Even now, in the scorch and stifle of summer’s most unwelcome month, the approaching start of another football season rekindles memories I’d thought were lost to time.
It was the game I loved above all others — the one I was too small, too slow afoot and too ungifted to play with any success. But it was the one that ruled my heart.
By any sensible measure, the after-class hours spent on the August practice field were torture of an exquisite kind. But I relished those afternoons — the thirst, the fatigue, the pain that resulted from collisions with larger and more capable fellows.
I lost a tooth. I broke a finger, and twice my nose. And wore these small disfigurements like badges of honor.
Then came the turn to autumn, with frosty evenings, the distant sound of band music and, over the rooftops of houses on the next street, the glow of stadium lights from another school’s field.
Back in the day when this company published two papers — the evening Star and the morning Times — my daily afternoon drives from office to home in August took me past a field where young men, of the age I recall myself once being, were engaged in conditioning drills and team formations, preparing for the season that would begin in just a month.
I confess that what I felt was envy.
Years passed, and one day a friend and former teammate — not a benchwarmer like me, but a real player who’d gone on to success in the college game — dropped by the house with his wife for a visit.
And he brought a gift: a Rawlings official intercollegiate football. The genuine article.
“It’s what you always wanted,” said the note that accompanied it. “A real leather ball.”
I treasure that football and have kept it for years in an honored place in my home office.
It’s all that is left of a career that wasn’t.
But with the preseason begun and the first regular season game for our city’s professional team not quite a month away, a bit of that old excitement comes back again.
For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.