Football back in the day

Holland, Michigan memory

rough jumble of footballers

Probably a  Junior High Team 8th or 9th grade

Lee Van Dyke (old number 34) The longer ago it was, the better we were!

Inspired to dig out this old photo, by my stay in Holland, Michigan this past week.  I stayed with the guy pictured here in the top row….number 39, Jack Dozeman.  Doze, as is otherwise known by all who played or went to school with us.  He was slightly bigger, as you can see.   I can’t tell which year team this is, because they all look so young.    But Doze was elevated eventually to the varsity from a junior varsity team.  On the other hand, these guys all look so small, maybe it was 7th grade.  Certainly they are very white….or as I said in a posting on face book today, very Dutch.  The one brown skinned guy was as I remember him maybe an American Indian, and faster than anybody else.    Heritage notwithstanding, the team wasn’t a winning group but a willing group as I remember them now.  The idea of me playing with the number 34 is pretty swell in retrospect, because my favorite football player played wearing that number.  (Walter Payton, “Sweetness” daBears.)

Football became difficult for me later, because of my interest in music, which demanded the choice of being available for half-time shows for all band members.  I was recruited heavily for drum major, and as I remember and I dropped out of football in high school for one of the years for that reason.  I wanted to continue in the band, and temporarily ran cross country in the fall.  Not my favorite thing, running, and I returned to football in grades 11 and 12.  I think 10th grade was beginning of high school for us in the town of Holland, Michigan. 

I clearly remember many of the teammates with whom I played.  Funny about that.  I have remembered them for what now has been more than 50 years.  I don’t happen to remember the pictured coach, but I remember the guys with whom I played.  Some of them became real friends, and some have been lost to me now after all these years.  I hear of some others, and I have even heard of some of their deaths.  Daunting to think about, and certainly nothing like the current game of football, which has become bigger, faster, better padded, and looks something different, as I illustrate  in the two “current” Holland High School pictures.   They also appear more diverse than we were then.   I clearly remember one of these guys from then (#33, Jim Bauman, quarterback) having to have  his jaw wired shut because it was broken on the field.  Football was aggressive then, and very like the same game we see now, but also not exactly.  I do remember locker rooms, and even remember some kind of liquid substance we would walk through to make our feet tougher in those spiked shoes.  I remember horseplay in those locker rooms, and being punched in the face with a shadow jab while standing on a bench in one of those cold  rooms.  All in macho fun, but I carry a subtle scar from such fun to this day.  One of my often repeated stories from those days, too,  is when my coach told me when we were playing a Grand Rapids team, that it wouldn’t matter that they were bigger than we were, we were going to be faster, and could get through and past our opponent. He, the big kid from Grand Rapids,  proceeded to knock me head over heals, upside down, and I would now guess knocked me out.  Not for long, just long enough to recall that I might be faster, but faster doesn’t always count in football.

During this time I was also switched from playing guard on offense to guard on defense, a position which would really profit from being fast, but would also suggest that being big would be a help.  When I as a high school senior I visited the college I was to soon attend, Hope College.  There, football is without scholarships, and where the players are probably among the smallest in the country,  I really got the sense of how hefty even these guys were.  I quickly decided my football career was over.  Certainly the boys of summer are thought to be baseball boys, but to me the boys of football were the companions of my adolescence from summer to fall.  Some became: optometrists, doctors, television news men, engineers, personal clothing merchants, chemists, industrialists, salesmen, trust babies, just to name some.   I am the lone theatre Ph.D here pictured, and don’t resent the silly time I spent playing this particular game.  We were a team, we trusted each other, we knew each other, and we laughed at it all.  A rare sweet set of lessons were learned.   There were the rudiments of tough physical preparation, we had two practices a day in the heat of late fall.  We ran with combat boots in the sifting sand dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We lifted weights, I bought home bar-bells.  We lost a lot of games.


More diverse, bigger, and better padded

Certainly in the simpler time of the 1960’s the sport wasn’t taken as seriously as it is now.  Coaches were paid a little to coach, but had to teach classes too.  Players substituted afternoon practices for required physical education. None of the players who played when I played thought there was anything like a profession in the game.  A physical education job perhaps, but not a professional career.  I remember moments, and they are becoming almost lost in the mist of time.  The boys of my youth were wrestlers, not boxers when they fought, and I doubt any of us wanted to feel the real bone crushing smack of the game of today.  Thinking back upon the time I spent playing football,  though,  it was both fun and important to me but clearly it is a “a wonder I learned anything at all.”  The songs we played endlessly were by Ricky Martin, the Everly Brothers, and Elvis Presley.  Our films were a missed lot:   Rebel Without a Cause (1955) The Searchers (1956) Some Like It Hot (1959) The Ten Commandments (1956) Touch of Evil (1958) 12 Angry Men. Our cars were probably as important to us as anything we could own, I found a picture exactly like one of mine.    Getting a perfect tan in the summer, and surviving the idea of getting a date to the dance were also very important.  It seems to me now that I was  probably more caught up in impressing those team-mates of mine  and the surrounding heavenly bodies (as we thought of our “cheerleaders”) with the cars, dance moves, and being cool, than in any of the very real, intelligent girls or momentous events of the day. 

I remember various coaches yelling at me, and inspiring me, and paying attention to up.  They weren’t an intellectual bunch, but now it seems to me in retrospect they were a caring and moral bunch.  Playing football was a simple but leaned skill, which had us remembering moves (specific blocking) connected to called plays.  I remember being a pulling guard, knocking Terry Nylon on his ass,  and having the coach say….”O.K. same exact play,” and  big old Terry who outweighed me by approximately 50 pounds,  now knowing I was coming at him, said, “sorry Lee, you shouldn’t have to try this twice in a row.”   When I didn’t have the element of surprise, and when he had been ridiculed by our coach, his response was swift and powerful, and it was my turn to be on my ass.  I think maybe now one of the best lessons we all learned was that there’s always room to pick up and try again.  We gained power as a team, and with team effort we danced through the days.  The choice we made to play football was just something we stumbled into doing.  WE eventually did it more for each other, than for parents or even girls.  Playing proved a distraction lasting several years, which I now think I was lucky to have had.

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