I never could have been a contender | SierraSun.com

I never could have been a contender

One of my favorite golf jokes is the old standby, “Q: Why did they name it golf? A: Because all the other four-letter words were taken.”

Why are there so many golf jokes? Same reason there are so many lawyer jokes; people need to vent. Even if golf is fun and lawyers are stereotyped as not so fun, it can still be a frustrating experience. My apologies to fine men and women of the Truckee Bar Association, especially those who play golf.

The thing is, I haven’t had too many frustrating golf experiences lately. My playing is becoming more solid. I’m comfortable on the tee – the white tees, mind you – and I don’t even care if people are watching any more.

It’s strange for someone like me to actually be good at a sport. I’ve watched other people play sports for years, admiring their talents, but on an actual field of play, I’m like John Madden riding coach on a TWA flight to London; nervous, antsy and out of my element.

In elementary school I was, perhaps, the smallest kid in my grade. You could always find me in the library, nose buried in a book. So when my parents signed me up for Mite-league football, I took to it like a cat takes to a bathtub; it was ugly.

In retrospect, I did it for the reason most kids do anything at a young age: to get their parents’ attention. Whether that action is screaming your head off in a quiet church service or making up your own bed, you want their attention.

Thankfully, my parents never once forced me into sports, or you might see me now at the top of a bell tower with a loaded 12 gauge. I just wasn’t cut out for athletics.

The parents in my football league were brutal. They were like the evil sensei in Karate Kid, yelling at their children to “sweep the leg, sweep the leg!”

Note to parents: if you yourself didn’t excel in sports, don’t try to do it vicariously through your own kids. I’m fairly certain that’s what went wrong with Dan Quayle. (My apologies to the Truckee Republicans for the easy Quayle crack. I, myself, am more conservative than Richard Nixon being handed a water pipe at the Monterey Pop Festival, but as the great Hank Hill has often been known to say, “That boy ain’t right.”)

In my first official football game I learned a lot, like how to fill the Gatorade cooler and make sure everyone had a towel on the sidelines. I played left PR (pine rider). On a cold January day in Georgia, it can get below zero and the benches need warming. I was proud to serve my part.

But one day, something strange happened. One by one, our entire offensive line was knocked out of the game by injury. Panicked, the coaches gathered to confer about what to do. Finally, they turned to me.

“Ball!” one of them shouted.

“Yes, sir,” I answered.

“We need you,” he said.

“All right,” I said, awaiting my assignment.

“Give your uniform to one of the cheerleaders, see if it fits her.”

So there I sat, having dodged another bullet, wearing my BVDs and drinking the new mango-flavored Gatorade. The cheerleader was quite good. She rushed for 300 yards and scored the winning touchdown.

Still, as death row inmates will attest, you can get stays and delays, but you’re going to have to be a dead man walking someday and there, on a late February blustery North Georgia day, my time was at hand.

We were ahead by eight touchdowns and it was the fourth quarter of the last game of the season. Everyone else had gotten to play and I got the call. Suddenly, the organ music from Phantom of the Opera arose from nowhere. I tried to hide under the bench, but it didn’t work, because they knew that’s where I’d be. I’m pretty sure it clouded up at that point and several wolves howled in the distance. At least that’s how I remember it.

Twelve years later, I’m lying on a therapist’s couch rehashing the whole story of the 900-pound escapee from San Quentin they called a third-grade linebacker who ran me over like Wile E. Coyote in a bad sketch.

“Tell me about your mother,” the therapist said.

My mother was the one who convinced my father I didn’t need to play football the next year and, fortunately, he wasn’t blinded by any desire to mold me into an athlete. Sure, you can get Tiger Woods as a result of pushing your kids at an activity, but you can also end up with Macaulay Culkin, chain-smoking Kool menthols and calling you “Dave” rather than “Dad.”

I didn’t return to therapy, but I did take up golf. Things have been pretty good ever since.

Epilogue: I think my experience as a football player was pivotal for both the cheerleader and myself. After high school, she moved to Europe and became a female wrestler known as “Das Nutcracker.” She was last seen attempting to scale the Matterhorn with just a spool of dental floss and a compass.

Me, I sit at a computer all day coming up with bad metaphors that will hopefully make a few of you laugh.

And I shoot a solid 90 from the white tees.

James Ball is the Sierra Sun sports editor.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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