Can you smell it? Football season is in the air again. I just joined in for a few downs with some neighborhood teenagers playing touch in the street in front of my house. As I counted down one Mississippi to five Mississippi before rushing the quarterback, I flashed back to the glory days of mud ball in my front yard as a kid.
Indiana yards are considerably larger than California yards, and our corner lot was the biggest in the neighborhood. The goal line was a tree on one side and a ditch on the other, and the out-of-bounds was negotiable. We gathered on Saturday mornings like gladiators in ripped up sweatshirts, wool gloves and Converse high tops.
The regulars were Ronnie, Tim, Jeff, the Hopwood brothers and a few others. Even Gordie, the high school football player, would come out occasionally and play quarterback for both sides. It didn’t take long for the turf to get sloppy with mud, and this was full-contact, tackle football… not touch. When the temperature dropped in October, the mud froze into an abrasive, unforgiving tundra guaranteed to require some first aid when you got home.
Of course we made up the rules as we went. Since we couldn’t accurately measure 10 yards, we decided that 2 complete passes meant a first down. So you could choose to grind out yardage with high-probability short passes (and pay the price with a solid hit) or take a chance by going deep and throwing the long pass. The long throw was harder to complete and lowered your chances of getting a first down in 4 tries.
That being said, I’ll never forget the time that Gordie whispered in the huddle for me to go deep on the first down. I was a small kid, but a fairly fast runner. My heart beat faster as I lined up opposite my determined defender with mud on his chin and one sleeve left on his Green Bay Packers sweatshirt.
“Hike!!” I took off with short steps, faking the short route to the middle… something you would expect on first down. Gordie pumped his arm once with the ball and the defender took the bait. Then I took off running at full speed toward the touchdown tree, spinning out in the mud as I picked up speed. I could sense the ball in the air as I got close to the goal line, and I was 3 steps ahead of the nearest defender.
I turned my head at just the right moment, arms outstretched to make a highlight film catch… and the ball hit me right in the face. Hard. I saw stars as I went down in the endzone, and the ball bounced away.
If you’ve never felt a frozen football hit you square in the face, it’s a nose-numbing experience. What’s worse is trying not to let the guys see you with tears in your eyes. I popped up and ran back to the huddle, reinforcing how tough I wanted them to think I was.
Then something really remarkable happened. On the next play, the defense lined up 3 yards back from the line. They had seen that we were willing to take the long shot, and they RESPECTED us for it. This made it a lot easier to get some of those short yardage, first-down completions.
Life, like football, offers the same kinds of scoring opportunities. You can get out there, get dirty and grind out the short yardage. You can also choose to go deep if you’re brave enough. You don’t have to take this risk on the first play, but you’re a player if you do. Truth is, a game needs a combination of both kinds of plays to win.
Are you thinking about going deep with a new goal in your life? How can you earn the respect of your peers if you NEVER take a long shot? I’ll respect you for it. Even if you fail, you’ll probably respect yourself a little bit more too.