County Editor Scott Yost is taking a break from column writing and will be back next week. In the meantime, here is a classic Yost Column from 2004.
One time, when I was a kid, I played little league football. I was a defensive lineman and was pretty good at the position, but our coach had put me – and the other lineman – on the line, instead of at quarterback or running back or wide receiver or even defensive back, largely because he didn’t think we had “good hands.”
Before I go on with the story, I should tell you that what I had always dreamed of was running with the ball in a real game. I grew up watching Billy “White Shoes” Johnson do those phenomenal things returning punts and kickoffs, and his runs were always such a thing of beauty it just made me really sad that no one ever gave me a chance to try out at a position where I could run the ball. So I kept dreaming of running the ball, you know, just once, in a real football game but, when you’re condemned to being a defensive lineman, you don’t get to run the ball.
The other thing I should tell you is that, even though I was this little kid, I always tried to be good and pay attention and do as I was told. You know, I was a straight arrow. Mostly because, unlike a lot of kids, I believed in the wisdom of adults, and I understood and accepted the reasons they were in charge. I learned early on in life that there was a reason they said stuff like, “Don’t touch the glowing stove burner.” They weren’t just trying to keep you away from the pretty metal ring because they are mean people who want to deprive you of pretty glowing rings; they told you not to grab it because, if you try to grab it and take it with you when they aren’t looking, it hurts like a … well, let’s just say it hurts a lot.
So I learned early on that my parents and other adults knew what they were talking about and had rules for a reason, and if they told you not to do things, they did so for a reason. I had a great deal of respect for the authority of adults.
And, when I was growing up anyway, there was no greater symbol of authority for a little boy than his football coach so – unlike a lot of the kids on the team – I really hung on every word the coach said and tried to do exactly what he told me to do. Now, as a rule, the other kids on the team didn’t listen to him as carefully as I did, or perhaps they just didn’t care about what he said. So when the coach tried to drive a lesson into us, I usually got it the first time but the other kids didn’t, so our coach felt the need to really drive the lesson home. And he used repetition repeatedly, because that is an effective way of teaching, and sometimes it’s the only way.
For instance, I was at this backyard party a couple of weeks ago and I met this woman who told me she teaches ESL. I asked her what ESL was and she said it was “English as a second language.”
I asked her if her class consisted of Spanish-speaking people.
She said her classes were full of people from all different countries who spoke a slew of different languages. When I asked her how she could know all those languages, she said she didn’t, and that made me wonder.
“Well, if they don’t know English,” I asked, “and you don’t know their language, how in the world do you teach them English?”
And I could tell my question made something in her brain snap a little, and she got a little tense, and she said, “Like this …”
And she pointed to a dog that was next to us, and she started yelling, “Dog! … Dog! … Dog!” and kept pointing at it, and then I understood.
You do it with repetition.
Anyway, like with foreigners, repetition was the key to teaching kids, and my coach knew that. Here’s what he wanted his linemen to learn and he would say it over and over: “You are not running backs. You are not quarterbacks. You do not have good hands. If there is a fumble or an interception and you get the ball, just grab the ball tightly and fall down. Don’t, I repeat, don’t run under any circumstances. If you try to run, you will fumble it. So, if you intercept the ball, or get it from a fumble, fall down. I don’t care what the situation is. Do not try to run with it. You will fumble it.”
And then he would ask us – he would be like, “Yost, what position do you play?”
“Defensive line, Coach.”
“What position do you not play?”
“Uh, running back.”
“And what are you supposed to do if you ever find the ball in your hands?”
“Fall on it.”
“In what situations?”
“In all situations, Coach”
“Learn it, live it!”
During practices that season, he would remind us many times not to run. So I was well trained in what to do if I ever happened to end up with the ball in my hands. Fall down no matter what.
Then one game it happened.
It was a big night game and the stands were packed with parents and grandparents and friends. I remember it like it happened five minutes ago because it was such a pivotal moment in my life.
We were near the 50-yard line. The quarterback on the other team faded back to throw the ball, and I was rushing in to take him out before he did, and I got there right as he was throwing. The ball hit my arm and I flattened him good. The ball went straight up in the air and even a little backward. The quarterback was flat on the ground, and I looked up and the ball was falling back down to earth.
I extended my arms out and the ball dropped right into my hands and, for what turned out to be the one and only time in my life, the ball was in my hands in a real football game.
Time stood still.
