Why Me? Why Write? Why Now? Why Not?

The Me is Doug Curran…Douglas M Curran…Douglas Metcalf Curran. Douglas is Celtic for “dweller by the dark stream”. Curran in Gaelic means “little spear”. And Metcalf? Scottish for “I met a calf”? Hey I don’t know! I don't have all the answers. I'm still trying to get the questions right. At least I seem to be a spear fisher by some dirty water. Or maybe I'm a Druid. And that Curran thing may not even be as Irish as my Irish American wife, Colleen Fitzsimmons, hoped it was when she married me. Ok, I might be a Viking. It's like this. I was reading this book, The Lion Of Ireland, see, and the author, Morgan Llewellyn, recounts a last battle between Brian Boru and the Viking invader king, to regain Irish dominance again throughout the island and kick the fureners out. The Viking king's name? Olaf Cuaran? Cuaran? Curran? I'm a Viking now, so I am? And a descendent of one of those marauding and murderous pillagers and plunderers? I've never pillaged a thing in my life...well, maybe a book or two from somebody. I'm really just a gentle giant who loves books and music. Ok, I bought a sword recently, but only as a wall decoration to enhance my Irish family history coat of arms! Honest! Viking, Schmiking, so rest my Irish soul! Or my wife will have my old bald Irish head!

September 22, 2009

Getting my kicks from football...

Ok, so my #7 BYU lost to unranked Florida State big time at home last Saturday, toppled and humbled - and so did arch-enemy and nationally ranked #17 Utah to unranked Oregon! And USC? Yes, and even 3rd ranked USC lost to unranked Washington and former BYU quarterback/now coach Steve Sarkisian! Lah-dee-freakin'-dah! Overranked and overrated, obviously. So let's go back to former times, when I was just an innocent football neophyte trying my wings and pads out on the high school fields of glory and see if we can douse this past week with a little personal nostalgia, part one of a column/essay on my measly attempt at being a three-sport athlete, the rest to come later...

"Now that I’m older and “wiser”, I have a lot more questions than answers. Like, what is it like to be a three-sport athlete? Was I one or did I just dabble in three sports? I always admired those guys in high school who were so skilled they could earn letters in football in Fall, basketball in Winter, baseball in Spring,, just move from sport to sport with an automatic skill set for each – and wear those letters on their cool letterman jackets. I never got one of those, though I did earn at least one letter (And I did sing with The Lettermen. And I love David Letterman, even have a niece who works for him. And I was a letterman myself – some people call him the postal carrier. Does all that count?)

I played high school football with a guy, Tommy Brown, only about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, who was a three-letter star. Later he became an all-American at Maryland in football and played for the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi at defensive back. He got traded to Washington, where he got hurt and then it was over. But for me, did it ever really get started? Yes, I did try to play football because my dad was pushing on me to fulfill his lost childhood and football-playing fantasy – because he was a little guy at 5’10” and 150 pounds and I was a lumbering 195 pounds and 6’3” tall – at 14!

I have to admit, I did read a lot of books as a kid about the Knute Rockne days at Notre Dame and winning one for the Big Dipper …or the Big Griper…or the Big Dufus… and I loved the glory of Big Ten football and wanted to go to Michigan State and sing “On Wisconsin”. I had futile visions of becoming any woman’s dreamboat on the field of battle in helmet and pads. That’s what sports is all about, right? A combo of gladiator and jouster, playing for the crowd, while hoping there are some adoring women out there, watching their hero win some imaginary battle or trophy – though I would have a hard time wearing that hanky on my helmet? I was just lucky not to fall all over myself, turn my helmet 90 degrees while still looking forward, and become the court jester.

So I tried out for the junior varsity team at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland and by sheer size I made it – besides being one of the few who wasn’t puking his guts out all over everywhere when the 3-hour practices were over. If you could make it without the upchuck, you were in. But as a dumb kid who didn’t know his helmet from a soda can, I also didn’t know that you were supposed to have kneepads on both knees. I just thought because I got stuck with an old pair of pants without a pad in the right one, that I should tough it out. Football was for tough guys.

