I was totally unprepared for what happened next. As I reached for the football, the crowd contracted about me. I was unable to get full control of the ball because several people—including my own brothers!—were tugging at it, but I had the best piece of it. Unable to rearrange my grip or to assert myself, I simply hung on for all I was worth.
As play resumed on the field, I was pushed around as if trapped in capricious and powerful currents, and those still in the fray were being generously anointed with Jeff's Sno-Kone.
Jeff, in the meantime, had become trapped between one of my legs and the seat. A frenzied woman spotted him, pointed at me and repeatedly shrieked, "He's killing that little boy! He's killing that little boy!" Though in no danger, Jeff became frightened and started to cry, which further fueled her panic and added to the surge of people trying to break up the melee.
By then my other brother had graciously relinquished his claim to the ball, but I was still wrestling for control with several other people. I felt my entire body ascending to the next row as they struggled for the ball—my ball!
Just before the specials arrived I lost my grip, and the absence of my tugging at one end of the ball caused it to shoot from the grasps of my rivals and into the air. It landed in the lap of a rather elderly woman sitting several rows higher. No one dared challenge her for it.
I was dumbfounded. My official AFL football was nestled like an egg in some stranger's lap. Stunned and shaking, I returned to my seat as the specials strolled back to their posts. I replayed Cappelletti's kick in my mind and watched the ball slowly floating end-over-end into my hands. Had the stadium been empty, the football would have bounced right off my seat.
The shrieker, who was sitting nearby, angrily scolded me for my willingness to "trade that young boy's life for a football." I was too preoccupied to respond to her. "I had it," I mumbled. "I had it." During the remainder of the game, the shrieker periodically glared at me, Jeff had another Sno-Kone, and I grieved quietly. Fate had reached out and tweaked my nose.
There's no formal league rule, but by 1975 the majority of NFL teams had adopted the practice of using nets behind the goal posts. According to a spokesman at the league office, the primary consideration was protection of the fans, although with footballs costing about $25, there was that incentive as well. Except in a few cities, the result is: no more brawls, no more bittersweet memories, no more anticipation. The place kick is no longer a magic event. I miss it.