By Dannie Oliveaux
Fall. You have to love it.
It’s perhaps my favorite time of year.
Fall in the South is like anywhere else. We enjoyed any type of relief from the summer heat, enjoyed the spectacular colors of the autumn leaves and, of course, football.
As a teenager growing up in a small rural community in Louisiana, we had to find things to entertain us and keep us away from the home as mom prepared supper (dinner here).
After school, it wasn’t hard to find a game of touch or tackle football on any vacant lot or field.
Depending on how many boys (and sometimes girls) were participating, teams ranged from two to seven at any given time.
Since the river, two miles away, served as a boundary for our parish, we had a natural rivalry with the kids across the river who attended a different school. Most of them were related to us.
At times, a group of boys from the other side would ride their bikes and challenge us to a game of football and vice versa.
Most of the time it was tackle football played on a hard, vacant, grassy lot next to my best friend’s house. It was plenty wide enough and long enough to accommodate 14 boys, seven on each side.
We marked the boundaries and end zone with safety cones we collected or borrowed.
There were usually three blocking on the line, two receivers, a running back and a quarterback. We use a three-second rushing rule, which sometime was narrowed to two seconds.
After the three-second rushing rule, everyone was a receiver.
Some of us wore T-shirts or jerseys, other when shirtless. The advantage of going shirtless was when a player would become sweaty it was easier to slip away from a tackler.
There were no pads or helmets.
We created the shotgun formation before the pros used it, along with the run-and-gun spread offense. Occasionally, we would put in a trick play or fake a punt.
Our defensive strategy was to double-team their best player, send two players rushing the quarterback and wait for the quarterback to run past the line of scrimmage.
We had a secret weapon – a 160-pound, 13-year-old named Corky, an avid Lousiana State University fan. Just get him the ball and watch half the other team try to slow him down. He always wanted to play for LSU, but never made it past high school.
Our quarterback, also an excellent pool player, could throw with either hand. When not playing with us, he was at the local hangout, hustling a few dollars.
I wasn’t the fastest or biggest, I just had good hands.
Each team, at times, would recruit players who just happened to be visiting their grandparents or cousins.
We didn’t have any cheerleaders, but we always managed to draw a small crowd from the neighborhood – even a parent or two to make sure we didn’t play too rough or get seriously hurt.
Amazingly, there were no serious injuries, just a few bumps and bruises with a few sprained ankles.
After about 45 minutes of playing, we’d take a break and line up at the nearby water hose and take turns getting a drink or wetting our heads to cool off.
Then it was another grueling 45 minutes of football. The team who scored eight touchdowns won. Of course we had a few ties, but the series was pretty even.
No matter the weather, we played each Sunday afternoon in the fall until winter finally set in.
We tried to play in the snow once, but it was too cold.
The rivalry continued, but once we started playing high school football we ceased the neighborly rivalry because our coaches didn’t want us playing pickup game during the season.
Years later, we would run into each other and look back at those times when we were reckless youths on a vacant lot.
Those are times I will never forget.
Pleasant memories growing up in rural America.
You have to love it.