For kids with fantasies of football greatness, particularly those kids who want to test themselves against the best players in the country in their age group, Philadelphia is a great place to grow up. In my day I was one of the thousands of little leaguers who, after watching cartoons on Saturday morning, suited up for a game. Then, after playing neighborhood ball for six years, it was time to try out for the big leagues. The big leagues meant the Little Quakers.
The Little Quakers are an all-star team of 13- to 14-year-olds from Philadelphia and the surrounding area, including south New Jersey. To play for the Quakers in 1971, you had to weigh less than 135 pounds and survive an annual tryout that attracted about 200 hopefuls. For me, the tryout sessions were intimidating. After three or four sessions the crowded field of multicolored jerseys was whittled down to 45 players. That year I was one of the lucky (and somewhat talented) 45, and I played quarterback.
Our team had a cast of characters right out of Dickens, if he'd known anything about the wishbone and flex defenses. Lacoste alligators mixed it up with leather jackets. There were whites, blacks and a kid who said he was part Mohican—we called him Chief, of course. We also had Catholics, Protestants, Jews and even a 14-year-old atheist. It was not easy to mold us into a team. But Bob Levy, the chairman of the board of a storage business who founded the Little Quakers in 1953 and is the team's coach (with a 132-14-4 record) and one of its financial supporters, whipped us into a unit.
Twenty-nine years ago Levy, says the Little Quaker press guide "...had a dream.... Levy loved children and he loved football. The dream was to put together a football team of youngsters...who had not yet reached the high school level." And put together a team he did. The Little Quakers are one of the most successful boys' football teams in the country.
Everything about the Little Quakers is first class. The team has personalized equipment bags, separate offensive and defensive practice jerseys, home and away uniforms, nine assistant coaches, an administrative staff, a manager, a physician, two trainers, an executive director and a game director. Practice is held on an AstroTurf field, and I still have the turf burns to prove it. Not even bad weather could spoil a Quakers workout, because we could practice inside Haverford College's sprawling athletic complex whenever the need arose.
For me, besides the high level of competition, the most attractive part of playing for the Little Quakers was their away-game schedule. Instead of piling into the coaches' dented station wagons and driving over to the adjacent neighborhood, the Little Quakers boarded buses and planes to places like Hawaii, California, Florida and Arizona. The 1971 schedule included two long trips—one to Houston and the other to Fort Lauderdale.
After eight spirited practices, we played our first game in Philadelphia against the champs from a South Jersey league. No contest. We plastered them, and every player who suited up got into the action. Our pregame speech was inspiring, our calisthenics Marinelike. But what I remember most about my first Quaker game was the press coverage. The following day there was an article, a short one, admittedly, in The Philadelphia Inquirer with my name in it. It said I threw two touchdown passes to Joe Hassett and, although it called me John instead of Jack, I was reeling with ecstasy. I read the story over and over. My first big-time ink. I was a celebrity. Kids at school congratulated me. Maryellen Tomaszewski started returning my stares.
Our next two games were also played in the Philadelphia area. One at Valley Forge Military Academy, which we lost, and the other at Franklin Field, where the Eagles had played their home games before Veterans Stadium was built. Again, more ink.
During the Franklin Field game, fantasy fulfillment really began to rev up. Here I am, I thought, calling signals on the same field on which Sonny Jurgensen had barked out audibles. We lost that day to a team of ringers from Hollywood, Fla. They had a defensive tackle who, if he'd been born three million years ago, would have been a dinosaur. But who cared? There I was, quarterbacking the Little Quakers—and trying to control an ego that was quickly outgrowing my size 7 helmet. But the press coverage, the stadium, the personal recognition I was getting were only peanuts compared to what awaited me.
A week later, Levy and I cruised down the Atlantic City Expressway in his powder-blue Lincoln charting that afternoon's game plan against the New Orleans Vikings as we went. Bobby Levy Jr., who wasn't even a teen-ager and whose line of vision barely cleared the speedometer, steered while the cruise control maintained a then-legal 65-mph clip. We rolled along the highway with this peach-faced kid sitting atop a pair of shoulder pads, controlling our destiny. I kept my right eye on Coach Levy's X's and O's and my left on Chauffeur Levy. We arrived at our destination, Atlantic City Convention Hall, unscathed and ready to attack the Vikings' inverted secondary.