Forty-something years later, Ken Thomas can still tell you about the counter play the Goldthwaite Eagles offense ran in football, when the tackle pulled to the right, and ...
Ken, at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, was part of that Goldthwaite offense in the early-to-mid-’60s, playing tackle on offense as well as defense. (I didn’t ask him if he ever blocked himself.)
He remembers the “special games.” He remembers playing De Leon “when the clock ran out and they were about to score ...” (De Leon would have won.)
Now, I know football is one of those obscure activities that few people in these parts care about, but Ken and I somehow got into a conversation about it in his office at Early City Hall, where Ken is city administrator.
The topic of football came up when he told me about an old knee injury from football that is still giving him trouble. I told him about watching a game with my boys in which the starting quarterback was hobbling on the sidelines in street clothes, and the backup quarterback had just been carried off the field.
I turned to my sixth-grader, who was finishing his fourth year of yoot football and relishing junior high, then high school football, and asked him, “Is this really the future you want for yourself? Don’t you want to give this up and concentrate on music?”
It wasn’t a serious question, and I knew what answer the lad would give with nary a moment’s hesitation.
“No,” the lad answered with nary a moment’s hesitation.”
His assignment, then, is to grow up, get a fat professional contract and buy his parents a big house.
His younger brother, a fourth-grader, likes football too, but right now soccer is his sport. He is starting to agonize over whether to stick with soccer or play football, but I’ve told him he doesn’t have to make that decision for a good while. (What can I say? I always like to give my children philosophical advice.)
I asked Ken why people keep playing football, given the injuries. Again, it wasn’t really a serious question. Why does a bird fly? Because it’s supposed to.
Ken paused and appeared to contemplate for a moment, obviously about to wax philosophical. He’s thought about it, he said, and if he had it to do over again ... he’d still play football despite the physical cost.
I would have played, too, except I wasn’t any good. You know what they say: those who can, do. Those who can’t, don’t. When it came to athletics, I was a don’t. When a classmate tells you in P.E. that “you’re not worth a ...” followed by two expletives, with the first expletive modifying the second expletive, you think two things: (1.) “d’oh! Not even Walter would say such a hateful, hurtful thing.” And (2.) “Perhaps this is a clue that I am not very good.”
When I asked Ken if playing football was fun, he replied“oh, yeah,” giving me a “well, no duh” expression. “I have to admit, I enjoyed it. I really did,” he said.
* * *
“You get out there, and you practice, and you hate practice to a certain extent ...” Ken allowed. It’s demanding, it’s not very satisfying. He continued: “You get into an actual game ... you get some satisfaction when you line up and break the halfback loose for a long gain or a touchdown.”
Speaking of halfbacks, Ken recalled a rather small one named Bobby. “As bad as I hate to admit it, I blocked for Rountree a few times,” Ken said, referring to his former teammate. “He was very good. He was fast – real fast.”
What’s it feel like to smash into the guy across the line, I wanted to know. “I hate to say this, really ... but when you’re so much larger than most of the others, it feels pretty good,” Ken admitted.
I asked Ken to expound on his earlier statement that he’d do it all again, injuries or no. “When you look at life, there’s good things and bad things that happen,” Ken expounded. “I guess when you’re a kid growing up, that’s just part of enjoying life.” What will my kid experience once he starts seventh-grade football and continues playing into high school, I asked Ken.
“There’s going to be good days and bad days ... even when you don’t feel like it, you’ve still got to do your very best. At practice, when you feel like you’d like to fluff off a little bit ... late in the fourth quarter, that’s when it’ll pay – good or bad.”
Ken recalled the “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you play the game” dictum. That is true to an extent – but winning is a lot more fun, Ken explained.
When one or more of your kids starts playing sports, you want their teams to win every game and win the championship. You find out pretty quick, it’s just not going to happen that way.
Just remember the big house, kid.
Steve Nash writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at steve.nash@