October 4 - Farmball
Cornfields surround the press box as far as the eye can see. Press box,
actually, is kind of a misnomer. The closest thing to a member of the
press in this town is some 16-year-old girl working on the high school
yearbook staff. I’ll be the only person sitting in the press box this particular
game, and I’ll be operating the scoreboard for a junior high football game
in the middle of nowhere.
If football were a Hershey bar, even a chocoholic would take a rain check rather than indulge in this
fare. Most people’s idea of a good time doesn’t include watching pubescent boys attempt to play
something resembling football. At this level of play, a completed pass downfield is cause for
celebration. A completed pass that goes for a touchdown is a sign of the apocalypse. It’s not so bad,
though. I come, I watch, and I run the scoreboard. I even get paid. Modestly. Then I realize that even
with pay, this type of work would put even the most ardent sports lover into a straight jacket. If you can
fathom how exciting it must be to watch a game where the deaf plays the blind, now realize that this
particular game will end in a final score of 2-0. No joke.
Still, I enjoy the work. Of course, I am a self-admitted football junkie. You can usually find me in front of
the dull glow of a television screen at 8 p.m. on Thursday through Monday nights watching America’s
You still thought baseball was America’s pastime?
Not since the NFL went to a salary cap and revenue sharing has baseball been America’s pastime.
Now even the Cincinnati Bengals have a chance to win the Super Bowl. Everyone has a chance. The
playing field has been leveled. A strike, steroids, and the New York Yankees never did help baseball's
Tuesday and Wednesday nights are supposed to be those nights void of the pigskin. After all, who
has ever heard of Tuesday Night Football? Well maybe you won’t find it on ABC or ESPN, but it does
happen to be one more evening out of the week devoted to the gridiron if you’re a junior high
scoreboard operator. In rural northeastern Wisconsin of all places.
In reality, the gridiron I can see out of the gritty Plexiglas window is only a
hop, a skip, and a half hour drive from the Mecca of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
But the style of football being orchestrated by parental coaches and being
played by acne-infested boys is eons away from Vince Lombardi and
leagues away from Brett Favre. There is one parallel that can be drawn,
however. No one will mistake this rag-tag bunch with the Green Bay
Packers, but the effort is the same. They try, oh how they try. It wouldn’t be
a surprise if this group of kids could actually draw blood from the proverbial turnip. Sometimes the
best play on any given possession will be a quarterback sneak that ends in a loss of negative six
yards. Then again, two games later a five foot flat defensive back will return an interception for 90
yards looking like the second coming of Herb Adderly in the process.
Lambeau Field it is not. But you better believe the fans in the stands are just as fervent as any of
those you’ll find on a Football Sunday. Perhaps more so. After all, the players on the field are living the
vicarious lives of the parents in the bleachers. Sometimes the screams from the bleachers are just
as cold as the metal they’re sitting on, “Get off your rear and tackle ‘em!”
Other times you’d be surprised at the praise that could be heaped on a seventh grader, “That kid has
the most potential since Tommy Barlow ran all over the conference competition back in ’85.” The
comments overheard could almost make your head swim.
The head may be swimming, but my stomach is growling shortly before a halftime meal consisting of
stale popcorn and a lukewarm hotdog. It’s a good thing the referees instructed that a full 10 minutes
be put on the scoreboard for halftime. It took all of nine minutes and 30 seconds to get a hotdog and
popcorn from the concession stand that you’d swear is the most disorganized and organized place
all at the same time. There is a flurry of activity as some player’s mother frantically questions, “Where
are the paper bags to put popcorn in?” One would think that such an obvious necessity of any
concession stand couldn’t be forgotten. Meanwhile another mother doles out a dizzying array of Mike
and Ikes, Laffy Taffy, and licorice ropes faster than the eye can follow to a bunch of kid brothers who
will eat more junk than a trash compactor. I retreated back to the press box with precious seconds to
spare. Yet it is nice to know that the game couldn’t have started without me.
While the mothers are manning the concessions, the fathers are busy analyzing the key plays of the
game now that the third quarter has gotten underway. Each and every turnover is being debated to the
Nth degree. The fathers have come to the conclusion that it was the left pulling guard’s fault that the
fullback could not effectively block the opposing linebacker, which led to the tailback’s fumble. But
then some observant middle age male dressed in flannel two rows back suggested that the previous
play had put the team in a bad position. This caused the jury to debate ad nauseam.
Despite the dissection that ensues, no one is under the delusion that their son will someday be
playing for the Packers. Of course even the most level headed and mild mannered parent holds that
very same wish in the back of his or her head, though. Ah, yes… In their mind’s eye they can see the
image of their son donning the green and gold uniform. The sun is shining on his helmet just as he
emerges from a tunnel out onto a lush green playing field. The announcer yells his name. The
stadium thunders with applause… Yet the dream is just out of reach and probably always will be. It’s
the book on the top shelf that you just can’t grab. Standing on your tiptoes doesn’t help. Even jumping
doesn’t do the trick. And there’s no stepladder in sight.
Whether a professional career is a mirage or reality doesn’t matter as the final seconds tick off the
scoreboard. So the home team wins by the pity-inducing score of 2-0, but it might as well have been
50 to 0. A Super Bowl-esque celebration begins sans the champagne. Smiles are as broad as the
Alaskan archipelago when the varsity football coach gives each player a high five. Tomorrow these
boys will feel like big men on campus even if some of them could be knocked over by a good-sized
gust of wind. And I smile as I lock the door of the press box knowing that by morning these players
will be the envy of all the middle school cheerleaders.