So after playing a few games without a pad, I didn’t need one, because my knee was the size of a cantelope, which gave me plenty of padding. It also gave me a trip to good old Dr Little (no, not Dolittle), who had seen our family through many a crisis and was very capable when sticking a giant needle into my knee and giving me a shot of cortisone. Oucheee! But it worked - and no problems since, knock on knee. ( I lied – my knees are killing me as of this writing – but I’m 67 and overweight, so bring on the cortisone shots!)

My junior year almost didn’t happen. I just didn’t want to play. I had gotten pretty banged up as a sophomore and wasn’t a glutton for pain if there wasn’t the glory I had read about in books. But “you know who” put the pressure on me and pretty much almost disowned me as a son if I didn’t play. He even told big Bob York, our massive fullback, who cornered me in the shower one day and said he heard I wanted to quit. “Who me?? Not me, no way, never, no how Bobbo... Bobby... Bobbykins ... Bubba”. I think I also avoided a good towel snapping that day. I was now 15, the same size as a year ago, not much more developed physically however and pretty intimidated by all those senior jocks.

And of course, my dad was watching from the sidelines all the time at practices, giving me pointers, telling me to keep focused. He would chide me for not getting right under the coach’s nose when he called everyone into a huddle to talk to us, while I would rather hang out in the periphery because I was big and didn’t want to block anyone’s view. I was also timid and didn’t really feel I had that killer instinct– but I hung in for the “glory” and the experience - and the pa-pressure.

It was fun sometimes to get in and block for Tommy on a touchdown run or for a phenomenal black kid named Charley “Reds” Pryor – yes, he was red-headed with freckles about 5’8” - maybe he was Irish - who could start and stop on a dime, one of the best backs in the state of Maryland that year. We won a lot of games with those guys – good for my ego, though I didn’t have much to do with it because smaller-but-tougher, senior Don Jensen got most of the reps at right offensive tackle and I was his bigger-but-wimpier backup.

In my senior year, I still had a few reservations about playing. But I was a senior! I had made it this far, though our team wasn’t as good. And maybe some chicks would notice me this year! But to keep me focused and lift my spirits one day, my dad slipped one of my mom’s Benzedrine into my tomato juice before practice to give me some extra pep. She took them for narcolepsy. He said I was throwing guys right and left and sideways in practice – and I wasn’t even playing defense. I could have been canned for using a banned substance – or banned for using a canned substance. But they didn’t do drug testing in those days – and I didn’t do drugs. Just that one shot deal.

And then my younger brother Dick, all 5’5” and 120 pounds of him, was now in 10th grade and a team manager and my dad wanted him to have someone to look up to – figuratively as well as literally. And of course, my dad, the photographer, volunteered to take movies of the games, so the obligations for me to play kept piling up. And as the sports editor of the high school paper, I could justify my position by saying that I could report on the game from under the piles of brawling, bouncing bodies every time we had a scrum – no wait, that’s rugby. Yep, every time there was a pileup, I had time to pull out my notebook and jot down some cogent notes and some fancy new cuss words.

So I played out the year with no cheerleaders who had a crush on me. I made it through one more year of those awful drills which ended with running up and down the stadium steps after practice, urged on by the intimidating yells of backfield coach Vince Pugliese - endured the ridicule of being called a bungle-dee-boob by head coach Joe Good when I’d miss a block - or being asked if I REALLY wanted to play football by my line coach, Paige Johnson, an OCD with a southern drawl and a little man complex.

He had to prove himself by punching us hard in the solar plexus when we had our heads and our feet on the ground and our stomachs arched upward in the air - to build up neck strength. Or there was that red-headed jock coach who looked like a WWF wrestler who made us do those crabbing exercises for better line stance and movement. And I was only 16 when I played my senior year, wouldn’t be 17 till the year was half over. I was still undeveloped muscle-wise, I had definitely lost my taste for the 'glory'."
(End Part One)

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