Jensen is a
5'10" 200-pounder, with a powerful torso, a thatch of wild carrot-colored
hair and bushy eyebrows that are almost white. While Cree always seems to be
letting it all hang out, there is a sense of containment, of stifling thoughts
and passions, about Jensen. He is admired, respected and sometimes feared,
because in his group he is the chief practitioner, almost priest, of a code of
conduct that might be called Old Style American Male Macho. It is a collection
of shibboleths, traditions and restraints distilled from our frontier, military
and athletic experiences—or, at least, our romantic illusions about them. Let
actions speak louder than words. Never back down if you think you are right.
Don't brag. Don't be a politician. Never admit hurt, a broken leg or a broken
heart. Take your lumps and shake it off. Don't court the good opinions of
loves the game of football, perhaps because, of all games, it is the one most
directly associated with the code and the one in which a code man can let
himself go. "I don't go out for anything else," says Rick.
"Basketball, baseball, all the rest of that stuff. You have to put up with
all that crap from those coaches. I'm no jock. When I'm not playing football, I
An important part
of the code is that true feelings should be kept private. So Jensen cannot
overtly express his passion for football and, in fact, bends over backward to
hide it. It is a tradition at Vicksburg High School for varsity football
players to wear their numbered playing jerseys to school on Friday. On Friday,
Rick Jensen always dresses in standard T shirt and jeans and never wears his
jersey. On a Friday later in the fall, John Kachniewicz, the youngest of the
three varsity coaches and the one most into things like spirit and morale,
challenges Jensen about his dress. "Rick," he says, "you'd do
anything to keep people from thinking you're a football player." Jensen
replies, "There's some law says I got to wear the same thing the rest of
the turkeys do?" Rick has an understandable reputation among the Vicksburg
faculty for being not so much a troublemaker as a classic hardhead.
girl friend is Mary Wagner, a tiny, pretty, elfin-faced senior. It is a match
from a 1950s movie script. Mary is the head cheerleader, the homecoming queen,
the super-involved, vivacious, popular senior girl. Rick is a football captain,
leading ground-gainer, all-conference second team on both offense and defense,
the super Friday night hero. One afternoon when they are babysitting Rick's
youngest sister, he and Mary are kidding around, or at least Mary thinks he is
kidding. He says, "We'll probably break up about Thanksgiving. She'll start
going with a basketball player." Rick tends to use basketball player in a
generic way, as others might describe somebody as a ribbon clerk.
Oddly, Chip Cree,
the designated hot dog, cares almost as much as Jensen does about football,
although in a different way. Chip likes being a football player, performing in
that 1950s movie, while Rick's passion is for the game itself, its substance
and feel. Chip says, "I'd give anything to be able to go on and play
football in college. I'd rather do that than anything else."
"I'd just as soon play college ball, I guess, but face it, I'm too slow to
be a good running back and I'm too short for linebacker. I'm probably not good
enough to play, except at some little school."
Randi Noel, the
deep receiver and safety, is the team speedster, the only one who can run 40
yards in less than five seconds. He is ostensibly a believer in the Rick Jensen
code and hangs around a lot with the fullback. "Randi always acts tough
when he's with Rick or Steve Hunt," says Regan Fader, a perceptive senior
girl. "Alone, he's pretty straight, a pretty nice guy." Randi is also
the team comic.
perhaps natural hard guy is Steve Hunt, an almost square 210-pounder. He is
baby-faced, blond, curly-haired, a free spirit unconcerned with appearances,
codes or other social abstractions. The year before, he was the only Vicksburg
junior to start both ways—and he also reached the finals of the state wrestling
championships. He lives five or six miles outside town on a farm and works as a
hand during the summer. In the winter he has a job at a meat market and general
store in Vicksburg. He has a lot of older country friends. Besides wrestling,
playing football and occasionally putting the shot, Hunt enjoys riding around
in his Dart with the stereo turned up high, drinking beer and partying. He says
when he was in the ninth and 10th grades, everyone in school thought he was
truly bad, but now his classmates are catching up and "don't think I'm so
wild because they're doing the same things I was doing two years ago."
About football Hunt says, "The best thing about the game is when you go out
and really beat up the guy against you—beat him bad. That makes you feel good
the whole next week."
There is some
quiet speculation about what would happen if Steve Hunt and Rick Jensen ever
got crossways of each other. The feeling is that Steve is probably stronger,
but Rick may be fiercer and that it would be an even but spectacular
confrontation. However, there seems almost no chance the fight will occur.
Steve and Rick are not regular companions, but they get along well and
who has ever watched a football movie could guess that Jeff Schutter is what he
is—a quarterback. He is a 6'3" 190-pounder, very handsome in a
regular-featured way. Since grade school he has been the class's premier
all-round athlete, the quarterback, a basketball star, a point-scorer in track.
He is in the band, is a class officer and committeeman, is active in community
organizations, gives piano lessons to grade schoolers on Saturday mornings. His
responsibility trip is so formidable that it is regarded by his classmates as
on a par with Hunt's strength, Jensen's ferocity and Cree's hot-doggery. Jeff
says, "I'm more interested in the opinion of older people than I am in that
of people in school." Regan Fader says, "About half the girls in class
have thought seriously about Jeff because, you know, of how he looks and
because he is a big jock and the rest. But once you get to know him, he is just
old Jeff. What you see is what you get."