Just Not Good Enough

It was the first day of practice – I was late.   I began to panic.  Maybe I’d come on the wrong day…maybe I’d come to the wrong place!  Every time I would open a door, there was another hallway.   I couldn’t find the coaches – I couldn’t find any of the other players. 

And that’s when it hit me,  this was Jr. High School. 

And I…was completely…and utterly…alone.

1973.   It was a crazy time. Nixon and the Watergate scandal were the headlines and people were on the move…looking for answers…breaking new ground and wanting change.

Seemed like everyone was searching for a new identity.  Me, I was breaking some ground of my own. That September I entered Rocky Ridge Junior High.   I was looking forward to new adventures.  I wanted to start my 7th grade year with a bang.  I wanted to play sports…not just any sport but the sport of football to be exact.

After running down every hall of the school, I finally found the locker room and went in.

To say that they were less than pleased to see me come into the locker room more than 10 minutes late for the first day of practice is an understatement.  For what it’s worth, it did get me noticed.  More importantly,  I gave the coaches a face of the one person they would ride and harass  for the rest of the season.

I survived that first day and at the end the week, the coaches called out my name and they threw me my new football jersey.  Christmas Green…with the number 80 blazoned in white on the front and in the back.   I was now officially a member of the 7th grade football team for the Oak Harbor Rockets.  I was so proud.

I had not even put on a pair of shoulder pads and here I was strutting around in my football jersey.  We were told to wear the jersey to first day of school and I happily complied.  I remember walking through the doors that first day of school with my bright Christmas green jersey on.  I was way too cool and I remember walking about two foot off the ground.

I had no clue of what I was going to face in the coming days.

Considering the fact in 1973, I was a smidgen over 5 foot tall and weighed all of 70 lbs. I should have been keenly aware of what I was about to face.  When I was finally fitted with my equipment, I realized that something was different.  Running around with all these pads on was much different from what I was used to when the guys and I played backyard football in Blakely’s yard.  This was going to take some time to adjust.

For the most part, I survived the first few practices by being pretty lucky and besides the prodding from the coaches I stayed out of the line of fire.  Then the fateful event happened.  We had a football drill called “hamburger”, which basically is a drill where two players lie on their back with their helmets touching.  On the coach’s whistle, both players get up and run back four yards in opposite directions, where one player takes a handoff from one coach and the other slaps the hands of a waiting coach.  At that point, they run at each other. The  player with the ball tries to run through the tackler and the tackler tries to bring the ball carrier down.  After the tackle is made, each player moves to the back of the line as all players take part in this drill.

I took my spot in line and as I got closer to my turn to participate in the drill, I looked across to the other line to see who my competition was going to be.  I really wanted to make a good impression on the coaches and I wanted to make sure I was matched up with someone my size and if luck would have it, maybe even someone smaller than me.   So I watched to see who was going to line up against me.   I saw that it was someone who was bigger than me and I started to shuffle my way a spot further back in line where I would be matched with someone my size.  I got to my preferred place in line when I heard the loudest whistle I think I have ever heard.  Then I hear my coach screaming out my name, “LEE…front and center!!!”   I had been caught cutting the line…which was a big no-no.

He grabbed me by the facemask and pulled me over to the spot where I would have to carry the ball.  He makes me lie down at the spot and I hear him talking to other players but I cannot hear what he is saying.   I hear the whistle and I jump up to take the hand off from my coach.  Everything is good up to this point and I take the hand off and I turn to run the ball through the defensive player.   Here is when things start to go south, because it is then I see him.

Earl Kashmere…that’s right and he was a monster.   Earl Kashmere was Mr. Football of the Oak Harbor Junior High.   He was no less than a foot taller than me and he was about 100 lbs. heavier as well.   Earl was just staring at me, waiting for the kill and I thought just before he hit me that I saw a glimpse of a small smile come across his face. 

I had never been hit so hard in my entire life.  My body went completely numb and I saw stars.  I remember hitting the ground and as all the air rushed from my lungs so did any current desire to play football.    

Have you ever known those moments that changed your life?    Do you remember a specific time, a special event that was life changing for you?  I think it happens to all of us, I know it happened to me on that day.  I suddenly realized that I wasn’t good enough.  I didn’t quit.  I stuck it out for the season.  I wanted to play, but I just wasn’t good enough and so I took my position on the team as a bench warmer. 

Profound moments of life are not all good moments.  This moment for me was ego destroying and my quest from that day on was to make sure I “got in the game,” whatever the game might be…even if it wasn’t football.  So my career was short-lived and I never played football again for the Rocket’s.  

That was over 35 years ago and every now and then when I see that picture of me in that Christmas Green football jersey, I smile and wonder whatever happened to Earl Kashmere.

As a Cleveland Sport’s Fan, I Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident

In keeping with the spirit of this blog site…I guess I should address why I tend to be a die-hard Cleveland sports fan.  I can’t really explain it without starting to question how I could be so foolish to be a Cleveland sports fan.  But I can’t help myself.  I could no longer deny my love for the Brown’s, the Indians and on rare occasion the Cavaliers than I could deny the love for my own children.

I wasn’t born in Cleveland and I definitely wasn’t born this way.

