Sunday, September 02, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 9-9-07
Jeff Gill

Autumn Skies and a Chill

There’s been talk around the cracker barrel at the general store about fall, and what we’re in for.

The dry stretches of the summer, and leaves curling early, with swaths of yellow already in the canopy, lead many everyday naturalists to expect a swift season.

Will the leaves turn bright colors, or just go to brown, tan, and saffron? Will they give us a few weeks of glowing arches overhead, or just a turn and drop in the same few days?

Along with such speculation comes the scrying of the wooly-bears. I continue in my own bafflement over whether the brown stripe wide means more snow, or narrow brown with more black calls for the harder winter.

But the first wooly worm I’ve seen was grey-black from end to end. Which must mean either no snow at all, or buy stock in towing companies now, since the skies will open.

The team from “up north” felt a chill early, and for those who want to know, the Appalachian State campus is in Boone, NC. Nice place. Good school. Who knew they had so many fans in central Ohio?

The family had the pleasure of hearing repeated cheers for the Mountaineers of Boone (not to be confused with the WV ‘Eers) while watching a remarkable football game in Piper Stadium on Deeds Field at Denison University.

Actually, the game was fairly unremarkable, other than one magnificent runback on a kickoff for the Big Red. They did lose, while playing hard right down to the final whistle.

What that team did accomplish was the 1,000th football game for Denison. This is their 118th season of college football. By my math, that means since 1888 they’ve been playing downs, even if T-formation and face masks are a fairly new development by that measure.

1,000 games. The upstart program west of us, in Columbus, only began in 1890, and is just up to . . . OK, 1141games, but that’s because Ohio State keeps playing after Thanksgiving every year, when all scholar-athletes know it’s time to start studying for finals.

I wish I had some pictures of my dad playing football in the late 1940’s and early 50’s, with a leather helmet and no face mask. Apparently they didn’t have many photographers roaming the sidelines in Anita, Iowa back then, so I just have his stories and a few clippings from the Atlantic, IA paper about his single-wing exploits and defensive derring-do (yep, played both ways).

He’s too polite to point out I’m a much better football player in the pictures my family has than I ever was on the field, with full mask and shoulder pads, forearm shiver at the ready. What I can do is sound as if I’m older than I am, because I played on Indiana’s last single-wing team. There was in my hometown a legendary coach who was still winning championships into the 70’s with the long snap and strongside sweeps by the tailback, led by a blocking back and fullback. When Coach Stokes retired, the entire county football establishment swung over to T-formations and Wishbones, and the era of the quarterback began belatedly for them.

Now the cost of equipment and liability insurance has pushed football, even with high tech helmets and orthopedic cleats, into a bit of a corner, and the Little Guy plays soccer with nary a look at football. Mom and Grandma are quite candidly relieved, and Great-grandma looks down from Heaven with a happy sign as well, I’m told. My dad’s blown-out knee and enough tales of two-a-days from me haven’t made the ladies of the family nostalgic for the grand old days of every lad trying out for the team, pushing the village fire truck up and down hills in August.

Many thanks to the players and families who keep alive fall football, the trainers and coaches who keep the players safer than they’ve ever been, and all the chain holders and concession stand workers and ticket takers who make sure that one autumn ritual is still available to us all, even if fewer of us are playing.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he was a tackle and guard on a number of valiantly losing teams through his football career. Tell him your sports story at

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