By Tony Hooker
As that noted 20th century philosopher Steve Miller said in 1976, time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin,’ into the future.
In piecing together my retro look at years past, it hit me, that the 1980 squad was my last year of wearing the blue and gold on the gridiron. 40 years ago? No way that could be, could it? The answer unfortunately is a resounding yep. It’s been 40 years since I ran out of the locker room onto the south end of the field that now bears my coach’s name.
Here’s the crazy thing. I didn’t remember a single thing about the game I chronicled elsewhere in this paper. We won, and I’m sure I was super stoked on the long bus ride home from Toledo, but I had zero memory of the game itself until I read the Villa Grove News story that covered it.
What I do remember from that team is the lifelong friendships that were forged on those dusty practice fields and on game nights.
I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because we’re only guaranteed nine games per season. Maybe it’s because of the physical nature of the contact inherent to the game itself, but football has a special place in most high school players’ psyche. Kenny Chesney was right on point when he sang about the boys of fall. You mess with one man, you have us all…we’re the boys of fall. When I did the time on the practice field and at the games, it felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. Guys on the golf team get to play for the rest of their lives, if they’re lucky. Basketball players can still play pickup games. Baseball players often morph into softball players and play the game into their golden years. But, for 99 percent of those who strap on the pads and helmet, it’s a finite window. With JFL being prevalent, it’s 9 years, these days, but for most of us from earlier generations, playing tackle football was a four-year thing. Once high school ended, so did our playing career.
That’s why I get a vaguely sad feeling when I look back on my decision not to play my senior year. You see, what I didn’t realize when I let my stubborn feud with the coach fuel my decision not to go out was that I was no longer part of the club. When they were working hard, bleeding and sweating to get better, I was flipping burgers and chasing girls. Both of which are fun pastimes, to be sure, but once you’re not on the team, you’re not part of the team, if you know what I mean. Of course, I made friends my senior year with people that I would never have met, and one of them is my best friend and I couldn’t imagine life without him. But I do look back with regret on occasion, especially when I’m with someone who stayed in the club. “To get to wear those game-day jerseys down the hall. The kings of the school, man, we’re the boys of fall.” Indeed, and I hope that this year’s team gets to suit up and play at some point during this bizarro time in history.