The day after Thanksgiving in 1969 was a remarkable day. Star Trek was still an original series then. That summer we had gone to the moon. Richard Nixon was president, and Vietnam was in full swing. I was a senior in high school, trying to figure out where to go to college. I was also taking girls P.E. Who wouldn’t want to tumble with the girls?
I was also playing football. Even the day after Thanksgiving, when most other teams had long stopped for the year. It was cold in November. Summer practices seemed a lifetime away. The week before, we had won a game in Lynch, Kentucky on the top of a mountain. It was so cold then that we’d had to borrow knee socks from the University of Kentucky. Our colors were purple and gold. The knee socks were blue.
We won that game in the freezing cold. A touchdown in the last minute on a play we had not run before. The next week, we were playing for the Kentucky state championship. The day after Thanksgiving, when there were only two teams left.
We won that game, too.
No team from Montgomery County had ever won a championship. No team has won one since. It was a special, electric time in our little town. We were the best team in Kentucky.
For the past few days, I’ve been back in my little town, celebrating the 40th anniversary of that championship. Nearly everyone came back. The coaches, the players, even a couple of cheerleaders (there were only six). Eddie the quarterback arranged it all.
We all had dinner together in the school cafeteria. When I walked in, I was handed an original newspaper clipping of one of our games. There was a picture of me blocking a couple of guys as a teammate ran a punt back for a touchdown. It made me laugh to remember. And then the coach came up and shook my hand. His wife gave me a hug. She had been my speech teacher.
Gary was there. And Farmer Frank, who related to me a story I had forgotten, about when we were twelve years old. I laughed about that, too, and blushed. The incident was one of my more stupid moments. I learned that bicycles don’t go very fast when the tires are flat. And we had 10 miles to go.
I sat next to Charlie Bill, who was our best player. He has nine kids and nineteen grandchildren. He worked in a steel mill for most of his life. Jerry was there too, looking like the biker from hell. Bubby and Al and Mike and Perry were there too. Perry teased me about my long hair. I teased him about not having hair.
We were introduced at halftime, individually by name. Five of my teammates are deceased now, the latest only a few months ago. One of my teammates, whom I had hoped to see, is deceased too. I didn’t know. They were also introduced individually by name.
Tommy was there with his wife Katie. They were crushes in high school. Then they were apart for 27 years, each married to someone else. But they never lost touch, and have been married for 8 years now. The crush is still there, and more. There is also adoration.
Rusty and Jack had their stories too.
We met for breakfast Saturday morning at the restaurant where we used to go after games. The local newspaper sports guy, who was also a classmate, has a radio sports show on Saturday mornings. He called us all over one at a time for an interview. So I was on the radio, too. I know of at least three people who heard it.
I had calls from old friends who learned that I had come back. I had visits with my cousins and my sister. They made me promise to come back soon.
We all talked about meeting more often. In all these forty years, we’ve missed each other. When we played, we were all friends who were unwilling to lose. We just never considered that we might.
Now I think we’re unwilling to lose years. So we won’t. We were champions, and we’ve never forgotten how special that is.