Everyone else was way down field. I was standing there holding the ball tightly against me with both arms, just staring at about 50 yards of completely empty football field that stood between me and my dream of running the ball in a real football game, and also not to mention between me and a certain touchdown – and, in football, scoring a touchdown is every defensive lineman’s ultimate dream.
The funny thing is, the situation was so choice that I actually had time to just stand there and deliberate. Now, I can’t tell you how long I was standing there holding the ball, trying to decide what to do, because, like I said, for me time had frozen solid. But I can tell you that it was a long time as these things go. The quarterback was on the ground and didn’t look like he was getting up or knew what was going on, and everyone else was way behind me.
Plus, no one seemed to be in any hurry at all.
It hit me years later why that was. Everyone on the field, our players, their players, the quarterback, must have assumed it was an incomplete pass because I was facing the other way, so they could only see my back, and anyway, I don’t think the ball was visible in my arms because I knew that, whether I ultimately decided to run or fall down, holding the ball tightly was part of the answer. Also, obviously no one on the field had seen what had happened.
Plus, clearly, if I had somehow caught the ball, I wouldn’t just be standing there like an idiot – I would be hightailing it down the field on my way to an easy touchdown. So I think everyone on the field but me was either massively confused or thought the play was over.
The refs were standing there, detached observers trying to understand what was going on, just staring at me, as confused as anyone. They hadn’t blown the whistle, and they had no idea why I was just standing there like a statue.
In the stands, there was confusion as well, but it was a different kind of confusion. If you know anything about little league football, you know that parents are way into those games to an almost scary degree and, unlike everyone on the field, they had seen the whole thing clearly. But they knew nothing of the many hours of practice the coach had spent drilling into me that defensive linemen should fall on the ball in any situation. So they were all screaming. Right after I caught the ball, the whole scene was so surreal that I remember it taking place in absolute silence, but after I had been standing there with the ball for a while, I realized they were all screaming something at me and then, at some point, I actually started to hear what they were screaming.
“Run! Run! Run! What’s wrong with you!? Run!! For the love of God, run!!”
Stuff like that.
I started to realize that, soon, someone on the field would figure out what was going on, so I had to decide one way or the other.
Run or fall?
Run or fall?
The crowd certainly had its opinion. “Run! Run! Run! What’s wrong with you!? What’s wrong with you!? Run!! For the love of God, run!!”
And so I started to run. Authority be damned.
I didn’t care if the coach yelled my head off; this was probably the one time in my life I would get a chance to run with the ball and that’s what I was going to do: run. As soon as I took off running toward the goal line, and people stopped shouting “Run!” and started cheering wildly, I could feel in my bones that I had made the right decision.
Only, there’s one thing.
I didn’t really run.
In my one and only chance to this day to run with a football in a real game in my life, I just fell on the ball.
And, if almost everyone there that night was confused as to why I was just standing there, which they indeed were, they were even more amazed when, after standing there a while, I just dove straight into the ground.
With the change of possession, I headed for the sidelines. On the way to the sidelines, my teammates, even some of the defensive linemen who had been through the same intense “fall down no matter what” training I had, said stuff like, “What kind of moron are you?” and “Yost, what the —-?” and they just looked at me with disdain and disbelief and shook their heads a lot, like how could I be playing in a football game and not know that the idea was to run down the field with the ball, moron.
My only solace was that the coach, at least, would be proud of me for being a good soldier and for sacrificing my own glory for the good of the team. So when I ran to the sidelines amid the boos of parents – the were booing a child at a little league game – I ran in the direction of the coach, because at least he knew what was up.
I ran right up to him so he could pat me on the back and say, “Good job, Son. Way to listen,” or whatever.
When I looked up at him for affirmation, he just had this scowl on his face and said, “Good Lord, Yost, what the (bleep) is your problem!? What are you? Some sort of
(bleep)ing idiot? You were wide (bleep)ing open! What, is there (bleep) in your brain?”
I almost started to explain but, even at that young age, I could sense that trying to explain it to him or anyone else was pointless.
But I did make it a point from that moment on to mistrust authority in all its forms. Because that moment was when I realized that, while parents and other authority figures are often right, and maybe are even right most of the time, they are not always coming at you from some actual elevated position. Just because someone has power over you, doesn’t make them right or smart or fair or just or even consistent – so it’s just plain crazy to do things merely because someone else says to or to think that there is some payoff simply for following orders.
Question authority. Think for yourselves. Don’t let the man keep you down. No matter what anyone else says, run if you want to. Rock on.