As a matter of fact, my earliest memories of following a sports team was watching the Baltimore Baltimore-OriolesOrioles.  I was in love with Orioles and Brooks Robinson.  The Hall of Fame third basemen for Baltimore was my favorite player in the Major Leagues. It was easy to love the Orioles during the late 60’s and early 70’s. Because they  were winning five Division Championships (1969–1971, 1973–1974), They played in the World Series in 1969, 1970 and 1971 and won it in 1970.

It was a natural transition to become a Baltimore Colt’s fan during that time as well.  The Colt’s played in the Super Bowl in 1968 and 1970 under the leadership of Johnny Unitas  in which they won the same year that the Orioles won tBertJonesColtshe World Series in baseball.  The center of the sports universe was located in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Colt’s continued their winning ways with the play of quarterback Bert Jones and they won division titles in 1975, 1976, and 1977.

This was during the time in my life that I was the most impressionable. If I was going to be a lifelong Orioles and Colt’s fan, I was primed for it to happen because all of the signals were there.  They were the only teams you consistently could watch on TV and it should have stuck.  I had all the team shirts and all of the posters of the players hanging in my bedroom.  If you would have asked my 12-year-old self I would have sworn allegiance until my dying breath.

It didn’t stick.

I cannot pinpoint the exact time or where I was when it happened.  But make no mistake it happened.  I couldn’t really identify with the success that was going on in Baltimore.  It was too easy. I could never shake the feeling that I was a fair weather fan and I never felt like they were “my team”.  I always felt I was a bandwagon fan that only loved the team because they won and they were on TV.  I am sure that there are many people who fall in love with their sports team because they were the team’s that were winning during their impressionable years.  How does someone from Ohio become a Raider or a Steeler fan?  It’s just too easy to love only the teams that win. It is the only logical explanation.

For me, I started to see that life is not like that.  Life is not that easy…  you don’t always win and you don’t always get to play for the championship year in and year out.  Life is hard and it’s a struggle to ever really “win” at things in life.  I saw that I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth and life was going to give me bumps and bruises.

cleveland_brownsI signed on as a Cleveland sports fan. I found a team that I could honestly identify with. I found a place where I could put on their team jersey and feel like I wasn’t being fake or a bandwagon fan. I was down for the struggle and I was home… where I belonged.

Maybe it is the fact that they are the perennial under-dog or maybe because no matter how promising the plan or how high the draft pick, someone will screw it up. It is the perfect reflection of what I have come know of what life is all about.  It is about the struggle… the hope… the chance that this could be the year that it will happen for us. If not… there is always next year.  It isn’t a given satisfaction and the victories are so much sweeter when they don’t come easy.

It is too easy for others to make fun.

Currently, our new N.F.L. owner, a truck stop billionaire named Jimmy Haslam, is being investigated by federal agencies for a fuel rebate debacle.  The Cavaliers lost 58 games: they would have lost more, but the season ended. The Indians perform in a cloister.

The Indians took the World Series in 1948; in ’64 the Browns were crowned kings of professional Cleveland_Indiansfootball. Since then, nothing. It has been a particularly potent kind of futility. Not a cuddly incompetence like the Chicago Cubs’, each collapse covered in ivy, or the celebrated struggles of the Boston Red Sox.  No “Sweet Caroline” here.  Our ballpark sing-a-long could be the song “Eve of Destruction.”

Periodically, wizards and new owners have arrived to break the curse. They were an oddly bloodless bunch, for conjurers, but spoke well and seemed to understand salary caps. They lectured us on the constraints of a small market, failed, and left. Somehow, misfortune always found a roster spot.

 But these are not the worst of times, only the latest. We are all too familiar with “the Fumble”, “the Drive” and “the Shot” and the curse of Rocky Colavito. There are library shelves that groan with the agony of Cleveland fans.  A generation of futility.

I have caught my share of Indians games at the old Municipal Stadium and I was at Jacob’s Field (forever the name for me) watching the Tribe in the 1995 World Series.  I watched the Kardiac Kids of the ’80’s and I watched the Cav’s in the heyday of the Richfield Coliseum.

We are sports people. We are family. You will never know until become a member of this family we call Cleveland.

As a Cleveland sports fan, I hold these truths to be self-evident:

I will be a Cleveland fan until my dying breath.

I have tried to pass it on but only my son Nathan has a membership card to the Cleveland Sports family. It’s becoming harder to pass down that homegrown pain. Satellite dishes, streaming Internet — the young live vicariously in a world that technology creates. They can watch any game and watch a TV channel dedicated to their respective team 24 / 7.  They are spared of any indignity of disloyalty or shame or loss. They wear Indianapolis hats and Cowboys jerseys and that splayed-leg figure dunking on their hoodies isn’t Mark Price.

We Cleveland fans take victory, like work, wherever we find it.

This year, I know I will not be busy during the playoffs. Any playoffs.

I, for one, sleep well in the knowledge that my car will probably never be overturned in a championship celebration.

And yet…

The first pitch of spring slaps leather, the Indians hang around first place in June, and sports again becomes something beyond a balance sheet. A kickoff for the Brown’s sails high into the autumn air and I start to think anything’s possible.  Hope swells in my heart and I believe that this year will be different.

And for a moment, I hardly notice the years of  futility in my life piling up around my feet.