by Bud Finlayson

Chapter 5

Starting, Winning, and Nurturing the Dream

I held on to my starting positions throughout that year and learned from the experience. My wrist never healed 100% but I became accustomed to the hindrance it caused and in time regarded it as natural. The pain wasn't so great but it lacked in strength and stayed susceptible to re-injury. Luckily, I failed to do so. The remainder of our short six game season sped by rapidly and we were able to boast of a winning sea-son. Dogan definitely proved to be our toughest adversaries, for not again would we fall short in scoring to another team.

The week following our open-ing scrimmage, we traveled right back into "Col-ored" town, (as it was politely called) to take on Stewart Jr. High, the other all black school. The fear of being over dominated in that second outing was minimal. Stewart had not the strong reputation as did Dogan and now we had the experience of both a game and of facing Blacks. Also, since coming off of the recent loss, we were spurred by the determination to avenge it, and bring our record even at one and one.

Again, clad in all white, we traveled over to their school. It lay not so far from the Black-White boundary on the Black side and our reception was not near as frightening as our first Black encounter. Their team, also dressed in solid white, waited alone for us on a distant practice field, about 500 feet from the school building. They were involved with doing calisthenics, and seemed to regard our arrival with little interest. There were no masses of curious black faces, inspecting our every move, causing us to feel like freaks. Thus we unloaded, much more at ease and began loosening up.

Brief observation hinted to me of a probable victory being ours. Their maneuvers were flawed and it was clear that size would not be to their advantage; they were no bigger than us. Before hitting the field, we performed the ritual of bowing our heads in prayer. I concentrated on making myself clear this time, just in case He hadn't heard last time, "Lord, I want to win this game. Please help me and let us win."

We began play, with ourselves on offense first. Lining up on the ball, the first time enabled me to get a closer look at our new adversar-ies. These black faces were definitely those of seventh graders, smooth and hairless; not wrinkled and whiskered like the questionable, aged, Doganites. I was not nearly as worried as I'd been the prior week.

The first snap was handed from our quarterback to Stokes and I broke out and occupied the linebacker, as he rambled up the middle for 15 yards; dragging tacklers like a runaway steer. Those easily gained yards would be an indication of more to come. We marched the ball steadily towards the goal line and chalked up a score on that first possession. Before our first 20 plays were used up, we put the ball into the end zone again, and led two touchdowns to none. They took over the ball, but couldn't advance it much against our defense. We reacted with high spirits, busting up plays in their backfield, forcing fumbles, and pinning their backs behind the line for losses. They did manage to gain one first down before completing their series of offensive downs.

When we got the ball back, our momentum stayed with us and we continued to overpower their struggling team. We upped the score by two more touchdowns and I found myself sidelined. Our second teamers were being sent in to get some playing time. The Stewart coaches apparently felt the game out of reach and sent in their scrubbs, too. Never-the-less, both substitute teams battled with great enthusiasm, just from having the opportunity to play. Their second-rate abilities were equal, and the game finished up with neither team scoring on the other.

The victory was our first and brought our record even at one and one, but there lacked much glory to revel in. The win came easily, against a clearly below par team. And it was decided long before the end, which alleviated any suspense. We didn't hesitate to celebrate though, any win is sweet. Winning is all there is. It's the name of the game.

So we jumped and cheered, and happily accepted the congratulations from the losers; black losers. "We slaughtered them alright!, but they was just niggers, what'd you expect!" Yes, we were proud of ourselves. Proud for having saved our reputation as bigots. Now we could face all the bigots around us and look them straightt in the eye, without shame. I rested easy, with no worries that night. Everything had gone according to plan. God had come through and helped us win. Thank you, Lord. And this time, the proper outcome availed; whites over blacks, us over them. There were no points to argue, no questions to ask, no confusion; we had proved our white supremacy and our might as a football team.

The four remaining scrimmages on our schedule posted us against white schools. We were somewhat familiar with each one's caliber from having competed in Little League and flag football against the grade schools that corresponded to the different jr. highs. It didn't turn out to be much of a factor, though, because the use of scouting was unknown to us at that level. In the first two of those last four contests, both Boulder and Roberts Jr. Highs fell to us, as our winning habits persisted. They were not pushovers, but our confidence as a team ran high, now boasting a 3-1 record.

