Now the end of the season, which was coming up much too fast for me, was just seven days away. The Margate (Fla.) Blue Devils, from an area just northwest of Fort Lauderdale, stood between us and a winning season. Our record at that point was 2-2-1. To Little Quaker fans, that was an abomination. But it didn't bother me. I was having too much fun to care about winning.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at noon on Dec. 26 to sunny Florida skies and 85° weather. The Margate mascot, an emaciated kid dressed in a brilliant blue devil's outfit, poked a rubber pitchfork at us as we deplaned.
We tossed our duffel bags onto a Greyhound and headed to city hall to meet our opponents and get some sort of certificate from the mayor. Along the way, a Chevy full of college girls trailed our bus. Alabama and Nebraska were also in the vicinity, getting ready for the Orange Bowl, and apparently these girls mistook us for one of those teams or the other. The bus windows were thickly tinted so they only saw the vaguest outlines of 45 males in blazers. The guys in the back of the bus motioned to the girls to follow us. They did. I worried what their reaction would be when they discovered that most of us hadn't begun to shave. When we arrived at our hotel, the girls stopped and jumped out to greet us as we got off the bus. When they saw we were half-pint football players, they laughed, we laughed, and they kissed one of our players anyway. They were still laughing when they drove off.
Our game with the Blue Devils was taped to be televised in Philadelphia a month later. Minutes before kickoff, we lined up to introduce ourselves to the camera. We were told to give just our name, weight and position. I was second to go. I thought about pounding my chest and clenching my fist, but at 14 that was just too radical. "Jack Maley, 125, quarterback," I said, conservatively and without a hitch. I was fortunate. Jim O'Reilly experienced some stage fright. He said, "Chim Reilly, ah...I play, no...I'm 130 pounds old and run defensive back. Thank you."
We won the toss and elected to receive. Our first series produced just four yards, giving our punter the chance to loosen his leg. As I was jogging to the sidelines to converse with Levy, I recognized an old friend of his who had dropped by to say hello and offer some advice.
Ara Parseghian looks much larger face-to-face than he does on TV. The sight of him gave me goose bumps. This was, after all, Knute Rockne and John Wayne rolled into one hero sandwich. "Hello, Mr. Parmesian." I said, shredding his name into grated cheese. "Hi, Jack," he replied. "My God, he knows me," I thought. He knelt on one knee, put his arm around my shoulder pads and said, "Listen, on second down those middle linebackers are stacking over the guards and the down men didn't pinch. The middle is wide open. Next time you see that formation, no matter what you have called, keep the ball and sneak it." His voice was high and raspy, not one you would expect from a legend. But although he sounded like Slim Pickens, his words might have been etched in stone and delivered hot from Mount Sinai.
On our very next series, the Devil linebackers stacked over the guards. "Here goes nothin' " I thought. I took the snap and started forward. Open field! I cut left and sprinted up the sideline. Just as Parseghian had said, the play worked perfectly—right up to the point when, 35 yards downfield and with nothing but green between me and the goal, I dropped the ball and a Blue Devil fell on it. I wondered if this would damage my chances of getting an athletic scholarship to Notre Dame.
Parseghian and I talked often during the rest of the game, and he helped us to beat the Floridians, 13-7. He left before it was over, so I never thanked him for his insights or for providing me with my biggest thrill of the season.
A month later Channel 6 in Philadelphia televised our Florida game. I watched it at a friend's house along with the rest of the kids in my neighborhood. It may not have approached a 50% audience share, but it was a felicitous ending to a season Chip Hilton would envy.
Being on TV, dropped ball and all, didn't signal the end of my football career, however. I was the quarterback for William Penn Charter School my senior year and was named MVP of the city all-star game. I also was the starting quarterback at Dickinson College for three years. But never again did I play in a dome or meet a Charger or get flown to a game. You're only 14—and a Little Quaker—once in your life.