“Big Daddy” Rasmussen taught me football.
I slouched into the first practice, ambivalent. At fourteen, books, not blocking, fascinated me. It showed on the field. I rapidly earned the sad distinction of slowest man over forty yards. Fifty push-ups defeated me. August scorcher two-a-days doused my wan enthusiasm: sore muscles, dehydration, exhaustion. Big Daddy saw. He demoted me to junior varsity. I was “black dog,” as Winston Churchill (English, 20th century A.D.) called his despondencies.
Just before our first game, things changed. Big Daddy had a birthday. The coaches promised festivities. I, being a fool, anticipated short practice followed by cake and juice. Hell broke upon me. Big Daddy barked. We ran, did push- and sit-ups, leg lifts, then ran and vomited and started all over again. After two hours, all bodies screamed for water. Big Daddy brought out a hose, turned it on, and let us watch. No drinking. Then we ran and puked and ran again. At the beginning of the third hour, something glimmered within. We smashed into one another. “Learn pain,” Big Daddy mumbled. More illumination dawned. Grass drills—kick your legs behind you, land on your sternum, get up and do it again. After that hour, I (and others) got it. Insight trumpeted. We suffer together. We achieve together. We might win together. We were a team.
I improved. The Japanese say that defeat teaches better than victory. My football skills remained modest on a good day. But it turned out I could remember what every player was supposed to do on every play. I became our huddle’s walking encyclopedia of what Big Daddy wanted. Muscles grew. Confidence followed successes. Award time arrived. I received “Most Improved Player.” Read that “not as bad as when he began, but not that good either.” As a team, we won, mostly.
My reward came. I got promoted to the varsity squad for one play in the last game of the season. I ran onto the field. A lumbering defensive tackle crushed me into a puddle of protoplasm. I was ecstatic.
Give them what they need, and boys become teams.