BOB EASTLEY: JV football: Team retro

Bob-EastleyThe countdown to the Super Bowl is winding down, so there’s a lot of blathering about football on the sports stations. There are also some pretty serious discussions about concussions and head trauma. That got me thinking about my JV football experience. I attended a high school on the southwest side of Grand Rapids that was (and still is) very Dutch Christian Reformed. They had a reputation for being, shall we say, frugal.

When I went out for JV football, possibly as a result of our school administration’s frugality (I really like that word), we were issued what could only be described as “vintage” uniforms. When I say vintage, I mean less like fine wine and more like mummified remains.

This was the late 1960s. I had already played six years of Rocket football. During that stretch, I owned really cool football pants, cleats, shoulder pads and a sharp looking, perfectly padded plastic helmet. So, imagine my surprise when I entered the equipment room with all the other JV wannabes and discovered that we were going retro.

I was kind of a shrimp, and likely doomed to occupy a place on the bench just past the equipment manager and the water boy. So, I was dead last on the equipment selection hierarchy list. They issued us, and I’m not making this up, leather shoulder pads that weighed as much as a Butterball turkey, and leather helmets that had been drilled and fitted to attach plastic face masks. They were horrible.

Picture jamming your size nine foot into a size seven shoe, and that’s how my helmet fit. There was a huge pressure point on the front that caused my head to throb, and the thought of actually tackling someone was unthinkable. Talk about your recipe for trauma. These days, kids buy helmets with a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady signature embossed on the plastic. So, when I tell you that my helmet was from the Jim Thorpe collection, I mean it may actually have been worn by Jim Thorpe. I looked like a skinny little extra from “Knute Rockne, All American.”

This was very disturbing on several levels. First, the psyche of a high school boy is already fragile, and it’s no fun to get off a bus and be ridiculed by the opposing team and their entire student body. I really couldn’t blame them. In addition to the leather brain buckets, we had a mismatched bunch of maroon jerseys and yellow pants spanning several generations. We looked like Team Yard Sale.

Secondly, those leather shoulder pads and helmets were manufactured before plastic was invented. The padding wasn’t high-tech foam. It was more like an old mattress. So, since I was possibly the 50th or 60th person to add my sweat to this fine ensemble, can you imagine how much bacteria had accumulated and multiplied and mutated since Ronald Reagan played the part of the Gipper? He (George Gipp, not Ronny) was actually from Laurium, Michigan, but I digress. Anyhow, my helmet was a big, melon-shaped Petri dish and I was a fifteen year-old science experiment.

Looking back at that year, we weren’t very good. To win football games, you need to look tough, act tough and run like a gazelle. It’s hard to feel tough when you look foolish, and it’s hard to run fast if you’re toting forty pounds of leather upholstery.

 

Contact Bob Eastley at eastleyr@ferris.edu

 

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