SI Vault
Jay Cronley
October 23, 1972
There was a time in Oklahoma when 10-year-old football players thought red dog was a puppy and a wishbone something chicken, but today's Pee Wees know all the right answers
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October 23, 1972

Sooner Or Later, Champions

There was a time in Oklahoma when 10-year-old football players thought red dog was a puppy and a wishbone something chicken, but today's Pee Wees know all the right answers

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My little league football career began Aug. 15, 1956, an afternoon that was so humid all the birds were walking. That same career ended that same day in a pool of blood some 20 yards downfield. Although it was not my blood that had formed a puddle just off the left hash mark near the 40-yard line, I nevertheless sustained an injury of considerable import. While running a routine assignment from my strong-side left-end position, I tripped on my weak-side right knee. When you are wearing a helmet three sizes too large, the shock of skull on earth is not cushioned but rather intensified. I had rung my own bell.

The force of the fall rendered me helpless, so I rolled on my back to consider those first 11 years—the heartaches, the joys, the busted assignments. I did not expect to see another chin strap.

The first part of the pass had worked. I saw the football. It was attacking me. It was an end-over-end pass, as ours frequently were, and the sharpest end (it was an old football) plunged into my stomach. Had I been able to raise my arms, I would have had a completion. I was wide open. But the ball rolled off, wobbled once and came to rest beside my left hip, a monument to those who had played the game well but lost.

The pool of blood came from our quarterback, Johnny White. Our coach, Bill White, was Johnny's older brother. Bill was mad at Johnny. The punishment was a series of quarterback sneaks, 12 to be exact, that gained us a net of six yards. After Johnny's forehead was re-weaved, we quit together. Our team, the Oklahoma City Putnam Heights Panthers, then won eight in a row.

On this particular late summer day preceding the Pee Wee football season, there is thunder in the east and west, and more on the field in the form of a young gentleman who is not yet tall enough to worry about the top half of a Dutch door. He is 3'11" by 1'2". These figures are not approximations; he computes his size each morning. The first measurement, the vertical one, includes 1.5 inches of toes, which most certainly count, because when a fellow runs for all he is worth, he runs on his toes.

The Oklahoma sky, which often looks like a bloodshot eye—a bleeding, brownish silver—releases more thunder, then lightning, then rain. It does not disturb the grounded thunder, also called the Southeast ( Tulsa) Raiders Pee Wee football team. Somehow, the Raiders came in second in the league in 1971. They promise it won't happen again. The rain is having a difficult time finding the halfback running with the ball. Because the football is so big, it seems like he is accompanying it. He heads for the middle of the line, only to discover a giant, a 119-pound tackle, waiting there looking for somebody to squeeze. So the halfback considers right end, which, since the field is not marked off yet, is considerable. A successful end run could last five minutes and cover two blocks.

There is nothing between the runner and the goal line except one boy who reminds me of our long-ago middle linebacker, who was called Muscle. Muscle weighed 175 and he played linebacker, tackle and guard—all at once. The sprinkle had loosened up the mostly dirt turf, and when the Raiders' halfback feints right and goes left, the defender buckles and crumbles. The remaining 86 yards, and the 20 more through the end zone for good measure, are executed as one would take out the trash. He is one big smallshot.

Practice makes not only perfect but, more importantly, success. This is just a practice session for the Southeast Raiders, but let me tell you, there is no messing around. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Anybody can walk. Get your guts up. No giggling in the huddle. Take a lap. Move! The next person throwing rocks goes home. Whats a matter, don't you want it?

The fact that these football players are 10, 11 and 12 years old is incidental. You've got to remember, they will grow.

I won't come right out and say that if it were not for football, Oklahoma's accomplishments could be printed on a chamber of commerce pencil. Oklahoma was the result of a sweep of wind down a plain, a noble if not melodic birth. Tulsa is a port, connecting with New Orleans and other points wet. Because of our lakes, we consider Honolulu dry. But you must consider our ancestors. Oklahoma was opened to the law-abiding public by the land run of 1889. It's no wonder we have produced so many good halfbacks.

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