A Real American Football Story…with a twist, of course!
It’s the heart of the football season and I have story that I think even a football widow might enjoy. To set the stage: I played football for nine seasons in row from the time I was 9 years old through varsity football at good old St. Mary’s High School in Royal Oak, Michigan. I played for some bad, so-so and very good teams through it all, the best team being my senior year when we scored 215 points and gave up only 35. I still find it hard to convince people I was a 5′ 7″ 135 lb. captain of that team with Danny Colombo and Larry Hermann who played college ball at Wayne State. I wasn’t that gifted, but I did have big mouth and I liked to hit people, unless it was Danny C. in one of those crazy one-on-one drills that have my ears still ringing 40 years later.
I played football with the same group of guys all those years, Lyle Moon, Brad Richards, Tony Brunet, Bob Zajdel, Dave Debastos, Bob Stachel, Chuck Villerot, Pat Rhodes, Steve Wright, Gerry Reed….and along the way we lost an entire talented team to moves or transfers to the public schools…Tim Roy, Mark Rose, Luke Moran, Chuck Schmidt, Bob Munecas, Rick Blatz, Gary Ryniak and Tom Lama.
One of my very favorite seasons, when fun ruled the roost, was a 4-4 season when I was in 8th grade. Our coaches were Tom Klier and John Hermann, both recent graduates of St. Mary’s High School, but I still am not sure if they ever played football themselves. They didn’t know much football, and we were just in beginning of our Rebellion Through Ingenuity early teenage phase which was centered on driving authority figures bonkers through a combination of Eddie Haskell and Mad Magazine oriented hi-jinks. It was a good fit with Coaches Klier and Hermann. They were good eggs, we were pretty good athletes and they never made us feel like our lives depended on winning the next game. This was the era when when big yellow salt pills were given to us to replensish the salt lost through extreme sweating, but water breaks were thought to give cramps…as a result, we loaded up on a ton of salt which pretty much dried us up like smoked herring!
We entered our last game, a league cross-over with St. Michael’s of Livonia, with a respectable 4-3 record. We traveled crosstown on Ten Mile Road to St. Michaels to find that they did not have a scale for the customary weigh-in. Let me explain: The Catholic Youth Organization, the governing body of the Catholic League, had a rule that no one over 146 lbs. could play. Remember that this is in 1966 and 146 lbs. was huge. I weighed exactly 100 lbs. and our average player was maybe 120 lbs. It was a very enlightened rule and prevented the 87 lb. seventh grader from getting crushed.
It became very clear why there was no scale available. St. Michaels had gone out and brought in the descendants of the Purple Gang to play against us. They had ten guys that not only would have broken the scale, but they had 5 o’clock shadows, packs of Lucky Strikes stuck under their should pads and girlfriends who looked like strippers.
Coach Hermann pointed out to the referees that there were obviously player over the weight limit, but when the zebras saw the blackjacks and brass knuckles come out, they shrugged and said if we didn’t play it would be forfeit.
So Coach Klier gathered us around the goalposts and gave us his best pre-game speech.
“Ok, boys, it’s the last game of the season and St. Michael’s sure appears to be bending the rules. But do we care? No we do not! Why? Because…(he broke out into song..)
We are the Irish, the mighty, mighty Irish
Everywhere we go, people want to know,
Who we are, So we tell them:
We are the Irish!
Are you with me, boys!
Of course we were!
The game began a few minutes later and even though we looked like the Munchkins playing the Wild Bunch, we were fired up and ready to roll.
That lasted, oh, about one play. On the kickoff, we received and before it was over, every one of our eleven players were on the ground. Four plays later we had lost thirty yards and that was just the beginning. We were down 21-0 by the end of the first quarter and St. Michael’s was ignoring another wise CYO rule where the entire first team had to be substituted if a team went up by 18 or more points. No dice. They stuck with their starters and by halftime we were down 35-0.
We headed to our halftime refuge of the big yellow school bus and I had the worst headache of my life and two cauliflower ears. I looked out the bus window and saw Coach Klier and Coach Hermann in a shouting match with the referees and the St. Michael’s head coach. They were letting them have it. These were two of the nicest guys I knew and their faces were red and neck veins were bulging. Coach Klier threw down his clipboard and stalked off, with Coach Herman in close pursuit.
He completely changed character by time he hopped up the steps of the bus and greeted his bruised and battered charges with a big smile.
“Hey boys, it’s pretty clear the lads from St. Michael’s don’t want to play by the rules. Those gorillas must have flunked at least two or three times. Now, I’m not a quitter and I don’t want you boys to to be quitters, but this wasn’t a fair game from the start and I’m not about to let anyone of you get hurt anymore than you already are. I say we chalk this one up to experience and mosey on down the road with our heads held high. Are you with me, boys?”
Of course we were!
There was a little grumbling about how we we should go out and cream them in the second half, but when Coach Herman started up the bus and Coach Klier started to do his gorilla imitation by hanging from the bus poles and screeching, we were laughing hard.
However….Coach Klier did not inform our fans or cheerleaders about his judicious decision and as we made the turn onto Ten Mile, headed east toward Royal Oak, our cheerleaders were in the middle of their Welcome Cheer.
We’re from St. Mary’s couldn’t be prouder,
If you can’t hear us, we shout a little louder.
The entire cheerleading squad and fans from both schools were dumbfounded when we leaned out the bus windows from Ten Mile as we passed the field on our way home and joined in the cheer.
Yeah, We’re from St. Mary’s, couldn’t be prouder!
And if you can’t hear us, we’ll yell even louuuddder!
I was never more proud of coach. We were beaten, but not bowed through the humor and the wisdom of coaches that cared.