SI Vault
Jack Dies Martin
October 15, 1979
Yesterday, I went back to my Camelot, although I don't really call it that. Vacantlot would be more like it, though to me it is always a place of magic and wonder. I discovered it over a period of years and, with something like the instincts of a migrating bird, I return there each fall.
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October 15, 1979

Falling Leaves And Football Call A Middle-aged Man To His Own Camelot

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I picked up the ball. "I'm Bobby Layne!" I yelled, giving Billy the universal take-off-for-a-pass sign.

"I'm Jimmy Canady!" Billy shouted, claiming the identity of the Longhorns' halfback.

Jerry cast about for a moment for a UT player for himself and then yelled as he joined the pass pattern, "I'm Tommy Landry!"

Shadows rolled across the playground like a tarpaulin being laid in slow motion. We threw the ball around until our instincts and the setting sun told us it was time to head home.

I played my Bobby Layne part for years, although more silently as I grew older, through junior high and beyond. At odd moments, I still do.

The bright fall sun, the sting of leather (even imitation leather) against my hands—they have stayed with me since then. Wherever I have managed to get into a game, I have found my Camelot: on a Far East island after Army duty hours; in a park in Little Rock where I wrote for the AP about the exploits of Layne's successors in the Southwest Conference; in a backyard in Louisville where I watched Randy take his first uncertain steps as a baby and try to eat a tiny, soft rubber football.

Each fall constituted an awakening and a remembering. But finding my special place became harder and harder. The running and kicking got a little tougher, the muscles a little sorer. In the first year after I first noticed the soreness I could excuse taking it easy because Randy was just a little tyke.

Soon, however, there were no excuses. With each passing year I added a ring of fat around my middle. Expense-account dinners and cocktails and too much sitting around had put flab on my body, and my zest for life atrophied like unused muscle, my enthusiasm sputtered like a flare at the end of a campus torchlight parade. I watched as my Camelot faded into the distance. The cry "Way to go!" grew faint. In the fall I had to be content with watching the flat, flickering images of football players on the television screen.

Then, four years ago, I decided to take up jogging. I wondered if by running I could catch up with my retreating Camelot, recapture it for the fall and the other seasons, too. So I started to run, very slowly and self-consciously at first, clomping along in $3.98 sneakers from the local K-Mart, having to stop after only a block or two. But I kept doing it, until I could run for several blocks, and then, after I'd learned enough to buy running shoes and quit smoking cigarettes, I went a mile.

In a short time I became aware of the sheer joy of movement that I had known as a child, when a leap over a sidewalk was an Olympic long-jump record, when a dash across a vacant lot, a jump over a Cyclone fence, a swing from the tree limb in Professor Boatwright's side yard all added up to a victory in the decathlon.

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