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It’s been 40 years since I played midget football

I was running laps around Langley Field recently, and it got me thinking about the summer I played midget football for the Sheraden Vikings.

Why was I thinking about midget football at that precise moment? Because Langley Field was where I played midget football. That’s right, I’m a true-blue Pittsburgher, baby! Most of us don’t move far away from our roots. Oh, and that joke about not wanting to cross rivers to even get to the other side of town? That’s not far from the truth.

Anyway, as I was running, I couldn’t believe it had been 40 years since the summer of 1984; that’s when I signed up for midget football. I believe the fee was $8, but it was certainly no more than $10. My mom didn’t have the money, so my grandmother paid. Since I come from a rather poor family, my grandmother acted as if she was giving me one of her vital organs (she would have done this for real had one of us needed one of them, btw).

I had dreamed of playing in the NFL when I was an innocent eight and nine-year-old boy; I wanted to be a running back. It was more of a glamor position then than it is now, and I just knew I would be the next Franco Harris or Walter Payton (RIP to both). But reality hit me hard in the face after I signed up for midget football as a grizzled, old 12-year-old (much like Jack Lambert had probably done to Franco many times at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.), and the reality was this: I was fat from eating Combos and ice cream with maple syrup on it. The coaches took one look at me and decided that I was either going to be an offensive or defensive lineman. I can’t really blame them. Even though I eventually maxed out at 5’9″ with a frame that doesn’t allow me to weigh more than 180 pounds without having to buy pants with a 40-inch waistline, I was one of the bigger kids on the 1984 Sheraden Vikings roster.

However, despite my girth, I must have shown some athleticism somewhere because my coaches tried me at various positions besides the trenches. I played safety, linebacker, and I even took some reps at running back (fullback, of course). Speaking of linebackers, we were doing a drill one day during training camp; I was the middle linebacker, and two kids were on either side of me playing outside linebacker. It was a pass-coverage drill, where the coach feigned throwing the football one way, and then another way, and we had to follow along until he finally threw the football. When he did, I “intercepted” it and ran the other way. Everyone clapped–including the coaches and other players–and to this day, I still don’t know what I did that impressed them.

The one time where my fat kid athleticism caught my coach’s eye was during tight end drills. I always had good hands, and since I spent countless hours running over kids during pick-up games when I was a bit younger, I had no problem dragging my Vikings teammates many yards after catching a pass as a tight end in practice. This impressed my coaches so much that they considered making that my main focus. Unfortunately, I lacked the confidence to play the position and just felt weird doing something a little more high profile–I believe they refer to it today as imposter’s syndrome–and intentionally kept running poor routes until they gave up on the tight end experiment–I believe they refer to it today as Antonio Brown syndrome–and put me back in the trenches.

I may have been athletic for a fat kid, but I was still a fat kid. My cardio was severely lacking. We had to begin every training camp session by running a lap around Langley Field, and this was agony. It was so difficult that I and many of my teammates would “hide” behind the batting cage to catch a few extra breaths. Believe me, as I recently ran about three miles around that same field, the irony was not lost on me that I am in much better shape as a 52-year-old than I was as a 12-year-old.

It was soon time to pick out our official jersey numbers right before the start of the season, and despite my overall lack of talent, I went with No. 75. That’s right, even though Mean Joe Greene had only just retired three years earlier, and even though I wasn’t even a starter on my own midget football team, I eagerly chose the same number as the greatest Steeler of all time.

What a putz.

The truly sad part about my season of midget football was it really wasn’t a full season. I only lasted one game–didn’t see a single snap–and soon quit the team. It wasn’t necessarily because I didn’t play. It was mostly because I didn’t want to–as they say today–put in the work. I don’t know where I got the crazy work ethic that I have now, but I certainly didn’t have it when I was 12.

I do wish I would have stuck with it. I also should have tried out for many sports in high school. But, again, the confidence wasn’t there in those days. I was too worried about what everyone thought. I shouldn’t have been, though. Who cares what other people think, especially a bunch of teenagers who are secretly just as insecure as you?

Oh well, in conclusion, that recent run around Langley Field sparked my excitement for the upcoming college, NFL and Steelers campaigns. It brought back so many wonderful memories of my youth, a time when I never had a problem looking forward to the new football season.

I can’t wait to sit down and watch some football this fall, and while I might consume a bag of Combos while doing so, I’ll do it in moderation.

After all, I need to be able to run laps around Langley Field without hiding behind the batting cage.


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