"Hold it for me, Dad!"
I place the ball on the 15-yard line while Randy limbers up his place-kicking foot. He boots one that skitters off to the left and silently retrieves the ball while I remain in the holder's position. On his next try the ball sails over the crossbar.
"And the Vikes tack on the conversion!" I announce to the thousands crowding my imagination.
It is so beautiful, this wondrous place of autumn. I'm 44 years old now, and when I was Randy's age not many guys of 44 ran around in a T shirt and blue shorts playing pass and kick. But it makes me younger than Randy, because....
The Minnesota farmland fades away and the dominant structure on the landscape becomes the white tower of the University of Texas, as seen from the playground of Wooldridge Elementary School on 24th Street in Austin. I am 11, in the sixth grade, and playing pass-and-kick football on the gravelly ground with my brother, Jerry, 13, and Billy Jackson, 10, our best friend. In the fall, the session is a daily ritual. Sometimes a few of the university boys come over from a fraternity or boardinghouse and play with us, and we marvel at how far they can pass and how high their punts fly.
On one historic afternoon Bobby Layne, the Longhorns' quarterback, spent a few minutes with us. He threw a pass to each of us, and we caught the battered ball as though it were a piece of jade thrown by a silk-clad khan to the masses.
I wished fervently, and secretly, that Adele Black and Peggy Taylor, the prettiest girls in the sixth grade, had been there watching. Sometimes they stayed around after school waiting for their parents to pick them up. But not on that day, darn it. I somehow knew that my performance would have made one or both of them want to marry me when we grew up.
We asked Layne if he would throw the ball as far as he could, and he laughed and told us to stand about five feet in front of him. Then he said, "Take off."
We ran toward the far end of the playground, me down the middle, Jerry on the left sideline and Billy on the right. Layne waited and winked at his wife who was standing patiently, smiling, on the sidewalk. We ran. To my mind, the distance seemed like 600 yards, easy. Then, almost too quick to see, he threw the ball. It traveled like a bullet, spiraling, humming, soaring higher than the two-story, tan stucco school building. Then it started down; Jerry, Billy and I closed in on the fence. The ball dropped out of the sky, coming down between me and Billy. We both stretched our arms out and just tipped it before it hit the base of the fence. We looked back in awe. Layne waved and then he and his wife walked away, as did the people who, recognizing the passer, had stopped to watch.
"Boy, howdy!" Billy exclaimed.