Thursday, September 8, 2011


First Season of Tackle Football
(Photo courtesy of Richie A.)

I suffer from a recurring nightmare.

At 15 years old, I am the starting quarterback of the Kapaa High School football team.  

As green as the color of my football uniform, dazed and bewildered as to how I marched my team down the football field, I am facing a 1st and ten on the opponents' five-yard line.  

Just five yards to go.  Fifteen measly feet.  And four downs to play with.

I call a conservative play--a fullback dive between the center and right guard.  The play goes nowhere.

That was just a ruse.  A setup for the next play.

On second and goal, I call a buck left.  This is a play designed for me to fake the handoff to the fullback diving into the same hole that was plugged the last time, spin quickly in a clockwise direction and hand the ball to the tailback who dives into the twin hole on the left.  It's a play that ideally sucks the middle linebacker towards the feigning fullback, leaving a hole on the other side.

Except my left guard misses the center's call for a cross block.  This is where the center blocks the man in front of the guard, and the guard takes out the center's man--thus, a crisscross block.  We lose a couple of yards on the play.

It's now third and seven.  The end zone crowd is deafening, and I am frustrated as I have to wait for the substitute sprinting in from the sidelines to bring us the play.  The seconds are ticking down.  The coach has called for a ramrod right. We have had limited success tonight going right, but, oh well!

Spinning quickly in a counter-clockwise motion as my backfield rushes to the right, I pitch the ball to the trailing tailback and get ready to block someone.  The idea is for the right side of the line, the fullback, and me to form a wall of blockers for the tailback.  All I can remember is that someone submarines me, and I am in extreme agony from the blow of the helmet to my left shin.  From the shameful vantage point of the ground, I can barely watch as my tailback is absolutely creamed from a horde of defenders.

We should have called a sprint-out pass!  Or a quarterback option.

One more final chance.  I quickly look to the sideline and see the animated coaches signaling frantically, but I can't think.  I'm in too much pain.  Worse yet, I am putting myself down big time!  And that's the worst thing a quarterback can do at a time like this.  I can't even look my teammates in the eye.  They sense my faltering leadership, and like a third-world contagion, the disease of impotency spreads like wildfire.

We don't have anyone on the team who can kick field goals, so we have to go for it on fourth down.  The ref blows his whistle, and the clock in my head races past the speed limit.  

I call for a sprint-out pass.  My split end, Clarence, is a tall Japanese junior with great hands.  All we need is just a small window of opportunity.  My heart is beating rapidly as I call the play.  I implore my linemen to sustain their blocks.  

Outwardly, I am all about image as I casually approach the line and survey the defensive alignment.  Inside, I am nothing but nerves, and unbeknownst to my teammates, I am devoid of any confidence.  

I'm not afraid of failing.  Truth is, I'm afraid of succeeding! 

The ball is snapped.  As I attempt to sprint to the right, I stumble and almost fall.  Fortunately, I keep my balance.  I quickly scan the field and see Clarence.  He is wide open, having effectively faked out the right cornerback..  The safety is busy defending my left wide receiver who is running a post pattern.  All I have to do is toss the ball a dozen yards or so to Clarence.

This is the point where I wake up from my dream in a cold sweat.  For over forty years, I have had this ethereal scenario invade my sleep as well as haunt my waking moments...especially during periods of extreme angst in my life. 

Even as I write this, I am struggling with the memory of what happened next.

Clarence was wide open.  As I recall, my concentration was so keen--never mind the pain; never mind the agony of three downs that saw us lose yardage; never mind my dwindling to the point of being non-existent self-confidence--and all I could spy at the end of my visual tunnel was Clarence, his left hand held high as he signaled me.  

As I ran to my right, my heart beating fast like a cornered deer, I threw the ball.

It hit Clarence's right shoe.  He gallantly tried to cradle it, but the ball hit the turf and skipped through the end zone.

The home crowd groaned in unison.  The silence that followed was deafening.

My debut opportunity to put my school on the map fizzled in extreme failure.

I had choked.

The game eventually ended in a humiliating defeat.  St. Anthony's of Maui shellacked us, 35 - 0.  

I was deeply affected by the events of that long-ago Friday night football game.  In ways too painful to talk about, I faced many more failures in my life.  

It got to the point where I expected, even welcomed, failure like a father embracing a returning prodigal son.

In my dreams, I raged against the humiliation as I attempted with every fiber of my being to right my wrong.  I swear, as the years went by, every cell in my body must've developed a nuclear memory of that game, somehow passing the flashback into the genetic chromosomal makeup of each succeeding generation of cells.

Why do I think this?

Because in 2011, while watching videos of my grandson, Kainoa, the handsome and determined young man in the photo above, I found absolution in what I observed.

Call me silly, but I like to think that all those years of agonizing and hungering to take that ugly night back and turn it into a glorious triumph passed through two generations and resulted in the epitome of natural athleticism that is very evident in my young grandson.

My son, Richie, a former island disc jockey with a huge fan base, has recorded and edited a few videos of Kainoa quarterbacking his respective flag football teams to victory.  

Kainoa is now beginning his tackle football career, and I am looking forward very much to seeing future videos of those games.

The following is the most recent video that I received from Richie.  Keep in mind that this young quarterback is only 8 years old.  Like his college and NFL counterparts, Kainoa calls his own plays.  

Someday soon, I hope to be there in person to watch Kainoa engage in a hearty game of football.  For now, I am the best armchair quarterback in the world as I enjoy every second of his athletic prowess on video.

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