Leadership…… (Sort of)…….

Leadership…… (Sort of)…….

 When I was young, grade school age, everyone in my life was addicted to football.  Not just a little, but extremely.  Relatives, friends, neighbors, classmates, fathers and mothers of classmates, and teachers, were all obsessed with that game called…..football.

  By football, I mean the real football game where players hit each other, and claim real estate by out maneuvering, and/or running over opponents on the field, and not the football where players wear shorts, and try not to touch each other. Football became a big part of my life; I guess you could say, because of the pressure and influences of others.

 The first time I joined a football team was when I was in seventh grade.  There were tryouts, and believe it or not, some guys were sent away, and asked not to play.  When the big day came for us seventh graders to receive uniforms, the equipment was of varying quality.  Some of the guys on the team received brand new gear and others old, worn items.  It all depended on what size you were and what was available.  The average size guys received the new stuff.  The big and little guys, the odd sizes for our age, received the junk. 

 Our school mascot was the Bison, and the most humiliating item to receive from the coach fitting us that day, was a jersey that was from year’s back that said, “Little Bison” on it.  One guy actually quit the team rather than be humiliated with that jersey.  Some adult one day in the distant past must have felt it was “cute” to describe us young guys as “little” when referring to the team mascot.  They never could have realized the embarrassment and ridicule the handful of players would receive when they appeared from the storage room fitted into a “Little Bison” jersey. Believe me, the last thing you wanted to be labeled as when playing football was little.

 The years went by and I struggled as a football player, but then when I was a sophomore, I made the varsity team, which when you are young is BIG.  The uniforms are new, or close to new, and state-of-the-art.  Nothing transforms a young high school boy more than wearing a quality football uniform.  Added to the glamour for a kid beyond the uniform is that play was on Friday night, under the lights, in front of what seemed like the entire small Pennsylvania town where my high school was located, in addition there were the girls that you had the “hots” for, and parents, along with teachers, and often time’s relatives were in attendance.

 One game I clearly remember was against a school that we normally beat, but this particular night our opponents were, as they say in the sporting world, “taking it to us.”  Because I was not what is known in the football vernacular, “a starter” I never thought I would get into the game, especially since our team was being unexpectedly humiliated in front of a fairly large crowd. 

 There I was sitting on the bench enjoying the cool fall evening, catching glances of the large harvest moon emerging on the horizon, when to my surprise I heard my name called.  When I looked in the direction of the voice calling my name, I locked eyes with my coach, and although I could not hear what he was saying over the crowd noise, I could clearly read his lips when he said, “Get in there!”  Now, I had never been in a varsity game before that night, and I never expected to be in one until I was a junior, and the shock of my coach telling me to get in there took a few seconds to compute.

 Get in where?  Even with my startled mind, it took only seconds for me to throw off the outer cover protecting me from the mild cold of that fall evening, and head out onto the field.  Many times in my adult life I have heard military people answer the question, “What is it like in combat?”  Always somewhere in the answer is the response, “My training kicked in.”  That beautiful fall night, under the lights, with a big crowd watching me enter the battle, I can honestly say as I ran out onto the field, my training kicked in, because I was so scared, confused, and excited that I started to hyperventilate.   However, anyone watching me join my teammates would not know the distress that I was experiencing as my “training” directed my legs to run “out there” as if I knew what I was doing.

 There was no way I could get my breath.  It was not from fear of getting hurt; it was fear of making a mistake.  That, along with the, “Good Lord, this is it!” feeling.  This is what every athlete works for, dreams of, wishes for, and here I am out on the field, and I cannot breathe because of the fear and excitement.  The fact that we were getting whipped did not help either.

 However, as I was trying to get my composure out there on that field, there was one hope for inspiration, and that was our team captain, Jim.  He was a towering guy for a high school student; he was over 6 foot 3, and 220 pounds.  Even though he was a senior, he was compassionate to the underclassman, and always had a kind word of encouragement for the younger players.  Jim never bothered with the childish hazing remarks and pranks that many of the older players executed against the younger players. 

 Jim lined up next to me on defense that night, and I kept looking to him for inspiration, leadership, and any positive response that would help me and our team rally, and hopefully do something about the drubbing we were taking.

 As the game went on, things kept getting worse for our team, to the point the players on the other side were getting personal by yelling insults and remarks at us between plays, which is unusual for players to do.  Most times players interact physically, but seldom say much to each other.  One remark I remember was from the offensive guard.  He was really enjoying seeing us being badly beaten, because most seasons in the past we usually did that to them.  That night, I clearly remember him asking us as he broke from the huddle and lined up facing us, “How does it feel?”  We all knew, as they were getting close to yet another touchdown, what he meant by that short cryptic phrase and none of us said a word back. The entire scene was not what I dreamed of in my youth when I thought about playing high school football. 

 Suddenly, during a time out, I felt a tug at my shoulder pads as I was spun around by Jim as he called out my name, and stepped close to my face. 

 “Jerry!” he said as he looked directly into my eyes.

 Thank God, I thought, our captain is finally going to inspire us, and he is starting with me.  Looking directly back at him through the maze of our face masks I answered, “Yes, Jim, what?”  He stepped closer and said again, “Jerry!” 

 “What, Jim, what is it?” I just knew somehow he had a word that was going to help me though this difficult debut to my high school football career.

 Again, he said my name, and then butted his helmet up to mine, and pressing so close my eyes were blurred while trying to focus on his face as I waited for him to speak words of inspiration.

 Expecting some word that would motivate me, Jim looked directly into my eyes; he grabbed my face mask and yanked my helmet to close the few remaining inches between him and myself.  He was now so close, I could feel his hot, wet breath on my face, and at that moment he slowly mouthed the words, that I will never forget, “Jerry….. I wish…. I was in…….the band!”

About Gerald J. "Jerry" Vogt

Gerald J. “Jerry” Vogt has been a film and video producer, director, 16mm film shooter, videographer, photographer and writer since the 1970’s, completing assignments throughout the USA, specializing in documentary, industrial, training, marketing and safety productions. Vogt’s work has been featured on many TV networks, including PBS, MTV, VH-1, ESPN, College Sports Network, Fox Sports, CBN, ESPN, PPTN and many other broadcast networks.