I soured on playing football on a cold wet Friday afternoon in October of 1968.
Belmont High School had not lost a game in nearly two years, absolutely no thanks to me. This was in days prior to playoffs, divisions and multi levels of state championships. All that mattered in those days was the conference championship. There was nothing else pre-season or post season to play for. An 8-0 record was the best that could be achieved, the pinnacle of Wisconsin small high school football success.
Belmont High School was a ragtag operation of small, slow, mostly farmboys who were exceedingly well coached and gluttons for punishment. The punishment usually started in mid July when anyone wanting to be on the team began running in the searing summer heat usually at the end of the day of baling hay or harvesting oats. By that time running in the searing heat was a welcome relief to inhaling hay seeds and oat dust in the searing heat for 12 hours. By early August “two a days” started and the heat was accompanied by coaches yelling obscenities for three hours in the morning and two more in the evening and ill-fitting pads, helmets and jerseys that made 5-foot, 5-inch, 130-pound skinny white boys look like… well… 5-foot, 5-inch, 130-pound skinny white boys. And there were a lot of us.
I was one of them, and by rule of numbers I made the team. The roster could total 28 players and we only had 26 out for the team, and so by default I got a uniform. I was fast enough to run away from most aggressive behavior and prone to fumbling the ball at the mere sight of an oncoming defender. Defensively, I could be suckered by the most inept fake or draw play with no hope of ever recovering in time to make a play. So my playing time was limited to special teams, otherwise known back then as the “hamburger squad.”
But back to a cold, wet Friday afternoon in October 1968.
Belmont and Potosi were both unbeaten, the Goliaths of Blackhawk League Football when Potosi, led by All World Everything, Keith Krephle invaded Belmont. Krephle went on to be All American tight end at Iowa State and All Pro with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was probably the only player in the league that lifted weights. Nobody on our side could lift the weights even if they wanted to lift weights.
Krephle touched the ball on every play, including kickoffs and punts, which is where it comes in that I soured on football that cold, wet October afternoon. On the opening kickoff I, of “hamburger squad” duty, was responsible for defending the left outside lane against the kickoff return, being returned of course by Mr. All World Everything. He devoured skinny 5-foot, 5-inch, 130-pound white kids like me for pre-game lunch and then proceeded to do the same during the game.
Apparently, Krephle must have failed to see me trembling in my jockstrap when he thundered into the left outside lane on the kickoff return and ran over me and tripped leaving me a blathering, bloody mouthed 130-pound pile of “hamburger squad” pulp in his wake, but indeed, trip he did, inadvertently giving me credit for a touchdown saving tackle on the game’s opening play .
I vaguely remember in a state of semi- consciousness two hours later, getting the game ball for setting the tone that afternoon as Belmont upset Potosi and Mr. All World Everything. By getting in his way, really not being able to run fast enough to get out of his way, my lone football memory soured me on playing the game forever. I still wake up in the middle of the night in a state of mind bending fear at the mere image of Krephle thundering into the left outside lane. I suited up for one more game my junior year and spent my senior year chasing cheerleaders.
But to those players and coaches still living to play or coach another week this time of year, CONGRATULATIONS AND BEST OF LUCK in this sudden death season of Texas High School Football Playoffs.
John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at email@example.com.