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I also knew the defensive end wouldn't touch me. He'd almost certainly come across the line of scrimmage to "establish a flank." So I looked past him, too.
I didn't bother to glance at the middle linebacker, to my left, or at the outside linebacker, to my right. Since they had not already stopped the play, I could assume our center had handled the middle linebacker and our man-in-motion had drawn the outside linebacker out of position. So I looked past them as well.
Suddenly I understood why Spike Harvey had never looked at me. Why check on men who are no longer dangerous? Why not find out what the real troublemakers are up to?
I had discounted the right safety; the way the play was developing I was sure our left end had taken him out with a roll block. I shifted my eyes to the right, just in time to see our man-in-motion take down the left safety.
That left just one man between me and six points, Spike Harvey, who was playing middle safety. I knew that, unless someone reached him before he reached me, the play was over; he was just too much of an athlete for me. Just then I saw Dick Walker cut in front of me.
The instant Walker leveled Spike I realized I had made a serious mistake. My center of gravity had been too far forward when I took the handoff, and now I was stumbling without any chance of regaining my balance. All I could do was see how many strides I could make before I fell. A few steps later, untouched, I was nose-deep in the wet morning grass.
I wanted to stay there, face down until the class was over and everyone had left. But I had to pick myself up because the referee wanted the ball. Instead of handing it to him, I left it on the ground. "I've contaminated it," I thought. When I came to my feet, the official moved the ball back two yards to where my skid had started. It had been a 10-yard gain.
I jogged back to the huddle as slowly as possible, head down, cheeks burning with shame. Before anyone could utter a word, Coach said, "Fellows, that play was well blocked. Little man..." I knew he was talking to me, but I didn't have it in me to look him in the eye. He came closer, put his hand on my shoulder pads and gently straightened me up. In an even voice he continued "...next time keep your chin up, your neck bulled and your eyes open."
I never did get a chance to try out his advice. We were intercepted on the following play and spent the rest of the session trying to stop Spike. Before he could score, class was over and we all went our separate ways.
More than a quarter-century has passed since I enrolled in Beginning Football. It's taken me years of careful thought to sort out all the lessons. While the whole thing may not have made me a man, it certainly knocked a lot of the boy out of me. I had stuck it out until the end when, for one fleeting moment, I was looking past people.