Van Buren was a funny guy. If you did something wrong he wouldn't say anything, just look. I didn't know much about formations. When I ran a wrong pattern, which was often, Van Buren just looked. After one especially comical effort I felt the need to confess. "Really screwed that one up, didn't I, Coach?" I said.
"Yes, you sure did," Van Buren said evenly. "You don't know what the hell you're doing out there."
Our first exhibition game was against the Richmond Rebels in Richmond. I had been practicing my placekicking like mad and pestering Van Buren to come look at me. There were no goalposts where we worked—you don't find many goalposts in the minor leagues. We just kicked in an open field. But I was improving. I drove Van Buren crazy trying to get him to check my kickoffs.
"Don't bother me," he said. "I'll see you Saturday before the game."
When we got to the airport for the trip to Richmond Van Buren said, "Somebody check the runway before we take off. Lusteg will probably be there practicing and he'll want to drag me out to watch him." (Steve Van Buren will always occupy a special place in my heart. He was the very first coach I really hounded.)
Against Richmond, we scored almost immediately, and I went in for my first extra point in organized football. I was suddenly, frighteningly disoriented. I became super-conscious of the way I ran, the way I moved.
I didn't know whether to report to the referee or not. I just wandered into the huddle. I didn't line up properly. The ball was centered before I was alert for it. I was late getting the kick off. Too late. Whump. Blocked. The public-address announcer droned, "That, ladies and gentlemen, is the first Newark extra point to be blocked in two years."
Before I could get over that disappointment, we scored again, and I was running back on the field. Only now I couldn't get my helmet on. Had my head gotten larger? I fumbled with the chin strap and tugged on the earholes, but it stayed perched on top my head. It was still that way, for all to see, when I lined up for the kick. I realized afterward what was wrong. I had it on backward.
Once again I was low and late with the kick. The ball almost hit one of our linemen on the helmet. It caromed off the goal-post crossbar and bounced back. Ridiculous! A placekicking specialist who couldn't even kick 10 yards.
I staggered back to the bench, and Van Buren came over. He said, "What the hell's the matter with you?" He wasn't so quiet any more. "You call yourself a kicking specialist? You can't even kick extra points."