The Truth, Mainly - 10/08/1990

Football doesn't build much character with 'The Big Fullback' bearing down
by Leon Satterfield

Saw Ronald Reagan on television last weekend touting football. Said the darnedest thing. Said football builds character. And it reminded me of how I had my character built by football. It was forty years ago and I think I can talk about it now.

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Of course I hear them yelling "fake reverse"—the linebacker and defensive halfback and safety behind me, the coach and players on our bench, the crowd in the wooden bleachers on our side of the field. Half of southwest Kansas is yelling "fake reverse" and they're yelling it at me.

I'm not a good football player, but that doesn't mean I don't play. We have 42 boys in our high school and only four or five have the testicular fortitude not to go out for the team. I'm not one of them.

The coach has made me a defensive end because I don't mind taking out the interference when a run comes around my side. At 5-10 and a stringy 140 pounds, I try to look menacing until just before the blocker is about to throw himself at me. Then I lie down in front of him and we're both on the ground and both happy, he because he's just knocked down the defensive end, I because I've just taken out the interference so our more muscular linebacker can make the tackle.

Of course I can make tackles myself in emergencies—if the runner isn't too fast, too strong, or too mean. But smash-mouth football isn't my style.

What I do is get alongside the runner, close my eyes and wrap my arms around his hips, then I slide to the ground, my hold moving down to his thighs, then his knees, and finally his ankles as I fall. He drags me along for five yards or so, then eventually he loses his balance and he falls too, sometimes when I am at his knees, sometimes not until I get to his ankles. And I get credited with the tackle.

"Tackle by number 24, Satterfield," the P.A. voice drones. Our cheerleaders break into the fight song ("We're gonna fight fight fight with all of our might") and my father honks a congratulatory honk on the horn of his 1948 Buick four-holer parked in the east end zone with the other players' parents.

But that kind of tackling won't work with The Big Fullback from Meade, the scariest player west of Highway 283. He terrorizes everyone he plays against. Sportswriters in southwest Kansas don't know about metaphors yet or they might call him "The Wild Bull of the Prairies" or "The Blond Assassin" or "The Crooked Creek Cannibal."

He isn't fast, but he's strong and he's wound tight and he likes to run over people. In Meade's game against Fowler two weeks ago, three players were carried off the field after they tried to tackle him. One of them had a broken collar bone.

So we are plenty nervous before our Thanksgiving game at Meade, and we watch The Big Fullback while we do our jumping jacks before the kickoff. In the middle of the national anthem, I move my hand under my shoulder pads to rub my collar bone.

It's in the third quarter that everyone yells "fake reverse" at me. The Big Fullback has just taken a direct snap from center and is headed in my direction; he has crisscrossed with his halfback going around the other end and he has faked a handoff.

But he has no guile, and even I can see he still has the ball in his right hand, carrying it behind his hip like a stolen watermelon. He is running right at me, a 195-pound bowling ball looking for a ten pin, with no interference I can lie down in front of and his teeth are showing and half of southwest Kansas is yelling "fake reverse."

And here's what I do: I do not even try to tackle him. I look away as he runs past me, then I chase their halfback who is going around the other end and who I know does not have the ball. I am pretending.

We win the game anyway on some last-minute heroics that I watch on the sideline. It's a glorious victory, but it gives me no pleasure. I know what I know and I'm afraid the coach and everyone else does too. I wish my collarbone were broken.

"There's Leon Satterfield," the sixth graders would whisper to one another. "He'd of tackled The Big Fullback if his collarbone wasn't broke."

I wonder if I should go to the drugstore tomorrow to collect the free malt the druggist gives to all the players when we win. He puts in extra ice cream, so by tomorrow I will have nearly convinced myself that I really did think the ball had been handed off to the halfback.

And as we sit at the marble counter, one of the other players will say that The Big Fullback is the strongest guy he ever played against.

"Yes," I will say, slurping my malt and wondering about my character just before I lie through my teeth, "and the trickiest too."


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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