About this time the other team had the ball deep in our territory and, though we were comfortably ahead, I was alert for a possible second interception. Their quarterback dropped back to pass on first down, and I could see a receiver—a sturdily built youngster still in his 20s—speeding into my zone, searching, undoubtedly, for the crease. As a crafty veteran, I calculated that this late in the game they might foolishly be planning to "pick on me."
Sure enough, the quarterback spotted my man and released the ball just as I moved in for the interception. Ball, receiver and aging defender arrived simultaneously. The ball and receiver advanced a few more yards after the collision before he was necktie-tagged by another defender. I remained behind, clutching my injured head like some latter-day Y. A. Tittle, blood seeping through my fingers.
I was carted off to a hospital, where a deep eye cut was stitched. The eye itself soon closed under a mass of discolored flesh. Ali did not do as much damage to Foreman.
There were guests in my house when I returned. I instantly became a figure of ridicule and misplaced pity. "What did you say at the hospital when you gave your age and then told them how you got hurt?" one friend inquired. And was that a "No fool like an old fool" I heard in the back of the room?
"Now, just wait a moment," I said, fixing the assemblage with an icy, Cyclopean glare. "You are forgetting the most important thing, the only thing."
There was a momentary silence, as if there might be some interest in what I might say next.
"You forget," I continued, allowing a suggestion of pride to color my tone of voice, "you forget that whatever might have happened to me, whatever pain I might have endured—and you must learn to play with pain—and whatever permanent injury I may have suffered...we still won the game."
So 20 years have passed. There have been changes, I suppose. There are major league teams everywhere now, and most of them play not on the fields of friendly strife but on ersatz grass. But how many changes have there really been? George Blanda says that in his 26 years as a professional, football has changed hardly at all, except that the players are bigger, faster, smarter and more disloyal to their employers. He also says that the new breed of pro, the rookies fresh from college, are "more like us old guys."
Change is never apparent until a new change occurs. Anyway, change is not so much what you remember over the years. What you recall are isolated incidents, apparently meaningless events or people you cannot get out of your mind. Think of them and you pause in the mad dash into the future, pause long enough to gauge the distance you have come.
How many thousands of sports events have I seen on television since the opening game of the 1954 World Series? And yet there will always be that unforgettable catch, Mays running, running...running off into memory.