The Tackle, Chinee and Me
Being the only boy in a family of women held special meaning for Chinee. He was born smack in the middle of four girls. Two older protective, adoring sisters and two hero worshiping younger ones and a mother who took adoration of an only son to a different level entirely. Theirs’ was a special relationship. There was nothing that we thought was too good for him. Chinee seldom asked for anything for himself but there was always plenty giving going on; either by the five of us to him or him to the five of us. He took his title of family patriarch earnestly and emotively. There was only one thing wrong with this picture as for as he could see, there was no one of whom could help him practice his football plays. (Personally, all and all, I thought he had it pretty damn good but that was just from a little kid’s perspective).
Chinee’s intentions were to try out for the school’s football team in the Fall and was actually pretty much a shoe-in. He already had shoulders so wide that even at 13, shoulder pads were mere accessories. His full height of 6 feet had already been reached and he had obtained a girth that demanded attention. Coach Snell had anticipatorily given him a copy of a playbook but he needed someone to help him run the plays. He wanted to be certain he knew every play in that book before school started but he couldn’t very well set up a Wing-T offensive play alone or pass and receive to himself (keep this in mind, it become very important later). Seeing my brother’s predicament, I once again thought to come to his rescue and tried to devise ways in which to help him. Suddenly or maybe not so suddenly, Chinee was agreeing that I could help although I was not cognizant of ever asking him if I could, (Boy he was good).
The first order of business was learning how to throw a ball. (Ok, you really have to try and picture this in order to appreciate the momentous assignment of which I had been given or asked for, depending on whom you choose to believe). I was maybe forty-five pounds of knobby knees, spindly legs, ungainly arms and terribly small hands. For any other assignment my hands would have been called delicate, but for football tossing however, they were called terribly small. I remember Chinee telling me something about putting my index finger on the seam and my thumb somewhere making an L-shape or some such thing…
…It really didn’t matter because none of what he directed me to do was physically possible anyway. Just seeing the disappointment in Chinee’s face was enough for me to give it the old school try. I grabbed the ball with both hands as one would an axe handle and after a few hundred tries I executed a pinpoint bomb accurate to fifteen yards. THE GAME WAS ON! I passed to the left, I passed to the right. There were a couple of lateral passes and a flea flicker or two. The grin on my brother’s face at the end of those exercises could have bought gold.
In his excitement to run more plays, I think he must have forgotten to give me a lesson or two. My next feat was to learn how to catch passes. Chinee grabbed the ball and ran backwards about 15 yards and threw a bullet. It was a thing of beauty the way he sent that ball literally spiraling toward me. I stood there mesmerized watching that perfectly thrown, brown bomb; that is until the end of the ball nailed me right on the sternum and down I went, hard!
I was to learn later that his pinpoint, accurate drilling of that ball into my chest was called “placing the ball on the numbers”, but I felt more like my number was up. To put it quite simply, it hurt.
He ran to me and helped me up, apologized profusely and offered to quit practice when it appeared obvious to him that I was having trouble breathing. I just could not be the reason my brother didn’t make the team so I did my best Bucky Buck Up routine and carried on in grand style. This time he showed me how to catch the ball by cradling it with my arms. (This was a lesson which should have been taught one bruised sternum ago). Five or ten tries at this and I was diving and jumping for passes, no one could say that I wasn’t a quick and determined study.
It was on the next pass when the continued longevity of my life became seriously doubtful. Chinee threw a thirty yard pass, which I caught and suddenly he morphed from
offensive to defensive without bothering to tell me the difference. There were no shouts of Run Girl Run! There was no bleating to fall and protect my position, (we hadn’t covered this part yet so I wouldn’t have known what the hell the yelling would have been about anyway). I do know that I saw all one hundred and eighty five pounds of my brother coming at me faster than I’d ever seen anyone move before. My honest thought was that he wanted the ball from me quickly so we could get one last play in before darkness fell and darkness was my next true non-Technicolor vision. TACKLED is what he called it, (a word of which until then had not made it into any of my previous lessons). ATTEMPTED MURDER is what it really was!
Ok, now I understood. I shook it off, (after about 10 minutes or so). I re-inflated my lungs, wiped the snot and tears from my face and tried it again. Man what a lesson he taught me that evening. He tossed me a little flea flicker from about the twenty and started a full on rush. When that ball touched my hands that time, I turned on my heels and ran toward my goal, away from his goal, away from a second sure fire tackle, away from him and everything football with such swiftness that Wilma Rudolph running the 200 meter in Rome would have been hard pressed to catch me. (As an adult, I would look back on that day and that lesson and remember all the times life had tackled me without warning. That day, that lesson bolstered me as an adult, to know that I needed no longer to run from those who would tackle or blindside me. As an adult, with few exceptions, I have stood and defended my goal. Being tackled or blindsided by something thrown my way is no longer blindly accepted).
As I ran away from Chinee and that tackle, somewhere from yards behind me, I heard what had for all time sounded like music to me. I had always loved the sound of Chinee’s full throated, rising up from the depths his belly, stopping in his chest just long enough to get an extra breath to allow it burst forward loudly, laughter. The sound of it followed me until I felt safe and finally stopped running. It was music to me and as I think back, thankfully…
🎶… I can still here him laughing.🎶