The next game, versus the Moore Mustangs, resulted in a hard fought defensive war. Observation of their pre-game warm ups showed us size and speed, including an especially sure-footed runner. He was one of their few blacks, gliding swiftly through the mock plays, wearing a confident smile. It didn't take long, before intimidating reports of his running ability, found their way over to our end of the field and began drifting though our ranks. They looked tough, sounded tough, and were tough. We said our prayers, and came out hitting.

The big back did his share of damage. He pounded into the line, swept around the ends, for gain after gain, and led them to score on their first possession. They had to use most of their twenty chances though, for we gave up the yards grudgingly, just a few at a time. We took over on offense, determined to even the score. Each down, we pushed the ball closer to the goal line but couldn't get it across, in the twenty allotted plays. Therefore, they still held onto their one TD lead. Our confidence was unshaken though. We knew we could move the ball, but now we had to play defense, before getting another chance to do so.

Their first offensive series had got us riled, so we "sucked 'em up" and met their challenge. We stiffened on defense against the charge of their rushing attack; and denied them any points during that second series. When we got the ball back, we reacted by bulldozing down the field all the way to pay-dirt. The rest of the game was all defense, and the score wound up in a tie, 1-1..

Usually, ties bring only frustration to a team. You fight hard all through a contest to decide the winner, the stronger, the better; only to come to an even draw. There's no clear-cut victor, no triumphant joy. There's just an extra column added to mar your W-L record. But sometimes a team is grateful to have tied its opponent, and that's how we felt. We were way short on potential and size, but in the end, we were equal on the scoreboard. We matched their obvious advantage with determination and desire. Every one of us put out that 110%, and we were satisfied with our standing of 3-1-1.

Our next, and final game, was the one we'd all been looking forward to, against our arch rivals, the Hubbard Huskies. They were the snobs of the city. Its location, way in south Tyler, allowed its district boundary to surround those of a higher over-all financial status. Our school wasn't void of the offspring of the many oil-rich Tyler families, but they held no majority in the student population. They even could flaunt their brand spanking new school-house, complete with air-conditioning, a luxury that we did without. The best thing though, was that we knew many of their players, for we had all gone to the same grade school just the year before. Competition amongst friends can sometimes become more heated than amongst strangers.

The game was held on our practice field on a cool sunny day. We expected a highly emotional game, but after we jumped out to an early two touchdown lead, the lack of a challenge resulted. They couldn't muster much of an offensive attack, either, and we went on to command the play. Without the pressure of a close game, I merely played for the fun of it, tirelessly laughing and jeering across the line at our hapless opponents, and recognizable friends. When the scoring stopped, we stood on top four to one. It was nice ending the season that way, with an easy game, but not everything turned out so pleasant.

Late in the contest, they sent the ball carrier up the middle. I responded by meeting him head on and dragging him down for a short gain. As I wrapped my arms around him, my middle finger on my left hand, got jammed into something and a sharp pain quickly ran up my arm. It felt like the finger had exploded from within and split down its length two or three times. I couldn't imagine so much discomfort coming out of just a finger. My stomach felt the shock and made me nauseated. The distress made me seek refuge on the sideline. (This was before I learned that a mere finger injury didn't warrant dismissal from action.)

A replacement trotted in to fill my vacant spot and the coach called me over to take a look. From the grimace on my face, he must have thought my injury to be serious but when he viewed my swollen and purple finger, he remarked, "Oh, just a finger. It'll be OK." He then returned his attention to the play.

I felt ashamed for cowering off the field, and for the coach's lack of alarm. The throbbing discomfort of my damaged finger dominated my concern and I viewed the remaining plays with little interest. The victory, even though easily had and, for me, painful, was much beloved because of the rivalry. We celebrated with glee, knowing we held the bragging rights of being "Number one" all year long.

