in a vacant lot. One light from a nearby garage illuminated the field. The light actually illuminated very little except the sad state of the Knights' circumstances. Some of them were in dress shirts and football pants. Some wore baseball spikes. (I shuddered when I saw those spikes.) Some had no equipment. The trainer could only tape ankles. The players said if you have to get hurt be sure it's an ankle.
So that I could practice my placekicking, the trainer held a flashlight on the spot on the ground where I would kick. The coach made me start practice kicks from the 40-yard line, well beyond the perimeter of the garage light. Any closer, he said, and they'd lose the balls over the garage.