Football taught me about life.
That’s usually something said by an aging athlete or a high school senior at the end of year sports banquet. Rarely is it implied by a fluffy greying grandmother whose football playing time was limited to a couple of games of touch football in the park.
I was raised going to every football game on every Friday night from the time I was in diapers. And since my mother was of the opinion that babes should be potty trained by 1-year-old, I wasn’t running the stands at my first f’ball game. After I left home, I tried hard not to compress my rump against the splintery boards in the stands and vowed to find something, anything else to do rather go to a football game.
Our dad was a football coach who met our mom when she worked as the secretary for San Antonio ISD athletic director in the late 30’s. I don’t think Mother was much of a football fan, but she had been exposed to the sport in her 6 years of working for the school district. When they moved to the Valley of Texas after the war and started a family, football continued to be part of our lives.
Five seats in a row, 12 rows up, on the 50 yard line. Rain or shine, blue norther or Texas fall heat wave, out-of-town or in town: Dorothy Marie and her three little girls sat there. Daddy joined us to watch the half time show. Otherwise, he was policing the sidelines, breaking up fights, and encouraging our players and coaches.
I grew to hate football. We girls wore dresses to the games because Mother thought that was proper; that’s territory where Daddy wouldn’t have trod even lightly. It was boring. Conversation around us dealt with adult topics.
Our friends ran loose at the games, chasing one another under the stands and darting around the sidelines. Mother refused to let us join. “And act like a bunch of wild Indians? You can sit here like young ladies.”
My older sister Georgie did her aloof thing and joined pep squad as soon as she was eligible. Mary Ann and I giggled, squirmed, and poked at one another until Mother turned the cold green eyes of doom on us and we got shushed.
I didn’t become a football attendee as an adult. I’ve gone to maybe 5 football games in all the years since I graduated high school. My kids are football illiterates. When GE started teaching, I went to one of her school’s games. She was surprised that I knew hand signals and plays. “How come I don’t know these things?” she asked. (“Because I went to enough games as a kid for my whole lifetime before I was 18,” I thought.)
Because of the blog writing and the genealogy research, I got a trial subscription to newspaperarchive.com. I was surprised to find many articles about Coach Dave and Dorothy Marie, separately and together. I’ve spent the past few days re-acquainting myself with their history and getting to know two dear, amazing people.
I have discovered that many of the gifts of ethics and good behavior I have today, I learned as a result of football.
1. You don’t have to tell people how good you are. Show them. I don’t think that was a trait that our dad had naturally. I’m not sure how he learned it. There was an article from The Kerrville Tivy Tattler in the early 30’s when he was playing minor league baseball. He hit a double in the 11th inning to win the game and commented, “I was getting hungry and it was way past my supper time. I had to get us home to eat.”
In later years, when he became a head coach at Tivy H.S., he was more modest. As an untested “boss of the gridiron,” he had a team of novices to the game. Most of the players had run track for him in junior high and he knew they had speed but were inexperienced ball players. In pre-season interviews, he was careful to just say the “boys are working hard.” When they won district, beating bigger San Antonio teams, he said, “I knew what they could do. Saying it didn’t make it so. They had to prove it to themselves.”
2. Be a gracious winner. The Jefferson Mustangs won a game against Harlandale Indians 31-0. A reporter kept trying to get our dad to say that Harlandale wasn’t a good team, but his only response was, “Those boys have a lot of heart. They played hard. We just had a good night.”
In a feature article a few months later, it turned out that Daddy had put in his 4th string and had given everybody some playing time. His advice to his team: “Don’t run up the score on those Indians. They’ll go on the warpath against you and you’ll get massacred next year!”
Not PC but funny anyway. He’d have been chagrined to see the C.C. Carroll score this week; they lost 71-0 to a Rio Grande valley team.
3. Have a sense of humor. In an interview with our dad just before he left for duty in WWII, he told about funny things that had happened in his coaching career. At one point, his Mustangs were 2 points behind, 2 minutes to go, and 30 yards out on the 4th down. Punting time.
His punter saw an opening, grabbed the ball and ran in for a touchdown. Game won. Daddy took the young ball-toter aside and asked him what he would have done if the play hadn’t worked. The young man answered, “Coach, I’d have grabbed my helmet and run fast so you couldn’t run me out of the stadium!” The interviewer describes our dad as laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.
4. Sometimes you have to give up something you love for someone you love. The last football game I went to with Daddy was Uvalde Coyotes vs. Kerrville Tivy Antlers in the fall of 1983. It was close to the end for him; the signs of Alzheimer’s were becoming pronounced enough for us to doubt Mother’s ability to care for him 30 miles out in the country.
He was excited about the game. Tivy was his first teaching post. No longer did the Antlers have Scrappy the buck who was mascot during my dad’s years, but we looked for him anyway. We sat on the Coyotes side and watched Kerrville demolish Uvalde. “Our boys still have that Tivy spirit, Mawgie,” he said with a brightness in his blue eyes.
I had no idea how much our dad loved coaching until I read his press clippings. Different reporters describe him as having a twinkle in his eyes when he described a game, chuckling hard when he told about his own or one of his boys’ foibles, enthusiastically talking about next year’s team or last year’s team.
The time came when age and family caused him to stop coaching and start working in the administration office. He did it. Did he regret it? I can’t believe he didn’t.
When Daddy got the job at S.A. Jefferson, a feature reporter called him an “outstanding mentor in a profession that requires you to be first-class teachers, exceptional psychologists, strategists, humanitarians, leaders, physical training wizards and just about everything else that suggests when a fellow comes in contact with a spirited batch of healthy boys.”
I’d have to add he did a pretty fair job of mentoring a spirited batch of three healthy girls, too.