After showering and dressing, quite gingerly, having to favor the tender finger, I reported to the coaches' office to have it looked at. I was impressed that the head ninth grade coach was waiting to see me, with the seventh and eighth grade ones looking on. He took my hand, grinning at my apparent nervousness, and carefully inspected the deformed, discolored finger. As he poked and probed around, my every muscle stiffened from the pain. That brought even a bigger smile to his face, "Hurts a little, huh?" he said. I nodded in agreement, and replied dishonestly, "Yes Sir. A little bit."

He diagnosed it as maybe being broken, but probably just jammed. Without any forewarning, he grabbed the crooked thing and gave it a firm, swift jerk outward. It crunched and popped and straightened slightly. My brain screamed from the resulting shot of pain, but my pride forced my lips tightly together. I could not control my chest from heaving outward and drawing in an oversized breath, but my pursed lips couldn't hold it back and it escaped with a mighty, "Shooewww..!" Then my respiration shortened up as a hot rush climbed into my heart and stayed there throbbing. He seemed satisfied with that yank and assured me that I would live, "Jes' put some ice on it when you get home." he added.

I thanked him feebly and left, mad at the pain. The other surrounding coaches were enjoying the show. They all smiled. My face surely revealed the obvious discomfort, I attempted so gallantly to hide. From experience, they knew it hurt like hell, but also, that it wasn't serious. Knowing an injury isn't fatal, the programmed "football" mind computes the emotion of thrill when seeing the suffering reaction of a greenhorn. It's an inside joke of the football world. You have to earn your bumps, bruises, breaks, and scrapes to join the club. That banged up finger was the vomit I would have spewed on myself with a head-spinning pass-out, on the floor of a fraternity house, as an over-eager rushee. The coaches were the veteran members laughing at my predicament. They had been there before.

With our last game having been played, my hurting finger had a chance to heal. Similar to my former wrist injury, the swollen stub created a surprising degree of disability. It got in the way during the simplest of tasks. Within a week or two it had loosened up some and I became used to the discomfort. That finger never returned to normal. The middle knuckle remained permanently enlarged, with a frequent hitch to it. When working tediously with my hands the joint would catch in a straight position, requiring help from another finger to unlock it. From that middle point, the remainder of the finger bone pointed slightly, but definitely, sideways.

My earlier, injured wrist also showed lifelong impairment. Its action was not free of restriction; the bones constantly grinding against one another during movement, popping loudly. Both of that years' injuries, although lasting, resulted to be painless. They just served as reminders of my participation in the rough sport of football. There were more to come, those were just the first.

The season, for me, was over but it had been a good one. I figured I was right on track in fulfilling my dream. Our team proved to be a winner, and personally, I had excelled. I occupied starting positions on both offense and defense. I discovered that I possessed some of the potential, necessary to be a football player. I could hit, and I enjoyed the contact. It gave me satisfaction. My instincts seemed geared toward the game. I was told I had "savvy"; a feel, a sense, of knowing where the ball is, of throwing a block, and of making a tackle. I was no "All-American", but at least things looked positive in the evidence that the basic skills were there. All I had to do was to develop and sharpen them with experience, but I couldn't wait untill the next year.

That season of exposure to an organized football program made me aware of the importance of being physically fit. The condition and size of my body became new priorities in my life. Up till Jr. high I'd been pretty much a chubby, lazy kid. My idea of "Hogg's Heaven" was to lie in front of a TV all day, eating doughnuts and cookies. My only dread was having to get up in order to change the channel. If we would have had a remote control, my legs might have shriveled up from lack of use. I began trying to discipline myself. I had learned that it wasn't going to come easily, things were starting to become serious.

I joined the basketball squad and ran track that year, solely for the purpose of making my body work harder, to build it stronger. During PE, I performed every exercise, every game, with the thought of developing my muscles for football. Likewise, at home, I became more active. I heard that a secret to growing taller was by hanging from a chinning bar for fifteen minutes every day, so I did it. I drank milk and ate steaks to put on size. I wanted to be 6' 3" tall and weigh 250 pounds. I would have to be at least that big, since I was planning on going pro.

End of Chapter 5

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